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Ch. 1 – “I want to be a Shieldmaiden!”
Edoras, 3005 TA
Saelith looked at her through narrowed eyes. Éowyn just sat there on the bench near the stables with her rag doll, Eówara waiting for Éomer. “Just ignore her Eówara, maybe she will go away.”
Saelith eyed her jealously, “I heard that you told Cyneith that you wanted to become a shieldmaiden.” She laughed as if it was a very funny joke.
Éowyn sighed and tried to push aside a feeling of humiliation. She looked at Cyneith, Éowyn was very disappointed that she had said anything. Cyneith looked away with shame in her eyes. Éowyn knew she should have said nothing, Cyneith said she would not say anything but apparently that had not been the case. She looked Saelith in the eye, “What is wrong with that? They are brave and honorable.” She had stolen away from Guthhild, her nurse yet again some weeks earlier and made her way down to the lower reaches of Edoras where she saw them training through a crack in a fence. She had been enthralled.
“They’re peasants! Why would you want to do something that peasants do? But then again you were born in Aldburg not Edoras. Not much as more than peasants there anyways! At least that is what my mama says about her Papa!” she said confidingly to Cyneith, who at least had the good grace to look scandalized by the comment, “Saelith, you shouldn’t say such things!”
Éowyn saw red, “You take that back about my Papa! He was a good man!”
“Good enough to get himself killed!” Saelith retorted.
Éowyn dropped Eówara and ran at Saelith, tumbling her to the ground, pulling hair and getting in a few fist punches before she felt arms pulling her away from the other girl. “Stop it! Stop it! Calm down!” Éowyn heard her brother’s voice in her ear.
“Éomer! You should have heard what she said about Papa!” Éowyn said while still struggling against her brother’s hold.
Éomer looked at Cyneith, who was staring with wide fright-filled eyes. “Do you know what was said?” he asked sternly. Cyneith hedged a bit and then said, “Saelith did say a few things that weren’t very nice at all,” in a scandalized voice.
Saelith looked her and hissed, “Cyneith!” the warning implicit in that one word.
Cyneith stood up a little straighter, “You said you weren’t going to say anything about what I said!” She added emboldened a little, “And it isn’t right to talk about someone’s papa who died!”
Éomer looked at Saelith, “Is this true, Saelith?”
“Maybe.” The girl admitted looking daggers at Cyneith, but without an audience, either willing or unwilling the bluster had gone out of her.
Éomer tamped down his own anger and simply said sternly to Saelith, “I think you had better go home now.”
Saelith protested, “But what about my dress and my hair! What do I say?”
Éomer leveled an unsympathetic look at the girl, “Tell them the truth. And we will tell my uncle.”
Saelith just looked at Éomer, turned on the heel of her boot and left in a huff.
Cyneith approached Éowyn still being nominally held by her brother. She began hesitantly, “Éowyn…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. But I only said something because I was impressed that you wanted to.”
Éowyn looked at her, “Really?”
Cyneith nodded, “Forgive me?”
They both recognized the bellowed words of Cyneith’s nurse, Aldwara. Cyneith’s looked sheepishly at Éowyn, “I best be off!” Éowyn nodded sympathetically. Cyneith ventured, “Friends?”
Éowyn gave her a small smile and a shrug, “Yes.” The other girl departed quickly before her nurse bellowed again.
Éomer let her go and placed her on the bench as he bent to pick up Eówara. He brushed off the doll as best he could and handed her to Éowyn who proceeded to give her a hug.
“Sorry that I dropped you like that, Eówara. But she made me mad.”
Éomer crouched in front of her, smoothing her hair and removing a twig that had become entwinned in her reddish blond hair. “I think we both gathered that. Can you tell me what started this all.”
“Saelith said something mean about Papa!”
Éomer tilted his head and smiled ruefully, “And that was wrong! But was there anything before that. Granted, Saelith is a nasty little minx but before that. What did Cyneith mean about something she said.”
Éowyn hesitated a few seconds because she knew what Éomer’s response was going to be. They had had this discussion before. “I was telling Cyneith that I wanted to be a shieldmaiden!”
Éomer sighed. He just looked at his ten-year old sister. “Ah that. You know that’s not possible.”
Éowyn looked at Éomer as he stood up and pick up his sword. He said, “Are you all right? Should I take you to Dunhild?” offering to take her to the healer who resided at Meduseld and had patched up many cuts and scrapes for them both.
Éowyn shook her head wordlessly as she balefully looked at her brother, who was on his way to training.
“Why can’t I come, too.” She blurted out. Éomer looked at his little sister with sorrowful eyes. “You know that you can’t. Why do you continue to ask?”
“Why can’t I?” Éowyn said petulantly. “Village women learn how to wield a sword. Why can’t I?”
Éomer sighed and walked back to his sister, “Sister, they learn because they have to. They do not always have the menfolk around to shield them. But you do. I will always protect you.” At fifteen Éomer took his responsibility to protect his sister very seriously. He recalled his father’s whispered words, fervent and with a tinge of desperation, “Protect your sister always. She will need you!” Those words sat wrapped around Éomer’s heart. They guided his actions.
Éowyn looked her brother and she swallowed what she was about to say. Even at ten, Éowyn could feel that to say that she could take care of herself would be to hurt Éomer’s feelings. She could not do that to him. So, she remained silent and just looked balefully at Éomer as he picked up his sword and training gear and headed for the practice field.
At that moment Guthhild her nursemaid, bellowed, “Éowyn!! Where is that child?!”
Éowyn closed her eyes and pursed her lips. It was time for the dreaded needlecraft. She sighed heavily and then made a decision as she watched Éomer walking away. She could not let Guthhild see her like this. She would know that she had gotten into a scuffle again and she was not in the mood to hear yet another lecture on how a lady should act. Besides it was time for needlecraft this morning and she simply could not face it today. Her fingers were still smarting from the disastrous lesson of the day before. Running in the opposite direction she found herself in front the door to her uncle’s study. She went inside and immediately heard a snarl from Brego, her uncle’s dog. The dog was eyeing her suspiciously. Try as she might Brego always made her nervous, which was very odd because normally she got along very well with dogs.
“Brego! Quiet!” came her uncle’s voice. She looked up and saw him walking from an adjoining room holding some pieces of parchment.
“I’m sorry, Uncle! I didn’t mean to disturb you!” Éowyn said more disconsolately than she meant to.
Théoden glanced at his young niece, distracted by the parchments in his hand, she seemed a little upset. “Éowyn, lytling! What is troubling you?” he murmured. Then he really looked at her noticing the disheveled clothing and hair, “Éowyn, what has happened to you?” King Théoden’s eyes flashing with concern.
Éowyn chewed her lower lip, “Nothing Uncle…”
Her uncle took a few moments to calm his raging blood after the thought that someone may have harmed his beloved niece. He softened his look and walked over a near chair upholstered in a deep color of green brocade. He put his parchments on the table next and sat down and opened his arms to his niece. “Come and sit, lytling.”
Éowyn rushed into his arms and while she sat in his lap, she poured out the anguish of her heart. “Nobody seems to like me, Uncle! They make fun of me!” For her tussle with Saelith was only the most recent time she had been teased about one thing or another. Éowyn snuffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve and looked at her uncle with big, sad blue eyes.
Théoden looked his little niece and the fear that had gripped his heart began to ease. Nobody had to die this day, his niece seemed basically unhurt. He smoothed a strand of hair of the little girl’s eyes, “Why do you say that, lytling?”
“They made fun of me when I said I wanted to be a shieldmaiden and learn how to protect my family! Then Saelith just laughed at me and said only peasant women became shieldmaidens. She claimed that somehow there must be peasant blood in me if I wanted to be a shieldmaiden. Nobody should say anything bad about my papa! That was why I hit her, uncle.” Éowyn looked up at Théoden, big blue eyes brimming with tears of indignation. “If I was a shieldmaiden, maybe I could have protected Papa!” Éowyn suddenly looked up at Théoden, “Not that I don’t love you Uncle. I do, very much.” She looked off into the distance, “But I do sometimes miss Papa and Mama.” She admittedly quietly.
Théoden was torn between laughing at her feistiness and despair because of her reason for wanting to be a Shieldmaiden. He settled for hugging Éowyn fiercely as his heart broke yet again for the little girl. “Oh my lytling! I love you, too. With all my heart.” He thought of Éomund and Théodwyn, both gone way before their time. “It is perfectly natural to miss your Papa!” he spoke into the little girl’s hair. He thought of the reason she wanted to become a shieldmaiden, wanting to protect those she loved. He pulled back to look Éowyn in the face, “I think it is wonderful and noble that you wish to become a shieldmaiden.” He did not have the heart to deny or discourage her. It was true. Only village women trained to become shieldmaidens. It was thought beneath the women of noble birth, but Éowyn was a child of light and spirit and he could not bear to see her unhappy or deny her this.
Éowyn’s face lit up, “Do you really, Uncle?” her face darkened, “But what about what Saelith said?”
Théoden looked at her, “I said ‘Pish’ to what Saelith says,” He knew of the child, she was the daughter of his First Marshal, Heregar. Heregar was a good man but he had married a rather vain and selfish woman and it did not surprise him that their daughter would say such things. He might have words with Heregar later but he would deal with that if the problem arose. “Peasant indeed!” He said out loud, “You are the daughter of Kings!” Éowyn smiled, “But remember, Éowyn, as the daughter of Kings, you should not put on airs or lord it over people no matter how much you think they deserve it. That is not how one acts. Am I clear?” Éowyn looked earnestly into her uncle’s eyes and nodded while gently chewing her bottom lip. “Good girl!” he said as he wiped almost dried tear tracks off his niece’s lightly freckled and currently dusty cheeks. “Now then about your training.”
“Really Uncle, do you mean it?” Éowyn cried happily.
“Yes,” Théoden smiled, “I wish you learn, if that is what you want to do.”
“I do, I do!”
“Well then, but I do have one request,” said Rohan’s King.
“What?” Éowyn said, not knowing what to expect.
“That we keep this in the family. No one else need know.” Théoden said conspiratorially, “It will be our secret,” He did not wish to open the child up to wagging tongues and more hurtful gossip, and he still wish to allow the child to dream. “I shall ask Théodred to teach you.”
Éowyn mouthed a silent “O” for she idolized her cousin, “Yes, Please.” Her face clouded up again, “But Guthhild would want to know where I was. She is after me every second, always trying to teach me needlework and other things.” Her little face held a mutinous scowl.
Théoden hid a sympathetic smile. He had seen some of his niece’s handiwork. It was…problematic was a kind way of describing her abilities in the “womanly arts.” “Well, she is your nurse.”
“Yes, sir,” came the dispirited reply.
Théoden, still valiantly trying to hide his smile, “I’ll tell you what. What portion of your lessons would you like to dispense with?”
“Needlework!” came the enthusiastic assertion. “All I seem to do is poke my finger with that blasted needle,”
“Language! Éowyn.” Théoden admonished albeit gently. “You should not use such words.”
“Yes, Uncle. I do try. But sometimes they just slip out!” Éowyn ended with a little more spirit.
Théoden let forth a cough that sounded more like a laugh. He cleared his throat and began again. “Well on days when Théodred is available to teach you I shall tell Guthhild that during your needlework time you are to spend time with your cousin instead. She does not need to know the reason why.”
“Thank you, uncle. Thank you!” She gave him a big kiss on his whiskered blond cheek.
Théoden laughed. “It won’t be all the time, you’ll still have needlework at least part of the time!”
Éowyn beamed, “But not all the time!”
Théoden laughed again.
“Beg pardon My King,” Théoden looked up from his niece, slightly aggrieved their time had been disturbed. But he nodded his consent for the rider to continue.
“Beg pardon once again, My King. But the Marshals are in the meeting room, they await your presence.”
Théoden’s eyes fell upon the forgotten parchment on the near table and he let forth a sigh, “Yes, of course, Déormod. Thank you for reminding me. Forgive me.”
Déormod was a bit flustered at hearing his King apologize to him. He was new to Edoras and to the King’s service and did not know his King’s ways, he stumbled out, “There is no need, My King.”
Théoden turned his attentions back to his niece, “Éowyn, are we in agreement?”
Éowyn looked at her uncle and felt so special that he was asking for her consent. She felt very grown up, “Yes, Uncle!”
He kissed her forehead and gave her a hug, “Up you get!” he said as he placed her feet on the ground. “It will be our secret!”
Éowyn giggled. She dropped a little curtsy to her uncle and to Déormod. She scurried off to find Éomer to tell him the secret. He would keep the secret. He could be trusted.
Lytling (Old English): A little one, a young person or child (Rohirric was based on Old English, so I looked up a few Old English words.)
A/N: I looked into the idea of Shieldmaidens in Rohan and I got many conflicting ideas and nothing definitive. I read somewhere that Shieldmaidens were village women who learned how to defend themselves when their men were away. I have decided that this is the idea that I am going to run with as it began to present story ideas almost immediately.
Ch. 2 - "In my heart this is right!"
Edoras, 3005 TA
Théoden was true to his word. As Théodred returned from the Eastfold, the king had sent a messenger to his son to meet him before evening meal. The young rider approached Théodred, “My Prince,” Théodred motioned for the rider to continue, “Your Lord Father wished you to attend him before the evening meal. There is something he wishes to discuss with you and the Lord Éomer.”
“Indeed?” Théodred raised a dark blond eyebrow. “Curiosity abounds. At what time did the King say?”
The young rider answered, “Half an hour before, My Lord!”
“Thank you, Aldor! Tell the King I shall attend.” Aldor bowed, fist on heart and retreated.
Théodred watched the rider leave and pondered what his father had to say…and with Éomer called to attend as well. “Curious….” He murmured to himself as Fasthelm unpacked his saddlebags.
“Shall I ready a bath for you, my lord?”
“Hmmmm….” Théodred was shaken from his musings, “Oh yes, Fasthelm. I wish to wash the road off! Thank you!”
Fasthelm bowed, fist on heart, “As you wish, My Lord!” and departed to prepare the bath.
Théodred sat on the bench at the foot of his bed and started unbuckling his bracers as he pondered the King’s request. He shook his head. He would find out soon enough.
Freshly bathed and properly attired in a new tunic of green and gold and dun colored breeches, Théodred walked to his young cousin’s door and knocked. Éomer opened the door and a look of delight crossed his usually somber face. “Cousin! You are back! So good it is to see you!” and Théodred found himself enfolded in an enthusiastic bear hug.
He laughed, “It is good to see you as well, cousin!” He looked at his young cousin. Éomer was seven years his junior but the age difference did not seem to matter. He was a serious lad, current greeting notwithstanding, with much responsibility laden on his young shoulders too early, but once one saw past the gruff façade there was goodwill and humour to be found. One just had to be patient enough to find it. “So how have things been progressing here…Have you pulled together enough courage to talk to Ealith?” Théodred teased his young cousin about a tavern maid he had found particularly buxom and beautiful. He delighted in the fact that Éomer blushed and stumbled out the denial, “No,” coupled with the excuse, “it hasn’t been the right moment.” Théodred laughed and said, “You MAKE the moment!”
Éomer blushed more and then said a little more seriously, “We had a moment of a different sort here yesterday.”
Théodred’s eyebrows came together upon hearing that, “What has happened, cousin?”
“Saelith has been picking on Éowyn.”
Théodred’s demeanor changed immediately. All the protectiveness of a growly mother bear lit within him. He did not like it when anyone treated either of his cousins poorly, especially little Éowyn, who was only ten. “What happened?”
“Apparently Saelith had a few less that glowing opinions about Papa and Éowyn disagreed.”
“Well there was also hair pulling and fist punching involved and by the time I could separate them Saelith did look a little worse for wear!”
“Good for Éowyn! Saelith is a nasty little one. She is too like her mother. Ahem…I mean she shouldn’t be fighting.” He intoned ineffectually.
“Agreed on ALL counts, but the fighting began when Saelith laughed at Éowyn because she wanted train to be a Shieldmaiden.”
“Yes! She wants to train.”
“But it is not done! Has she been told—”
Théodred just shook his head, “she is a stubborn little piece of business!”
Éomer just sat there on the bed nodding.
Just then a whirlwind entered the room, “Théodred! You are home!!!” Éowyn ran at her cousin and engulfed him in an all-embracing hug. “So happy you are back!” He spun her around and set her down on her boot tips.
“And I am so glad to be home! Perhaps I should go away more often if I am guaranteed a welcome like that every time!” Théodred ruffled her partially undone plaits.
Éowyn turned serious, “I wouldn’t want that! I hate it when you go away!”
Théodred smiled and sat on the bed and motioned for Éowyn to climb into his lap which she readily did. “I know you do, lytling. But it has to be done sometimes. Now what is this that I hear about you and Saelith?”
Éowyn exclaimed, “She said mean things about Papa! And…well…I just got angry!”
“Well, officially I should say you shouldn’t be fighting but unofficially,” Here Théodred’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “She is a nasty, little swine!”
Éowyn laughed and Théodred put his finger to his lips, “Shh-sh! We shouldn’t say such things! Though it is true!”
Éowyn tried to look contrite and failed miserably. “She did deserve it though, she laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be a shieldmaiden! I saw them training down in the lower edges of Edoras.”
Théodred eyed his young cousin, “Éowyn…what were you doing in the lower reaches of Edoras…alone. Did you evade poor Guthhild again?” Éowyn had a habit of doing just that when it came time for her to do something she did not want to do.
Éowyn tried to feign innocence, but as she was basically an honest child she was unconvincing, “Maybe…It was time for needlecraft and I didn’t want to.” She exclaimed in way of an explanation.
“Poor Guthhild, she is going to begin to think that you don’t like her,” Théodred tried to argue.
“Well I don’t…” Éowyn relented a little, “At least not when she is trying to make me learn to sew, or do needlework. Shieldmaidens don’t need to know that stuff!”
Théodred countered, “Yes they do. And besides.” Here he tried to soften the blow, “Éowyn. Only village women can train to be Shieldmaidens. It is not for Noble born ladies.”
Éowyn jumped off his lap and shouted, “Why does everyone keep telling me that!” she had her hands fisted up into little balls at her sides. “If I had been one maybe I could have ridden at papa’s side and saved him! Why does nobody think that?” She ran off in tears down the hallway that lead to the stables.
Éomer and Théodred just looked at each other. Both were taken aback by the fervency of her words and the reasoning behind for it.
“And that is why I wished to speak with you both,” both cousins looked at the door and there standing in the doorway was King Théoden.
Théodred spoke first. “What do you mean Father? It has always been the practice that village women need to learn to defend themselves given the circumstances in which they live. Their menfolk serving with an Eored they need to know the basics of defense to protect themselves and their families. But those that live within Edoras it has never been deemed necessary or proper.”
“Yes, Théodred. I know that. And that has been the way. But did you hear what Éowyn said? I did and my heart aches. I think she should be given some form of training.”
Éomer looked at his uncle, “Uncle, are you saying that you do not believe in my ability or commitment to protecting my sister?”
Théoden looked at his nephew, just on the verge of manhood at almost fifteen, who stood looking at him with the eyes of doubt.
Théoden sought to quickly allay the hurt he saw in those eyes that reminded him so much of Éomund, his father, “No. No, Éomer. I have absolutely no doubt of your heart, abilities or commitment to your sister. I have great faith in you.” Éomer visibly relaxed. Théoden smiled. “It is for Éowyn herself that I am concerned. If she were to train in at least the basics, it might give her an outlet for her grief. You have had your training to give your life structure. She has not. It might give her a purpose to work toward and help to channel her energy instead rising to whatever bait Heregar’s daughter or others might want to throw at her.”
Théodred nodded, saying, “It is sound thinking, Father, but for the gossip and scandal it will cause. Might it not cause more fodder for discussion?”
“I have thought of that. And yes, I do believe that could be the result and that is the last thing I want for Éowyn. So, I propose that you teach her in private, when you can. Start with the basics and see how apt she is. I have already discussed this with Éowyn, she is very excited about the prospect. Archery can taught to her without undue comment as it can be a noble lady’s pursuit. It is swordplay that will have to be done in secret.”
Théodred looked at his father, “If you think this is best course of action I will of course do as you bid.”
“I do not know if it is good to break with tradition in this way, but I would see her smile again. The memory of my sister speaks in my heart that this is right.”
He looked at Éomer, who had been quiet through most of this discussion, “What say you, my nephew. Does my plan meet with your approval.”
Éomer looked at his uncle somewhat in surprise that he should seek his approval. He saw in his uncle’s eyes no mocking or disregard but a genuine desire for his opinion on this matter. Though he was still young his uncle was seeking to hear his thoughts. Éomer felt proud and humbled at the same time, but he straightened his shoulders and drew himself up as he said, “I wish to see my sister happy. If you think this course of action will achieve this, then I agree with you. I also would like to see my sister smiling again.”
Théoden hid a smile as he solemnly nodded to his nephew. The boy was becoming a man; it was important that Théoden acknowledge that in whatever decisions he could allow him to take part in. He must steward the raising of his sister’s children and help them both to grow as she and Éomund would have wished. It was a responsibility he took most seriously.
“Very good. In this we shall move forward.”
Ch. 3 – A Young Heart finds purpose
Éowyn ran to the stables, tears obscuring her vision. She could hear murmuring on either side of her with the occasional mention of her name but she was too upset to care. They could think what they like. She entered the stables and felt immediately comforted by smells and sounds that surrounded her. Gamhelm, the Master of the Horse saw her enter and one look told him that she was upset. His shoulder slumped in sympathy for the little girl, but he quickly pasted a smile on his face when greeting her.
“Hello! Lytling. And how are you this fine afternoon?”
Éowyn looked at Gamhelm. He was a big, burly man who always had a smile on his ruddy face. He always made her feel happy with his jovial nature. But this day not even he could bring a smile to her face, “Oh Gamhelm! Why was I born a girl! Girls don’t get to do anything fun or important!” she burst out.
Gamhelm looked a little non-plussed by the strange declaration from one of his favorite people to frequent his stables, “Well my lady, I can’t rightly say. The Valar decide these things and we have no say.”
Éowyn dirt-stained face screwed itself into a scowl and she folded her arms, “It’s not fair! And now I am constantly told that I can’t even be a shieldmaiden!”
Gamhelm was about to say that of course she could not because she was noble-born, niece to the King. But Éowyn took one look at him and said, “Not you too, Gamhelm! Don’t say it.”
Gamhelm bent his head in a nod, “Sorry, Lytling, I won’t say it.”
Éowyn look at the big, burly blond man, and smiled, “I’m sorry, Gamhelm. I didn’t mean to be cross with you! Uncle says we should not ‘take our frustrations out on those who do not deserve it,’” she finished sounding like she was quoting directly, “It’s not your fault I’m not a boy.” She ended wistfully.
“Oh, my lady! I like you just as you are! You are a lovely lass! You are.”
Éowyn gave him a big hug. She was feeling much better. “I love you, Gamhelm! I don’t ever want to get married,” She wrinkled her nose at the prospect, “but if I have to, I want it to be someone just like you!” She hopped up onto his worktable and picked up a horseshoe that was on the table next to her, looking through one of the holes the horseshoe nails are driven through just to see what she could see.
“Oh my lady, Stop with the nonsense. You will marry some grand lord with a fancy title. Not someone like me!”
“Oh but I don’t want that!” she wrinkled her nose again, “I would want someone who I can sit with and talk about horses all day long!”
Gamhelm laughed, “Well, my lady! I do say THAT would be a fine thing! But look here, My lady,” Éowyn stopped looking through the hole in the horseshoe and looked at him solemnly as he seemed to be looking serious for a change, “I will tell you one thing, my lady. When you do get married make sure your man has a gentle heart. Tis most important.”
Éowyn nodded for it seemed to be a very important point to him, “But how will I know that, Gamhelm?” she asked.
“You’ll know because you will see it in his eyes. Remember that,” He said solemnly. Éowyn nodded again and he playfully tapped her nose and his mood changed and he was once again his jovial self, “At least that’s what my Gamwyn tells me. She knew I was the one when she looked into my eyes. And we’ve been happily married for years now.”
Éowyn smiled. She had met Mistress Gamwyn many times when she would come to the stables to bring Gamhelm his midday meal, and a fair few times she had an extra spice cake just for her. She hopped down from the table, leaving the horseshoe behind.
“Do we have any turnips today? I want to give Wildefýr a little treat.”
“Look in the box, My lady. I do believe there are one or two of them in there.”
She skipped over the treat box and amid the carrots, she did find one or two turnips. She chose the biggest one and walked over to Wildefýr’s stall. Wildefýr nickered when she saw Éowyn, “Hello, girl,” she whispered as she nuzzled the horse’s neck. Wildefýr started nuzzling Éowyn’s overlay pocket where she had placed the turnip. “What’s that, girl? What? You think I have something in my pocket. Now what would that be?” She quickly took the turnip out of her pocket and fed it to her horse. “You are such a smart horse.” She stroked her black mane. “Ah, my girl. The life of a horse I think is so much easier! Unlike me I bet you’ve never wished you were a stallion.”
After the discussion with his father Théodred talked with Éomer and it was decided that Théodred should go and find Éowyn to tell her the good, albeit to be kept secret, news. Finding her would not really be an issue. He knew that whenever she was very upset she headed straight for the stables to visit with her horse, Wildefýr. Gamhelm would know where she was. He had been entrusted with her safety by the King whenever she was near the stables and he took his charge very seriously.
Théodred walked up to the stables and nodded to Gamhelm, who in nodded with his fist on his heart, “My Prince!”
“Good Master Gamhelm, is she here?”
“Yes, My lord. Lady Éowyn is back with Wildefýr as we speak.”
“Thank you Master Gamhelm, can you give us a few moments please.”
Gamhelm bowed, “As you will, My lord.”
Théodred walked back to Wildefýr’s stall and turned the corner just in time to overhear the last part of Éowyn’s conversation with her horse. He would never comment upon what he had overheard for secrets whispered to one’s horse were sacrosanct among the Rohirrim. But though he would never speak of it, it broke his heart, nonetheless. Éowyn had been wishing she had been born a boy. He waited a couple of seconds and then called her name. She immediately turned around, “Cousin!” she exclaimed brightly and then her face clouded, “Are you here to lecture me more on why I can’t become a Shieldmaiden?” she finished, looking up at him through veiled eyelids.
“No, I’m not. In fact, I have been speaking with Father and I now think that you should be trained but only by me. I would not trust anyone else with so precious a student.”
Éowyn ran into his arms, “Oh Cousin! You have made me so happy!” She near shouted into his ear.
“Easy…you don’t want to deafen your instructor before lessons begin!”
Éowyn laughed, “Sorry, Cousin.”
Théodred laughed. “But I agree with Father. We should keep the lessons a secret. We don’t want to make the others jealous.” Éowyn nodded. “And,” he looked at his mischievous little cousin squarely in the eye, “No bragging on your part. That is not our way. Do you promise?”
Éowyn, wide-eyed, nodded, “I won’t say anything!”
“Good,” Théodred said approvingly, “I will tell you now. I will not go easy on you. The purpose to train is to fight. A disservice is done if the training is not done properly.” Éowyn nodded solemnly. “Very well, we will begin tomorrow.” He held her gaze solemnly for a few seconds more and then he smiled. Éowyn hugged he again.
By the end of the second week she wanted to strangle him. Théodred had spoken true when he said he would not go lightly with Éowyn’s training. It started out easily enough but at the end of the week she was exhausted and sore. The next week was even worse. They drilled in footwork and balance and Éowyn really did not know what this had to do with sword fighting. She was convinced her cousin was making everything purposefully hard and seemingly pointless because in truth he did not want to teach her. And nothing she did was ever good enough. At the end of the second week she was sullen and in a bad mood, convinced her cousin was picking on her. Théodred knocked her door and at first Éowyn did not answer. She had worked herself up into a right foul mood and she thought mutinously that he could just go away. She sat in her window seat overlooking the courtyard and brooded. The knock came again. “Éowyn, open up. Please. I want to talk to you.” He sounded so reasonable, but on the training field it was another matter. The door opened a crack.
“Go away!” she shouted.
Silence. And then, “I’m opening the door.”
More Silence. Éowyn relented and said, “Fine. You can open the door.”
Théodred opened the door fully and saw his little cousin sitting in the window seat, clearly brooding. He walked in and sat on the bed, “It is time to train.”
He saw Éowyn stiffen, “I’m not going! You clearly don’t want me to.”
Théodred paused, “Why don’t I want you to.” He countered.
“Because you are always yelling, always finding fault.”
“And this to you says that I don’t want teach you. And I don’t want you to learn?”
“Yes!” Éowyn continued to purposefully look through the window and not at her cousin.
“I did tell you it would not be easy. I did tell you that, did I not.”
“Yes.” Came the small voiced admission.
Théodred took a very deep breath to calm himself. “Éowyn, you are my cousin and I love you very much and that is precisely why I am hard on you.”
Éowyn then looked at Théodred confusion evident on her face. “Why is that? I don’t understand.”
Théodred paused to gather his thoughts. He did not as a rule explain himself to fledgling riders. It was their job to learn to obey and his job to train them to fight and survive to fight another day. But for his young cousin he would make an exception and he was struggling to find the right words. He had seen her growing more and more sullen as the days passed. She did have an aptitude for training but she also had an attitude that had to be changed. She seemed to think it was a game. Which it most definitely was not. “Training to learn how to fight, how to protect your loved ones,” he began, “is a very hard thing to do. Father is right. It is admirable that you want to do this thing. But it is not easy. And you cannot be allowed to think it is easy. I think you are old enough to understand that. We train and train hard so that in battle we react as we have been trained, before fear takes hold, or anger. It is our skills that can keep us alive.” He paused, “If I don’t prepare you to the best of my ability, if I don’t push you to improve to the best of your abilities, which by the way are considerable, then I have failed you. You are too precious to me to allow for that kind of failure.”
Éowyn looked at her cousin, not quite understanding everything he had just said, but she was beginning to see that he did have faith in her. She felt her wounded pride begin to slip away. “So,” she said haltingly, “you are hard on me because you have faith in me?”
At that one word, Éowyn’s heart soared, she smiled and she got up off of the window seat and quickly plaited her hair into a single queue and said, “That’s all right then” and started heading towards the door. She turned around and saw that Théodred was still sitting on the bed. “Well come on! Isn’t it archery today? We don’t have much time before Guthhild will be expecting me for knitting time!”
Théodred laughed, “The Horrors!”
“Yeah well, you haven’t seen me with a couple knitting needles in my hand. It isn’t a pretty sight.”
They stood on the archery range a few minutes later. Éowyn stood with her light practice bow on the shooting line. She nocked her arrow, pulled the bowstring, calmed her breathing and let fly the arrow. It hit the target but it was a little off center. She looked at Théodred with a new and burgeoning understanding, expecting a critique rather than fearing one. Théodred did not disappoint, critiquing, albeit with a slight smile this time, “Elbow straight and loose the arrow by simply opening your hand. You were snatching your shot.”
Éowyn simply nodded. She nocked the next arrow, pulled the bow, took it down and readjust her arrow. This time more cognizant of where her elbow was, she pulled the bowstring. She stilled her breath and simply loosed the arrow. It flew more true, finding the center of the hay boss with a satisfying thwack.
“Excellent!” She heard her cousin’s critique. And purpose filled her young heart.
The archery session continued and Éowyn began to feel a sense of satisfaction a sense that she was achieving something. She had gone to retrieve her arrows when she looked up and noticed that the sun was past its zenith. "Blast!" She exclaimed and started to pull her arrows from the hay boss with ferocity.
Théodred cautioned her, "Easy…you're going to lose a tip if you pull them like that."
Éowyn looked chagrined, "I was having so much fun I lost track of time, it is past midday and I have to be in the solar for knitting! Blast!"
Théodred took pity upon her, "I will pull the last of your arrows. You hightail it up to the solar before Guthhild starts bellowing."
Éowyn kissed her instructor-turned-older-cousin on the cheek, "Thank you cousin! Thank you!"
"Yes well, don't make a habit of it. I might not be so nice next time!" he laughed as she scurried off hoping to avoid the lash of her nurse's tongue.
"How is she doing?" Théodred looked to his side and saw his father walking up.
Théodred nodded his head in approval, "She is good, she definitely shows an ability that can be honed and worked on."
"That is good," Théoden said, "Very good."
Théodred looked at Théoden, "Father, what is to come of this? She will never be able to put these skills to use!"
Théoden turned to his son, "What is to come of this? In truth, son. I do not know. We shall follow this path until another may present itself. But I do know one thing. Purpose can heal a heart in grief and that in itself is a blessed thing."
Ch. 4 – Two halves that are not whole
Edoras, 3010 TA
In a glade in the forest near Edoras as the crisp cold air of early winter blew with the promise of snow but with none yet on the ground, Éowyn leaned over catching her breath as she and Éomer had been engaged in some spirited sparring, the cold air invigorating her. In the five years she had been training she had really come to love these times she spent with her cousin and later on her brother as well. While she had come to realise what Théodred said when she began to train was true, that this was not a game and she was not to think of it as one, she really enjoyed the focus and the purpose it gave her. Her confidence grew as she became better and better at what she was being taught. During their sparring she knew that both her cousin and her brother did go easier on her because of her size and age, she could only spar with them due to the fact that no rider her age knew that she was being trained, but that mattered little. Earlier in the week she overheard the two talking before she arrived for training, Théodred ask Éomer what did he really think of Éowyn as a fighter and her brother said that she was good, better than some of the young Riders down on the main training field.
Éowyn had broken into their conversation at that point, “So I’m good, you say?” Both Théodred and Éomer started a bit. Both looking curiously relieved that it was that portion of the conversation she had overheard and not the previous few minutes because they had been discussing the fact that she would never be allowed near a battle.
Éomer had rolled his eyes, she remembered, “Yes,” he admitted, “but I should not have said because now your head will grow ten sizes too big and there will no doors you will able to get through anywhere in the Golden Hall.”
Éowyn smiled at the memory of the conversation.
“My sister is smirking. That is never a good sign.” Éowyn turned to him and made a face.
“Just thinking about what you were saying the other day about my being better that some of the Riders my age.”
Éomer looked skyward, “Valar be merciful! My sister hears one compliment and it goes to her head! You cannot best me yet, little sister.”
“Well, I may not be able to out fight you, but I can certain outshoot you!”
“Say you so!”
“Yes!” Éowyn was enjoying needling her brother.
Théodred held up his hand, “Children! There is only one way to settle this! Toe the line!” Éowyn skipped to the line and Éomer grumbled about uppity little sisters as he toed the line as well. The makeshift shooting range was not ideally set up. It was not quite long enough as the practice range in Edoras, but if truth be told, in battle the opportunities to shoot optimally presented themselves rarely. The range suited in that respect. Théodred intoned, “Standard competition rules, six arrows each. Three rounds of six. Éowyn will shoot the first and Éomer the second, proceeding from there in the same order! Make ready!” Éowyn nocked her arrow, “Shoot in your own time!”
Éowyn pulled her bow, steadied her breathing and loosed the arrow and a soft thwump was heard as the arrow land near center, Théodred shouted, “In the black!” Éomer shot him a look and Théodred looked back with a smile that bordered on a smirk. Éomer let fly his arrow also in the black. The arrows flew and the competition was heated. Both children of Éomund had a competitive streak that was intense; neither liked to lose. Suspiciously timed sneezes just as an arrow was loosed was a familiar ploy on both sides. Éowyn had taken the first round on a score of 55 to 47. Éomer edged her in the second round 52 to 50. Éomer looked at Éowyn, “Third volley. You think you can win,” he challenged. Éowyn, with her competitive juices fired up, responded with one word, “Watch,” Éomer’s eyebrows shot up and he smiled.
Théodred warned, “I don’t know, cousin. She has that look in her eye again…” as Éowyn toed the line and pulled the bow and let fly the arrow which landed in the center of the black, “In the black!” Théodred crowed as Éowyn looked at Éomer in triumph.
Éomer replied, “Nice shot, Volley isn’t over yet, though.”
Éowyn laughed, “Less talk, more shooting, brother mine!”
Éomer laughed and then let fly his arrow just inside the second ring for seven.
“Don’t worry, brother. You still have five more shots!” Éowyn teased.
“Less talk, more shooting!” Éomer shot back.
The volley continued.
Having retrieved their first three arrows of the last volley, Théodred informed them where they stood. “Éowyn is at 127 and Éomer is at 124! Three arrows to go! Toe the line!”
Éowyn stepped up, pulled and loosed. Third circle for six. She scrunched up her face in chagrin.
Éomer let fly into the black, though not quite centered for nine.
At the last arrow to shoot Théodred recounted the score. “Éowyn, 139…..Éomer 140.”
Éomer said to his sister, “Last arrow, sister dear, no pressure!” Éowyn shot him a look.
She concentrated and another curiously timed sneeze sounded but she still got the shot in just off the black.
She shot a look at her brother who feigned innocence, “What? my nose tickled.”
She voiced a disbelieving “Um-hmm.”
“Quiet, I am about to take my shot.”
She and Théodred watched him take aim and loosed just outside the second ring for six.
Éowyn whooped, “I won!” she hugged Théodred. Competition over, Éomer looked at his little sister with a smile on his face, “Well done, very well done!” Éowyn returned the smile. “Nice last shot.” He said.
“Somebody was trying to distract me!”
“Exactly, and that is why it was impressive, through distraction you still managed to get off a good shot. That is difference between the range and battle. I am proud of you.” Éomer said suddenly serious.
Éowyn looked at her brother and felt his pride in her. She smiled, and at a loss for words, she said, “Thanks.” And gave her brother a hug, feeling very happy.
Later that evening…
Éowyn sat in the Great Hall listening to the roaring hearth fire crackle. It always made her feel warm and safe because it meant she was surrounded by family and friends readying themselves for storytelling time. It was one of her favourite times when the inhabitants of Meduseld gathered together at night during winter and while the wind howled outside; they were all warm and snug listening to tales told by the loremasters and skalds. Tales of daring, tales of bravery. Heroes battling great odds to complete their quests. She and Cyneith would sit on velvet cushions near the foot of her uncle’s throne, woven blankets throw over their knees listening to the skald’s poetry. She had remained friends with Cyneith, who proved a loyal friend though she did dwell a little too much on clothes and frippery and which of the young riders she found handsome. Still she was a good friend.
Sipping from a mug of mulled wine, Éowyn had her drinking arm pulled on by Cyneith, causing Éowyn to spill a little, “Cyneith! You made me spill.”
“Sorry, but Elfred is about to begin with “Sister mine, she waits for me,” Cyneith enthused. “I love this one so much!” She got all dewy eyed when she thought of the ballad that sang of love unrequited that would always wait for that one true love. Éowyn rolled her eyes and shook her head in amusement.
“I saw that eye-roll, Éowyn! It is a lovely ballad. You have no romance in you!” Cyneith teased, using her familiar refrain when she sought to tease her friend.
“Shh! Elfred is about to begin!” she said to distract her friend from that familiar theme. She was glad that her friend distracted so easily when Elfred was the skald for whom she harbored a secret wish to be swept up and sung one of his ballads as they rode away on a flight of fancy. Thus distracted, she did not notice the furrowed brow that had taken up residence on above Éowyn’s troubled blue eyes. Éowyn tried to push aside the little kernel of concern that she was unmoved by these tales. She did not want to contemplate the idea and in her growing concern she did not want Cyneith delve a little too deeply, though she knew her friend was only teasing her. Cyneith did not have a spiteful bone in her body.
She sat listening to the ballad thinking that this time she might be moved by the plight of the maiden Heloise, she waited and waited, wasting away because the Rider did not return her love. Usually when she heard this particular ballad she always thought “Hogwash!” and secretly considered the maiden to be a ninny for pining away. Her reaction was no different this time, but she looked at Cyneith who was awash with emotion and she looked at other ladies of the court and they seemed to be enraptured as well. She began to wonder if there was something wrong with her.
The ballad ended to rapturous applause no one seemed to notice her tepid clapping. The next chords stuck by the skald had her full attention. It was “The Tale of Helm Hammerhand” and it told the story of the legendary king who saved his people and died in their service. The last line of “he went out in the night so cold, never to return….” always struck a chord within her. He gave everything to his people and he paid the ultimate price. It always brought a tear to her eye. She could not think of a more glorious way to die than in the defense of her own people.
“Not again, Éowyn!” Cyneith exclaimed quietly but loud enough for King Theoden to hear.
“What? You cry over your ballads, I will cry over mine. Helm was so brave to sacrifice himself like that.”
Cyneith just laughed, “You are silly, but I like you anyways.”
Éowyn smiled, looked at her friend, “And I like you, too.” And she did. Cyneith was a simple soul, a sweet heart that accepted her friend’s oddities with nothing more than gentle teasing and no judgment. Her only real female friend at court. All the other ladies at court thought her odd though this was never stated overtly for fear of the King’s wrath.
Theoden heard this little exchange and was thoughtful. Éowyn’s tears over Helm Hammerhand. He knew that it was tales of battle that stirred her. And he had encouraged it. Allowing her to train; allowing her to hone her skills as a Rider for which she had indeed shown great aptitude he added thoughtful. He had encouraged it and enlisted both Théodred and Éomer’s approval and cooperation in the endeavor. It had all been done to help a little girl through her grief. And it had worked miracles. Éowyn was a confident young girl who was blossoming into a caring young woman. But while training had achieved the desired goal he was beginning to wonder where could this go? What reckoning would have to be paid? Just then Éowyn looked up at her uncle and smiled radiantly. He smiled back, stroking her hair and put aside these questions in his mind for another day.
The next morning Éowyn sat on a bench in the stables talking to Gamhelm, the Master of his King’s horse. She sat there kicking her boots on the dirt covering the stable floor. She was looking pensive as she scuffed the dirt. Gamhelm sat working on a repair to a saddle and glanced at her a couple times but did not say anything. He knew that whatever it was, she would say it when she was ready. A few more minutes passed and then, “Gamhelm? Do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“Now my lady, why would you think that?” the big, burly man inquired.
“Oh, I don’t know. Cyneith and the other girls just talk about jewelry and what they are going to do with their hair and which of the young Riders they fancy. I smile and say things but I don’t really care. I mean jewerly just gets in the way when I’m shooting and rings just affect the grip on my sword. A single braid keeps my hair out of my face during swordplay.”
Gamhelm mused a bit, he had been told in utmost secrecy that Éowyn was training to become a shieldmaiden. It was decided by Théoden that the horsemaster needed to be told so when Éowyn rode out with equipment he would know why and not question it. He was a very good secret keeper. He looked at the furrowed brow over the pale blue eyes and said in response, “Well my lady, I don’t rightly know why young girls take an interest in such things. I mean Cyneith is a sweet girl, don’t get me wrong and the rest of them. Well, I honestly do not know why you take time with them. That Saelith, she’s piece of a work.”
Éowyn started playing with an old piece of leather thong that Gamhelm had taken off the saddle he was working on. She twirled it around her index finger, saying “I don’t know. I don’t really like Saelith. Not since I was ten and she said mean things about Papa. But I guess I take time with them so I don’t feel alone or too different. But I just don’t see things the way they do. Last night at the storytelling the love ballads were just boring. Pining away for love? Really? Does that happen in life or just in stories. Cyneith loves those songs and thinks that actually happens.”
“Just because she does, doesn’t mean you have to. There is no reason you should,” Gamhelm was trying to give the best counsel he could because it was obvious that this was truly troubling her, but unfortunately for Éowyn, he only had sons and truth be told the feminine mind was beyond him. So, in an effort to cheer her up he said, “Would you like to continue working on the new saddle we are making for the King?”
“Would I? Yes!” Her face lit up with excitement. She loved working in leather, Gamhelm said she had some real touch for leather work. She loved it because she could create wonderful pieces for her family with her own hands. It gave her a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
They sat there peaceably working on the saddle and Éowyn lost track of all time until she realised with a start that it was time for her daily lessons in cooking. She jumped as if she were on a spring, gave Gamhelm a quick hug and ran up the slope to the Meduseld kitchens. She ran by a horse drinking trough, stuck her hands and quickly rubbed her hands together and tried to smooth back her hair by wetting it down. She had to try look at least presentable for Thilda hoping to fend off another lecture. She slipped in and stood next to Cyneith. Thilda, the cook turned around and saw two where there had been one previously. She looked at Éowyn and sighed, “So kind of you to join us, my lady Éowyn. What excuse you have for us this time?”
“Sorry, Thilda, I just lost track of time. I ask that you pardon me.”
Thilda pressed her lips together by way of reply and a faint “Mhmmmm!” was heard. “Yes, well.” She held her tongue mindful of the fact that her recalcitrant and unethusiastic student was the beloved niece of the king. “Today it is a basic lamb stew.”
Éowyn and Cyneith shared a look as Thilda’s back was to them. Rohirrim daughters were as tradition dictated were taught to cook and spin and weave by their mothers. But both girls had lost their mothers tragically early. Cyneith’s mother was lost to a wasting fever when she was five and Éowyn had lost hers she always suspected to a broken heart as she died within a year of losing Éowyn’s father to an orc attack. She suspected that was why she and Cyneith had gravitated towards each other, their shared loss forming a bond. This is why they were being taught cooking by Thilda.
Éowyn did not excel at cooking. She did try to follow the directions that Thilda gave them but between the potatoes that squirted out her hand and onto the floor as she tried to peel them and the eggs that ended up with broken yolks and bits of shell needing to be fished out of various mixing bowls, she was nothing short of calamitous. She was determined to get it right, though. But Thilda’s heavy sighs did not help matters. The only saving grace was that usually she and Cyneith could laugh about it afterwards.
First, they had to brown the lamb so Thilda said. Éowyn added butter to the hot pan and sat and watched it melt holding the handle of the pan with a holder which then reminded her of a particular grip of a sword that she and Théodred had been going over the day before and as she was pondering that, Thilda bellowed, “It is burning!” Éowyn shook from her reverie and was greeted by the smell of burnt butter and then the cloth holder caught fire which Éowyn immediately flung onto the floor but in her haste her hand upended the mixing spoon that was in the other pot flipped that up into the air.
“Be still!” Thilda said, once again. She stamped on the cloth holder to make sure it was extinguished. The wooden spoon clattered to the floor and spattered on the lower hem of Éowyn’s dress.
Thilda stood with her booted foot still on the burnt holder, apparently trying desperately hard to reign in her temper. “Use another holder and take the pan off the flames.” She said to Éowyn in a controlled voice. Éowyn quickly complied making sure she grabbed a holder first. She was shaking, not from the burning of the butter and the fact that she was caught daydreaming again, not from the fact that she had almost set herself on fire and not from the clear evidence that Thilda was ready to throttle her but from all three at once. She stood there burning with shame. She could not do this; she did not know why but her mind wandered when she was supposed to be paying attention. Thilda did not make it any easier always barking, always finding fault. When Théodred was harsh or critical or even Éomer who taken over some of her training, she knew that it came from their heart because they genuinely wanted her to improve. She did not have the same feeling from Thilda.
Thilda broke the silence, “Right,” she bent and picked up the burnt holder and placed it on the counter, “Let’s start again, if we can do this without burning the hall down!” She said purposefully not looking in Eowyn’s direction.
Éowyn gulped air and tried to think past what had just happen, but she could not do it. She untied her apron and looked at Cyneith and murmured, “I have to go! I can’t stay here.” Cyneith looked at her friend with a sympathetic look and nodded.
Éowyn left the kitchen’s at a brisk pace and heard Thilda calling after her, “My lady, where are you going? Come back here!” But she just kept walking. She needed some air. She found herself on the front steps of the Golden Hall feeling the invigorating north wind blowing the loose strands from her plait this way and that. The wind felt good, she imagined it to be blowing her cares away. She did not know why she let Thilda get her so upset and flustered. She felt torn in two different directions. Who she knew herself to be and who others expected her to be. She could not be both. These two halves could not make her whole. She sighed and re-entered the hall, weighed down by the sure knowledge that she would be expected to apologise to Thilda. Better behaviour was expected of her and she was bound to give it.
Éowyn walked down the path from the Golden Hall along to where Cyneith’s family lived. It was time for the weekly visits to the lower reaches of Edoras. Éowyn, complete with basket in hand, called on Cyneith. She appeared promptly and then said, “Oh are we going today?”
Éowyn inwardly sighed and gave a self-evident shake of her basket laden with various bits and said, “Yes.”
“All right let me get my wrap.”
Éowyn stood outside and waited as a brisk wind blew. She pulled her wrap around her to guard against the early spring wind. It had been Éowyn’s idea to visit those on the lower circles of Edoras to see how all were faring. She, as the niece to King Théoden, felt it was incumbent upon her to keep up the tradition of caring for those who were in need. And the only way to do that was to visit homes and talk with people. She had begun only because she saw a need, she did not expect to enjoy it as much as she did. But it had turned out she had a genuine ability to relate to people and to put them at their ease. She had asked Cyneith to come along for some companionship and help distributing the goods. Cyneith was a little clumsy and a bit awkward around what her father termed the “lesser folk” but she had a soft heart and was good company.
Of late one of the young riders, Háldred had been appointed by Théoden to accompany them to carry the heavier baskets and to be on hand to fetch and carry. He walked up the path towards Éowyn, “My lady,” he said cheerfully, fist on chest, “I am here to serve as your beast of burden!”
Éowyn laughed, “Good morning, Háldred! I see you stand ready for service.”
“As always, my lady,” the young rider replied briskly, “Are we waiting on the Lady Cyneith?”
“As always, Háldred!” Éowyn stated with a knowing smile.
“Ready!” Cyneith burst out as she walked briskly through the front entrance of her home with her wrap trailing behind her.
“Here, my lady,” Háldred offered quickly, “Let me help you!” as he grabbed for the falling shawl. Cyneith cooed and Éowyn rolled her eyes. Cyneith was a shameless flirt and her ploy for attention was so transparent. Or it was apparently transparent only to her as Háldred earnestly helped the girl with her uncooperative shawl. Éowyn watched, amused at first but with a slightly odd feeling as she continued to watch them fuss over the wrap. “Oh, come along, you two!” she said purposefully interrupting them. “There’s work to be done,” she said lightly. “Háldred, pick up that chicken. It is for our very first stop.” Háldred eyed the chicken in the small wooden cage and the chicken eyed him back as if daring him to pick up the cage. Éowyn noticed the hesitation on the young rider’s part and sighed, “Honestly Háldred, it’s just a chicken!”
“Yes well…it was eyeing me.” Éowyn gave him a withering stare and amid flaps and squawks the young rider picked up the cage.
They walked down to the lower levels of Edoras. All houses within Edoras were of the same basic design, heavy wooden framed buildings with slanted roofs, the vast majority of which were thatched. Only the Golden Hall had a mix of thatch and wooden shingles. Further down the hill from Meduseld the houses decreased in size and signs of affluence. Just off the path to the left was their first stop. A little house that was in need of a rethatched roof, Éowyn made a mental note of such and walked up and knocked on the lightly carved heavy wooden door. She waited a few minutes and she heard some shuffling inside and then the door opened to reveal a woman who looked like a few too many cares always resided on her shoulders, “My lady, the Valar bless thee!”
“Holdlith! Are you any better?” Éowyn enquired, for the older woman had been frequently bothered by a touch of the breathing sickness.
“Yes, My lady. I have been feeling better lately. But you know. It comes and goes. Please come in.”
The three entered the well swept but sparsely furnished wooden house. Holdlith fussed about and insisted that the two young ladies sit in her only two chairs. Éowyn stated matter-of-factly, “Háldred, set the chicken down over there!” The young rider did as he was told and then dutifully stood off to one side. Éowyn said cheerfully, “First off, I was talking with Ceolwyn, the court healer about your breathing sickness and she gave me a few things that might help when you have your spells.” She reached inside her basket and pulled out a blue ceramic jar stoppered with a wide shallow cork. “This is a Lobelia salve that you place right here,” she patted her chest right above her heart. She placed it right into Holdlith’s hands. “And this,” she withdrew a little ceramic bottle from the basket and placed it on the worn wooden table, “this is a tincture of Lobelia. She said if you are feeling wheezy to put a small spoonful of this under your tongue hold it there for a few seconds and then swallow when you feel a spell coming on. Also,” at this Éowyn’s eyes sparkled just a little, “This is a jar of honey, Ceolwyn said to take two small spoonfuls at night when you are feeling as if a spell is coming along and it should help lessen the severity of the attack.”
“Well my lady! I think I can manage that!” Holdlith said with vigor and Éowyn smiled knowing that the older woman’s sweet tooth would see this particular remedy followed to the letter.
“Secondly,” Éowyn continued, “We had a spare chicken up at the Hall. So, there she is for your pot!” She gestured to the wooden cage at which the chicken gave a single loud and indignant cluck.
“Oh my lady!” Holdlith said, “Thank you, but I couldn’t.”
Éowyn, expecting this refusal and countered with, “Well, Háldred brought it all the way down here and it was pecking and clawing at him all the way. And he doesn’t want to take it back up to the Golden Hall. Do you Háldred?” Éowyn gave the young rider a look that he quickly caught onto.
“Oh no, my lady! I don’t want anything to do with it anymore. So Mistress Holdlith, if you could take the beastie off my hands….”
At this the woman smiled at Éowyn, “In that case, my lady, I suppose I must.” And she then insisted on serving her best cider set aside for special occasions. She handed the cider to the seated ladies in what Éowyn knew to be her best mugs. Mugs that had been well crafted in their day but were showing their age through much apparent use. Cyneith sniffed at the cider doubtfully when Holdlith’s back was turned as she insisted that Háldred have a mug as well. Éowyn silently indicated with her eyes to drink it and not to make a fuss. Cyneith made a face but proceeded to do as Éowyn fervently gestured as she overheard Háldred at first politely demur and then give to the older lady’s insistence, as not to be rude.
Holdlith sat at the edge of her bed, the only other place to sit in the small cottage. Éowyn offered her chair but Holdlith waved her off and said happily, “You are my guests therefore you merit the best!” Éowyn smiled as the older woman started talking about the story behind the mugs they were drinking from. It was why she knew they were her best mugs. They were carved by her father and given to her mother as a winter solstice gift. It was a story she had heard a few times before, but the retelling of the story always put a smile on the older woman’s face so Éowyn dutifully listened the story once again as if it were her first time.
Cider finished, Éowyn placed the empty mug on the table and stood, “Holdlith, we best be continuing on. Thank you for the fine cider and the good company.”
“Thank you, my lady and to you as well,” She said looking at both Cyneith and Háldred as well, smiling a crooked but happy smile.
Éowyn grinned, “If you need anything, you just send a messenger up to the Golden Hall and I will see to it next week.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Mistress Holdlith said bobbing a shallow curtsy.
As they stepped far enough away from the house as to be out of earshot, Cyneith chimed up. “What was all of that about the chicken? I thought we brought the chicken for her specifically.”
“Yes, but sometimes sparing someone’s dignity is just as important as feeding their stomach.”
Cyneith nodded as if she understood and Éowyn left it at that as they carried on to the next house.
Early afternoon saw them complete their rounds and they were all ascending the hill upon which Edoras had been gradually built. It had been a satisfying morning and Éowyn was smiling. She said something to that effect to the other two when she noticed that they had not seemed to hear her. They seemed to be in a world all of their own. Cyneith belated said something in response but Éowyn brushed it aside with a rather forced lightness, her earlier good mood evaporated. She felt a bit churlish, neither Cyneith nor Háldred had done anything wrong. They were simply enjoying each other’s company while on a task that was set for them. But all the same Éowyn suddenly felt alone. She sighed. She hated feeling like this, set apart while life seemed to go by without her. She just did not feel the way that Saelith or even Cyneith did toward the many young riders who came to train at Edoras. She respected their abilities and she remembered that Éomer had said in one of their secret training sessions, that she was better than many of the young Riders who trained on the grounds near the outer portions of Edoras. But even reveling in that thought she did not consider herself in competition with the younger Riders. But she just did not simper over them either. She headed off a bit faster than the other two. Cyneith noticed and called out to her, “Éowyn! Where are you going?” Normally after one of their trips they ate a bit of midday meal and discussed the morning and what needed to be done for the next week.
Éowyn shouted back without turning around, “I just remembered I was to meet with my uncle in the afternoon! Must dash,” She lied. It was not true but suddenly she could not be around the two feeling how she felt. As she gained the Golden Hall she found that her steps were in actuality leading toward her uncle’s private study. She found herself at his door and all of a sudden, she felt silly running to her uncle every time she felt blue. She was not a little girl anymore. She was about to walk away when the door abruptly opened and a few councilors stepped across the threshold of Théoden’s private study. A quick startled breath by Éowyn as they rushed by and Théoden looked up to see his niece standing hesitantly in the doorframe.
“Éowyn? My child, what is the matter?” her uncle inquired, concern written on his face. Éowyn’s heart sank; she had not realised that her worry was written on her face, but apparently it was.
She sighed, “I should not bother you; you are busy.”
Théoden put down his parchments and waved off Thewlis, his elderly attendant. “My Lord--,”
Théoden raised his hand to silence his attendant. “The marshal is not here yet. I can spare a few minutes, Thewlis.” The elderly attendant hesitated. “Mark me!” The King commanded. Thewlis bent gingerly, fist on heart, nodded to Éowyn and departed, closing the door behind him.
“I should not have disturbed you, Uncle.” She walked in from the doorway and sat on the smaller chair her uncle had pulled close to his large carved chair. “Thewlis—"
“Will be able to handle whatever will come his way. He is quite capable.” He took her hands gently into his and looked into her eyes, concerned to see tears just starting to form, “Now tell me what is the matter.” He said gently but firmly.
Éowyn looked at the kindly expression in her uncle’s pale blue eyes and felt embarrassed to be admitting to exactly what was troubling her. She started with a chagrinned smile, “We made our rounds today, Cyneith and I and young Háldred.”
“Did Háldred misbehave…” Théoden declared, starting to bristle.
“No, no. Uncle.” Éowyn quickly insisted, “He was very kind and useful.”
Théoden debristled and started to listen again, “We had a wonderful and useful time. Mistress Holdlith needs her roof re-thatched by the way,” Éowyn said before she forgot.
Théoden smiled. Éowyn never stopped thinking of others even when she was upset, “We will see to that, but please continue.”
“There wasn’t much else…I was very happy until I noticed that Háldred and Cyneith looking at each other. And suddenly I was all alone again. Oh Uncle, why don’t I look at the young Riders and start to act like I’m soft in the head. I look Cyneith and Saelith and the others cooing at them and I just don’t understand. Why am I always the odd one out?”
Théoden was at once relieved and despairing. First, he was glad Éowyn did not seem at all interested in the young Riders. If one of them so much as touched her, he would be forced to geld him, and he would hate to harm one of his own people. He had an inner chuckle over Éowyn’s description of young love, that she would have to “start to act like I’m soft in the head.” But her words also held a long-term pain as well, the pain of separation, “Why am I always the odd out?” she had just said. It had been this way since she had come to Edoras as an eight-year old girl who had lost both her parents. She and Éomer had both come to live at Edoras, but the transition had been easier for Éomer. He was older and as a boy he had training and duties and responsibilities to fill his days. But Éowyn had not. She was still a child and one that had been raised in less stilted and formal conditions in Alberg than existed in Edoras. The other girls of the court made her feel as an outsider. He reflected on one such incident that caused him employ a different solution. With the intent to give the then ten-year-old girl a focus in life he sanctions her starting to train as a Shieldmaiden, something only village women trained for. It was thought below a girl of noble birth which is why it had been conducted in secret and still was unknown to all but Théoden, the stablemaster and her cousin, Théodred and her brother. And she had blossomed. She was growing into a confident, young women, but it was not sustainable. The girls her age were started to be married off and sooner rather later Éowyn was going to ask to sworn into the ranks the shieldwomen, sworn to protect their families at greatest need, when the menfolk were gone off to fight. But that could not be for Éowyn. Both his son Théodred and Éomer tried to tell him a reckoning would come but he always pushed the thought to one side. Éowyn was happy, that was enough for him.
“Why am I different? Why do I not fit in?” Théoden shook from his thoughts and looked at his beloved niece. It was the age-old question. And one Théoden did not really have an answer for. “Were you jealous that Háldred was paying attention to Cyneith and not you?” He ventured. He hoped it was something as simple as jealousy, but it was not. He had suspected as much, but the wistful could dream for an easy though unsavory reason.
“No, I was happy for them, just it made me feel left out again. I just don’t seem to fit anywhere!”
Théoden took a strand of his beloved niece’s reddish gold hair from behind her back and smoothly placed it on her shoulder. He could not have loved her more if she were his own child. She had such a kind heart, warm and intelligent. He was glad she was not an empty-headed ninny, cooing at every young Rider training at Edoras. “You will find your way, dearest daughter. I see it in your eyes.”
Éowyn just looked at her uncle and she wanted to believe him but in truth she did not. She smiled just the same though, for she as always wanted to set his heart at ease.
A/N: Many thanks to Ellynn for her hard work sorting through it all! many, many hugs!! :-)
Ch. 6 – The Reckoning
3013 TA – Edoras (Fall)
In the act of trying to decide between three different choices of color, Cyneith fluttered between the bolts of fabric, unable to choose which between the dark red, the deep blue or the pale green for her wedding dress. All were wool and finely woven, though the different fabrics were woven in different patterns and techniques designed to either reflect or absorb the sunlight in different ways. Color was very important in a wedding dress as it marked a girl’s passage into womanhood. All three had been given by other noble families for her to choose from. As Cyneith’s mother had passed years earlier and no fabric had been made and set aside as was tradition, the other noble families took pity upon the girl and offered up what they could. Another girl might have looked on the gesture as condescending or a suggestion that she was pitiable. But Cyneith’s good heart did not see the offers in that way. She saw only the kindness in the gesture.
Éowyn smiled at her friend and tried to share in her excitement, but inside, she was weeping. She was about to lose the only friend her own age she had in Edoras. Cyneith was marrying Háldred and Éowyn’s heart was breaking. Still she endeavored to look excited. She was genuinely happy for Cyneith. Her friend was kind-hearted and never judged her for some of the opinions that Éowyn held, that others often labeled as odd or unusual. Háldred had grown from a gangly boy into a fine young Rider and a pleasant-spirited young man. His training was over, and he would be returning to his father’s holding in the Eastfold and would be taking Cyneith home with him as his bride. Cyneith’s sigh and declaration broke into her musings.
“They are all so pretty and everyone is so kind to give me this choice!”
Éowyn laughed. “Well, you have to choose one! Guthhild and Thilda have to set to work if they are to have the dress ready by next month. How about the pale green with the gold and green trim? That will go very nicely with your hair coloring and your fair skin.” She placed some of the unbolted fabric across Cyneith’s shoulder and laid a little trim on top to illustrate the point.
Cyneith turned to look at her reflection in a floor length silver metal mirror, a gift from her overly indulgent father. She tilted her head one way and then another as she pondered, lips pursed. “Hmmm!” She paused and squinted her eyes slightly as she pondered. “I think you are right, Éowyn! The green is best! We will go with that!”
Decision made; the fabric was given to a not-so-patiently waiting servant to be trundled off to Guthhild to begin construction. Éowyn gave the servant a commiserating smile as she sent her off on her errand. The two girls sat together for a while sipping the honey mead that was Cyneith’s favorite. Éowyn sat and listened to her friend talk about this arrangement for the wedding and that arrangement for the feast to follow. She was indeed happy for Cyneith but the more she nattered on the more separated Éowyn felt. All of the girls she grew up with in Edoras were married. Cyneith was the last.
Éowyn realised that time for training was nearing so she got up off of Cyneith’s large bed and said, “I promised Éomer I would meet with him at this time.” She was out the door so fast that she did not see the befuddled look on Cyneith’s face at her abrupt departure. She ran down the pathway far enough from Cyneith’s home stopping in an alcove. She tried to quell the sudden overwhelming desire to cry. Why she felt this way she did not know. She drew in a few deep breaths and steadied herself with the knowledge that some good hard swordplay would set her to rights. It always did. Training was her refuge; it had been since the day she picked up a sword when she was ten years old. There she felt confident. There she felt proficient and respected. Cyneith would marry in a month’s time and soon after that she would ask her uncle if it was time that her training finish. She could then call herself a Shieldmaiden at last.
It was the night before of Cyneith’s wedding day. The wedding eve feast in which both families came together to begin the solemnity of the wedding had come to an end. It was tradition after that for the bride and her attendants to spend the night together before the wedding. It was the last night before the girl became a bride and entered fully into womanhood. They sat in Cyneith’s bower, again drinking the honeyed mead and relaxing. Éowyn looked up and saw that Saelith was staring at her. Éowyn took a large swallow and tried to ignore her old nemesis. Saelith was not going to allow that to happen. She looked away purposefully.
“Cyneith! Married life is quite agreeable,” Saelith spoke as if she had been married far longer than the year she and Haere had been wed. “Haere hates to be parted from me. I think we were made for each other.” She giggled. “Of course,” she slipped a sly look at Éowyn, “not everyone can marry for love, like me and my dear Haere! Some who can’t find someone will simply just have to take whoever is chosen for them.”
Éowyn swallowed some mead a little too quickly and to her mortification started coughing uncontrollably. Cyneith rushed to her. “Éowyn! Are you all right?” Her pretty face wrinkled with concern as she patted Éowyn on the back gently.
Éowyn simply nodded. She cleared her throat and was breathing more or less normally within a few moments. She side-glanced Saelith, wishing she had her knives on her. Saelith feigned innocence. Éowyn told herself that she was here for Cyneith because this meant so much to her. She would not rise to Saelith’s baiting.
Saelith said, “I’m sorry. I did not mean any harm.” Her voice dripped with insincerity or at least it seemed that way to Éowyn.
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Éowyn said in a low restrained voice trying to keep her temper.
“After all, as I remember, you only wanted to be a Shieldmaiden and not get married at all.”
Éowyn jumped up at that remark, all vestiges keeping her temper gone as she flew at Saelith who was shocked at how quickly she could move. Éowyn had her in an arm hold they had been practicing earlier in the month in training session. And just as quickly she released her. “You are lucky that I am not.” Yet, she added in her thoughts. “I need some air.” And she left Saelith rubbing her throat and looking daggers at her.
“Peasant!” She spat out at Éowyn’s retreating back.
Éowyn just kept on walking and did not even dignify her remark with a response. She leaned against a wall that was outside of Cyneith’s home and let the brisk night wind of late October whip through her. She hugged her arms around her with the same thought circling around her head. Just what is wrong with me! She knew that Saelith lived to get a rise out of her. She had done it ever since Éowyn and Éomer had come from Aldburg to live with their uncle after their mother had passed. What she never knew was why.
“Éowyn?” Éowyn heard Cyneith’s concerned voice at the doorway.
“I’m out here,” Éowyn answered in a tired voice. She heard the door shut and then quick footsteps to join her leaning against the wall.
“Here,” Cyneith said starting to wrap Éowyn up in what appeared to be a large man’s cloak, “it’s my papa’s. We can both fit.” Éowyn did not object because she was starting to shiver ever so slightly. “I’m sorry for what Saelith said. You know how she is.”
“I blissfully had forgotten until she forced me to remember!” Éowyn chuckled ruefully. “She just gets under my skin so easily. I still do not know why it bothers me so or why she does it!”
“Because she is a mean and spiteful cow!” Cyneith said vehemently in a way that was so unlike her normally kind mien.
“Now that’s an insult to most cows I know!” Éowyn quipped.
“True, True! And cows are far more useful than Saelith will ever be!” Cyneith stated and both girls dissolved into laughter.
After calming down a bit, Éowyn wiped mirthful tears from her eyes. “Oh Cyneith, I am going to miss you!”
Cyneith looked at her in a teary-eyed stare. “I am going to miss you, too.” They hugged under the cloak, which was not an easy task.
“Why did you ask Saelith to be attendant anyway? You don’t even really like her.”
“Oh that. Well, Aldhild was heavy with child and Papa insisted that it would curry favour with Saelith’s Papa if I were to choose her as second attendant.”
“Oh,” Éowyn began with a small voice, “then I guess putting her in an arm hold then wasn’t the best plan.”
Cyneith looked at her in all innocence. “What arm hold? I didn’t see anything.”
Éowyn gave her a quick hug and kissed the side of her face. “You are the best!”
Cyneith just laughed. “Come on, let’s go inside! It is getting too cold out here. And we will just pretend like nothing happened. It will drive Saelith mad!”
Éowyn laughed. “That sounds like a plan I might hatch! I’ve been a bad influence on you!”
“Nonsense!” Cyneith declared. The two girls quickly dashed inside as a light snow began dusting the hay strewn streets of Edoras.
The wedding ceremony for Cyneith and Háldred was beautiful. Éowyn watched the couple drink mead from the same cup and speak the words of joining as her uncle King Théoden, in what he called his most joyous duty as Chief Celebrant, looked upon them. She felt happy for them. Two good friends of hers were joined as husband and wife. Éowyn wiped tears away, tears of joy and of sadness. She was losing a good friend and she once again felt alone. She could not imagine joining as Cyneith did. She did not feel that way for any of the young Riders. She saw girls of vibrant energy become young mothers. To her eyes they seemed overly tired and bound to live a life so different from what she wanted. She saw her mother fade away after her father died. She did not have the will to carry on. Éowyn could not understand how she could leave them. How she could not even try to stay with them? If love made you desert those that loved you, how could that be a good thing? Éowyn took a deep breath and determinedly pasted a happy smile unto her face for Cyneith’s sake. But after the day’s festivities she would re-dedicate herself to training to become a shieldmaiden which she had let lapse somewhat to help her friend plan her wedding.
During the ceremony, in which Théoden had taken great joy to officiate, he stole a few looks in his niece’s direction. She was teary-eyed, which of course was only to be expected. However, towards the end of the ceremony and during the feasting that followed he noticed a steely determination that she was hiding behind a pleasant smile. Théoden knew his niece well and he feared what that determined look presaged.
The next morning he found out. Éowyn came to his study early, before his council meeting began. She looked bright and eager and clearly had a reason for her visit. He felt a pit of dread forming in his stomach.
“Uncle, when can I end my training and formally become a Shieldmaiden?” Éowyn asked, her eyes fired with purpose.
Théoden felt as if he was teetering on a precarious precipice. There was no way she could become a Shieldmaiden; it simply could not be done. His deception had been kindly meant and had worked for so long but Théodred and Éomer had been right. The reckoning had come, and the bright hopeful look in his beloved niece’s eyes slashed through his heart. He did the only thing he could think of. He stalled for time. Delaying the inevitable, he said, “Let me speak to the training master and explain the situation. We can then go from there. Will that be satisfactory?” He ended hoping for the best.
Éowyn nodded enthusiastically. “That would be fine!” She bounded over to her uncle and kissed him on his whiskered cheek. She smiled and left the study.
Théoden buried his head in his hands. He had no idea what he was going to do. His beloved niece, whom he could not have loved more if she were his own daughter, had trusted his word that she could become a shieldmaiden. It had seemed such a harmless lie seven years ago when she was a lost and angry young girl. Training had turned her into a confident young woman who was loved by all in Edoras. Théoden was at a loss.
Deorgar entered the room ostensibly to inform that the council meeting was convening, but Théoden stopped him before he could say anything. “Bring the Prince and the Lord Éomer here to me immediately!”
“But my lord, the council—”
“Deorgar! Now. There is an issue I must speak with them about urgently. The council can wait. There are no pressing issues that cannot wait for half an hour.”
Deorgar placed his fist on his heart and said, “At once, my lord.”
Théoden stared after him and then turned to a side table and poured a goblet of wine to calm his racing heart. He noticed that his hand shook as he lifted the goblet. He downed the dark red liquid in two gulps and poured himself another as he waited for his son and nephew to arrive.
Théoden’s steward did not have to go far to fulfill his errand. Both Théodred and Éomer were in the council chambers awaiting the King’s arrival. They sat together looking over a few parchments when Deorgar approached them. He bowed to them both and stated in a lowered voice, “My Lords, the King wishes to see you both in his study immediately.”
Théodred’s dark blond eyebrows shot up at the curious request. “Did he say what it was about, Deorgar?”
The steward shook his head. “He did not. He only requested your lords’ presence immediately.”
Éomer nodded. “Thank you, Deorgar. We shall attend.” He slipped a puzzled look at his cousin who returned the look.
Théodred looked at the councilors. “My lords! If you will pray excuse us. We shall return shortly.” The councilors exchanged puzzled looks as Théodred and his cousin left the chambers.
It was a short walk from the council chambers to Théoden’s study. They walked in almost before Deorgar could announce them.
Theodred saw his father toss back a goblet of wine and he could just feel the tension flowing from him. Concerned, he said, “Father, you wish to see us?”
Theoden looked at his son and then at his nephew. “Yes,” he said quietly as he placed the goblet on the side table and poured wine into goblets for both his son and his nephew before informing them of the reason they were summoned.
“Éowyn was here earlier, asking about when she would be deemed ready to end her training and become a Shieldmaiden.”
“Oh no,” Théodred said softly.
“Oh yes,” Théoden answered just as softly.
Éomer gulped his wine in an attempt to quell his temper. He was not successful. With the impetuousness of youth, he shouted, “I told you from the start this was a bad idea!” With great effort he dampened his temper. His heart ached for his sister. “What is to be done? It is not possible that she can be made a Shieldmaiden!”
“I am well aware of that, nephew!” Théoden snapped.
From the door came a small voice. “What do you mean you are well aware of that?” All three men turned at once and saw Éowyn standing there. Her eyes wide and staring, all color drained from her white cheeks causing her light freckles to stand out against the paleness of her skin. “Uncle?”
Ch. 7 – Forgiveness begins
Éowyn suddenly could not breathe. She had to leave. She had to breathe the free air and ease the constriction she suddenly felt within her chest. As she bolted from the doorway Éowyn heard her brother’s voice calling after her, but she could not stop. She ran until she felt safe. Her steps slowed and she looked at her surroundings. It should have come as no surprise to her; she was in the stables. She paused and breathed in the soothing smells of clean hay and leather. She made it over to a strapped bale of hay up against a wall and climbed onto it. Physically exhausted and emotionally spent Éowyn drew her knees up to her chest. She stared out into the paddock and beyond to the shouldering mountains that held Edoras in their crescent. Her heart felt empty and yet full-to-bursting at the same time. Everything she was, every way she thought of herself lay crumbling around her. She took one deep breath after another just trying to keep the fractures in her heart from splintering off irrevocably.
She heard footsteps approaching and she bolted into the stables proper not wanting to speak to anyone. Wildefýr looked up and knickered her welcome. Éowyn ran up and threw her arms around her mare’s neck. “Wildefýr,” she began softly, “It seems I am nothing.” She buried her face in her horse’s black mane, breathing in her mare’s scent and began letting her heart splinter into its fractured pieces, too tired to keep fighting.
“Beg pardon my lady, but that is not so.”
Éowyn stilled at the familiar voice. It was Gamhelm. Her dear Gamhelm. She heard footsteps coming near and knew that he was right behind her. “But it is, Gamhelm,” she spoke, her stare boring into the back of the stall and hugging Wildefýr all the more tightly.
His voice soft, Gamhelm tried again. “It cannot be.” He sighed. “Oh, my lady, please look at me.”
Éowyn heard the plaintive tone in his voice, the unexplained sorrow and her heart immediately answered. She turned and looked at her burly old friend.
Gamhelm was stunned to see both pain and a hollowness in his young friend’s pale blue eyes. He exclaimed, “Oh, my lady what has happened?”
Stroking Wildefýr’s mane, Éowyn turned her eyes back towards the horse. Gamhelm saw his lady muster as much stoicism as was possible in that moment. “I am not to become a Shieldmaiden after all, it seems.” It seemed the next tortured sentence had wormed its way through her façade of stoicism and tears slipped past her eyes and slid down her cheeks. “My uncle lied to me, as did my cousin and even Éomer.” The last words whispered painfully as Éowyn fervently stroked Wildefýr’s mane.
Gamhelm’s heart broke when she choked back a sob and he circled her in a fast embrace. All resistance gone, Éowyn sobbed his arms. After a few minutes he looked up and saw Éomer silently round the corner to Wildefýr’s stall. He saw the stricken look on the young man’s face and immediately knew what had to have happened. Éowyn looked up and saw her brother and turned away quickly. Gamhelm saw Éomer’s pained expression intensify after his sister’s rejection. He held the young man’s gaze for a few moments and then mouthed, “I will see to her, go on”, as he hugged the sobbing girl. Éomer stood uncertainly for a moment or so and then bowed with his fist on his heart and retreated.
Gamhelm stood holding Éowyn as she cried, sobs racking her slender figure. He knew why she cried, or at least he had a good idea. She was a lass of spirit and gumption that the other girls didn’t quite know what to do with. The king had come to him years ago, asking that he should keep a casual eye on her whenever she was away from the hall, just to see that she came to no harm by either word or deed. It was a duty he took on most willingly. From the time she was eight years old and grieving for her mama and papa his heart warmed to her. He and Gamwyn had not been blessed by the Valar with any child that lived past their first year and Gamwyn always said that Gamhelm had a heart as large as all Arda. Gamhelm smiled, he did not know about that, but it was definitely large enough for a little red-haired slip of a girl with a spirit as large as Helm Hammerhand. He noticed that Éowyn’s sobs had softened. He led her over to an obliging hay bale. He gave her his clean handkerchief and smoothed back a strand of hair that had stuck to her reddened and tear-stained face.
“Now dry your tears, my lady. And tell me what this is all about,” he suggested gently.
Éowyn dutifully wiped her tears. “I don’t fit in anywhere! I felt like a fifth wheel when I would keep company with the other girls. I have only ever felt comfortable, felt like I belonged somewhere on the training field, but now that has been taken away as well. My uncle lied, Gamhelm! He lied! How could he do that?” Éowyn was starting to become upset again.
“Now hold on my lady, just hold on. Let’s look at what has happened.”
“You don’t seem very shocked by this, Gamhelm?” A light on dawning comprehension darkened Éowyn’s face. “Did you know that this was a lie as well? Gamhelm! How could you!?” Éowyn made to get up and leave, growing more upset the more she thought about it.
“My lady!” Gamhelm spoke a little more forcefully than was usual for him and that alone gave Éowyn pause for a moment. She stopped and looked at Gamhelm with a hurt that pained him to see residing in her eyes.
Having gathered her attention Gamhelm began, “Yes, I did know. But before you say anything, please hear me.” Éowyn looked at him accusingly, but she simply chewed on her lower lip and remained quiet. Gamhelm drew in a large breath and then said, “What your uncle did, he did out of love for you. It was a deception, yes. But you were so unhappy and so angry he wanted to give you something to focus on. A goal, a purpose if you will. Something to work toward and concentrate on to help you through your grief.” Gamhelm paused as Éowyn continued to look at him with big doleful eyes. “He needed help to continue with his plan. That was why I was told and both Théodred and your brother were brought in.”
“But if I could never actually become a Shieldmaiden, what was the point?” Éowyn demanded, still clearly upset.
Gamhelm sighed. “Yes, well, that end objective was not possible, that I will not deny. But I want you to recall what you just said a moment ago.”
“What did I say?” Éowyn said somewhat petulantly.
“You said, ‘I have only ever felt comfortable, felt like I belonged somewhere on the training field!’ “
“But I still don’t understand!”
“The training gave you a goal and allowed you to find something you love. It brought you true camaraderie and gave you confidence and joy of achievement.”
“But it has come to or will come to nothing if I cannot fight!”
“Has it?” Gamhelm looked questioningly at her. “Have you not loved what you done? The skills you have honed?” Éowyn tried to interject again but Gamhelm stayed her words with his cautioning hand. “Yes, your uncle did lie, but again, it was done out of love and to give you, as a young girl, a purpose that might help you focus beyond your grief and anger. And you have. You have become a kind, confident, strong young woman because of it. I know that your uncle could not be more proud of you.”
Éowyn was quiet, staring at Gamhelm. The older man took both of her hands in his.
“The question is where do you go from here? Knowing what you know now. Do you forgive your uncle and your cousin and your brother for their deception? Or do you carry that anger, however justified, in your heart? Is that what you take forward from this moment? That is the question you must answer for yourself. But before you answer ,think of what these seven years have been for you. Think about what you have achieved. Think about what you have proven to yourself. People are not perfect; they don’t always make the most rational choice. Often they follow their gut instinct, your uncle included. But I do know that he was guided by his heart and his desire to make as good a life as he could for you with what Fate had given him. And he is sick at heart at the hurt he has caused you.” Gamhelm fell quiet and simply looked at Eowyn. He had said his piece.
Éowyn looked at Gamhelm, chewing her lip as she pondered his words. In all the years she had known Gamhelm, he had never lied to her. He always told her the straight truth in his gruff, yet affectionate way. She said in a restrained way, trying to muster as much dignity as blotchy red cheeks and a runny nose would allow, “I hear your words, Gamhelm. And they are wise. May I please be alone with Wildefýr as I think upon them?”
Gamhelm smiled as he watched Éowyn gamely putting on a brave face. “Yes, my lady.” He bowed and withdrew.
Éowyn watched as the big, burly man rounded the corner, taking his leave. She turned back to Wildefýr. “It is just you and me, girl. I need some sky above me and some ground below me! What do you say to some bare back riding!” Wildefýr knickered with what Éowyn knew was enthusiasm. She opened the gate to Wildefýr’s stall and brought her out and then stood on a block and mounted her. She clicked the signal to walk-on and she and Wildefýr trotted past Gamhelm who looked not at all surprised to see them rush off.
Within minutes, Éowyn was under the sheltering canopy of the forest near to Edoras. She paused and patted her mare’s mane. “Ahhh! Wildefýr! Just smell that air!” she exclaimed as she breathed in the clean, fresh air of the trees that surrounded her. She remained still, with her face upturned and eyes closed simply breathing for several moments. The deep inhalations slowly calmed her heartbeat and eased her feelings that the world was closing in around her. This forest so near to her home was where they had spent countless hours training away from spying eyes. It always relaxed her. As she listened to the birdsong around her, she realized one thing Gamhelm had said was true. The years of her training, the times spent in this forest and on the archery range with her brother and cousin were among the happiest times she had spent in the intervening years. They were working together towards a goal. But that goal was now gone. It was never actually there, she thought with a slightly bitter taste in her mouth, but she could not deny the sheer enjoyment and camaraderie they had shared.
She looked into her heart and found that she was not as angry as she had been, or even as angry as she rightfully should be. Looking around her, she could almost hear the laughter and the teasing, the serious talk and the banter that happened during the training sessions between Théodred, Éomer and herself. Gamhelm’s words began resonating with her. It had been done out of love. She had every right to be angry, but she also had a forgiving heart. She recalled the devastated look on her brother’s face in the stables when she turned away from him. The shocked pain in her uncle’s eye when she came back to his study and overheard the deception. She had been devastated; what she had been working toward for most of her life was now rent by a lie. She was not going to be a Shieldmaiden. That thought still lacerated her heart. But was it all meaningless? She did not have an answer to that. She needed to talk to her uncle.
Éomer paced back and forth almost liked a caged animal in his cousin’s chambers. He was trying desperately hard to control his emotions. His heart was breaking for his sister and every time he closed his eyes, he could see Éowyn turning away from him. He left the stables only because he knew that, at that moment, she did not want to see him; otherwise nothing could have dragged him away.
“We never should have agreed to this, Théodred! I knew it was wrong from the start!” Éomer exclaimed, fuming.
Théodred, who was eight years Éomer’s senior, sat silently, allowing his younger cousin to vent his anger and extreme hurt.
“I am going to go back the stables and talk to Éowyn! Théodred, I can’t stand this! She is my sister. I should be protecting her, not lying to her!” Éomer made a move to leave his cousin’s chambers, only to be stopped by Théodred’s voice.
“You could do that. And she will yell at you and you will yell at her. Neither wanting to hurt the other, but in your raw emotional states one is bound to say something that will just make the other angrier, or worse, more hurt.”
Éomer, with effort, stayed where he was. “But Théodred—”
His cousin stopped his words. “I know.” Théodred got up and faced his cousin, stilling his movement with a hand on his arm. Éomer’s face was a picture of current agony and remembered pain.
“I promised Father—”
“And you have kept your promise!” Théodred insisted.
“By lying to her! How is that protecting her?” Éomer growled angrily.
Théodred looked at his younger cousin. “By giving her a purpose. By giving her your time, your energy, your caring, your camaraderie. Those things have meant the world to her! You have forged a bond between the two of you. And,” he continued forcefully because he could tell he was getting through to Éomer, “she has blossomed because of it. So yes, it has been worth it because she is so worthy of the time that has been spent.”
Éomer looked into his cousin’s eyes, and reluctantly agreed, “You are right, cousin.” He flopped down into a chair near the one Théodred had been sitting in.
Théodred gave a relieved sigh. “Good, because if that little speech did not work in stopping you, I was going to have to sit on you to get you to stay put!”
Éomer looked at his cousin and said, “I’d like to see you try!” his blue eyes glinting in amused challenge.
Théodred returned the challenging look. “Oh I could! But it would not have been pretty!”
Éomer smiled and then sobered once again. “But I still have to talk with her.”
“Yes. But wait for a short time. Let Gamhelm speak with her. He is very skilled at calming skittish horses.” Théodred smiled. “And very good at gently calming headstrong young phillies. They respond to him.”
Éomer paused, seeing the wisdom of his cousin’s words. He nodded and got up to fill his goblet with the mead his cousin always had in his chambers. He drank deeply and refilled his goblet. “Half an hour. And then I am going to the stables.”
Théodred’s face held a chagrinned smile as he accepted the mead his cousin was now handing him. Half an hour. It was the most he was able to deter the headstrong young stallion. It would have to do.
Half an hour later Éomer was true to his word as he downed his cup of mead that he had been swirling about for the better part of ten minutes. He set his goblet down heavily upon the table that sat between the two chairs that he and his cousin had taken up residence in.
“I am going,” he said in such a forceful way that Théodred knew he could only be stopped by force of arms, and even that was no guarantee of deterrence.
Théodred watched his cousin walk purposefully from the room. He paused for a few moments and then also left to go to his father’s chambers.
Reaching the stables as fast as he could short of running, Éomer quickly glanced around for his sister.
“She has taken Wildefýr out for a ride. A ride to blow off some steam I expect.”
Éomer turned around to see Gamhelm holding a curry brush and various of bridles in his hands. He had a kindly look in his eyes.
“How is she, Gamhelm?” The young man swallowed nervously. “Does she hate me?” Éomer braced for the answer to such a question.
The look on Éomer’s face struck Gamhelm straight in the heart. He looked so young, so vulnerable, so like his sister. They were like two peas in a pod. Having grown up together, one was always trying to protect the other. The burly stable master remembered when they first came to Edoras. His heart was immediately taken with Éowyn, a young slip of a thing wearing her emotions on her sleeve. But Éomer was a different story. He was all of twelve, but trying to act much older and like nothing bothered him and he was always very protective of his little sister. Gamhelm instinctively knew that trying to coddle him would have only driven him away. So, in befriending him, Gamhelm always treated him as an equal, a grown man able to take care of himself. Until now, that is. There are just times a man needs another, if only for reassurance. Placing a firm hand on Éomer’s shoulder Gamhelm looked him in the eye and said, “No, son. She doesn’t hate you.” He saw relief cascade across the young man’s face. “She is hurt and confused, but she is not angry.”
Éomer looked at the older man a little skeptically. “This is my sister we’re talking about, right?”
Gamhelm raised his hand in amused surrender. “Well,” he conceded. “Not as angry as she was.” Éomer nodded, his lips pursed in thought. “Why don’t you wait for her here?” The older man offered. “She should be back soon.”
Éomer nodded stiffly, still trying to contain his emotions. “Thank you, Gamhelm. I think I will.” Within minutes, though, Gamhelm heard Windfleet’s neigh and a rush of air as the young man rushed out of the stables to find his sister. Gamhelm chuckled lightly, those two were truly Rohirrim born and bred. They might best repair whatever needed mending between the two of them amid the empty fields where horses ran wild.
Giving Wildefýr her head in a gallop across the plains that lead back to Edoras from the shouldering forest helped to calm Éowyn’s jumbled feelings. Gamhelm’s words also continued to doing their best to soothe her raw nerves. After she brought Wildefýr down from her gallop, she slowed her into a trot. She looked up and saw a figure riding in her direction. She knew immediately from how the rider sat in the saddle that it was her brother. She brought Wildefýr to a halt and waited. She would let him come to her. Her feelings roiled up inside her once again. Her heart was in her throat as she watched him approach. As he came nearer though, her heart softened despite herself because of the way he held his body. She could see just how tense Éomer was, how uncertain.
Éomer approached and then brought Windfleet to a halt. He looked at her and seemed to be searching for something to say. He landed upon neutral ground, their shared love of horses. “That was a beautiful sight, watching Wildefýr soar across the grass!”
Éowyn looked at him somewhat pointedly. “Some girls soar when allowed their freedom honestly!” Éomer almost physically winced as Éowyn’s barb found home. He was rendered speechless. Éowyn looked at her brother and found that while her barb had hit home, she found no joy in it. She wanted nothing more than to forgive her brother, regardless of his mistakes. He was her brother. Seeing the stricken look on his face, she quickly said, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” Éomer’s face was incredulous. “Forgive you? When I am in the wrong? I should never have been a party to such lies. I have hurt you deeply.” Wounded blue eyes shifted from her face to the ground.
Éowyn patted Wildefýr, calming her skittishness mostly due to her mistress’ intense emotion. She and her horse had always shared a special bond. “Shh-hh! Wildefýr. ‘Tis all right.” She looked at her brother and surprised herself by saying, “I know that what you did, you did out of love.”
His downcast eyes shot upwards and Éomer stared at his sister, his heart began beating again in its normal rhythm and not the desperate tattoo it had been performing since she ran out of her uncle’s study a few hours before. He dismounted Windfleet to stand at her side. Éowyn dismounted as well. Éomer stood and tentatively held both of her hands in his. “I am sorry. I never meant for you to be hurt by any of this. Can you ever forgive me?”
Éowyn looked into her brother’s eyes, she saw such pain and regret in those earnest blue depths. “Gamhelm made a very good point earlier when we were talking. I was very angry and was questioning everyone and everything. He said I should focus on what I had achieved in these seven years. That I found something I truly loved and regardless of the ultimate outcome that I should remember all that I had learned and achieved and everything that I had gained.” Éowyn’s voice hardened somewhat. “While I am still very angry at the deception,” her voice softened once again, “I realised that I loved spending time training with you and Théodred. They were always the best part of every day. And that is what I will try to remember most.”
The use of the words “try to remember most” was not lost on Éomer. It said that Éowyn had not completely forgiven him but still in time he could have hopes that she would. He leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead and she did not move away. It was enough for now and more than he had a right to ask for.
A/N: Many thanks to Ellynn for divining my meaning as my beta! ((hugs!))
Ch. 8 – “It Shall be done!”
Théoden sat at his desk and upon hearing a sound, he looked up expectantly at the door hoping against hope to see his niece at the entrance. He sighed; again he was disappointed. He did not know what to expect, but he knew exactly what he feared. The look in Éowyn’s eyes said it all. Disappointment, betrayal. He truly never meant to hurt his niece, whom he could not love more if she were his own daughter. How had it all gone so wrong, so quickly?
Théoden’s heart stopped. He looked up and saw both his niece and nephew in the doorway. Éomer paused for a moment, bent with his fist on his heart and took his leave, his eyes inscrutable. He looked at his niece. She looked pale, uncertain and a little hesitant, but she was there. That was something. Théoden made a motion to rise from his chair and Éowyn walked in a few steps.
“No. Don’t get up.” Éowyn said a bit forcefully. She paused, biting her lower lip as she always did when pensive or worried about something. Théoden waited for her to speak, his heart in stasis, not knowing whether it was going to sing with repentant joy or shatter to pieces.
Éowyn just stood there staring at her uncle. “I should be very angry with you, Uncle. By rights I should.” She looked at her uncle, even now her heart swelled with both pity and anger at the look in his eyes. One of mute supplication. “Have you nothing to say?”
Théoden found his voice. “I can say nothing to excuse my lies. I am heartily sick. I can only ask your forgiveness. It was done out of love,” he ended quietly as he cast his eyes to the carpeted floor.
Éowyn looked at her uncle, wanting to forgive him, aching to forgive him. Part of her could not, but she made the conscious decision to set that aside to be dealt the next day. At this moment, she needed to feel her uncle’s arms around her. She walked up to her uncle’s chair, tears beginning to fall down her cheeks. Tears of betrayal and tears of sadness, perhaps both together, but Éowyn said through a tear choked throat, “I am likely to be angry with you for some time yet, but that doesn’t ever mean that I have stopped loving you!” Éowyn bent to kiss her uncle’s bristled cheek.
Théoden’s heart began to beat again rapidly. He stood feeling a little lightheaded as he wrapped his beloved niece in his arms. His heart soared as she returned the hug with a little hesitancy at first and then just as fervently. He thought of his sister, gone these ten years. Thank you, he said in his heart, thank you for the blessing of this spirited, wonderful child. I shall endeavor to be worthy of her love.
Three months later…
Éowyn gathered up her baskets filled with necessary bits and pieces for cottagers in the lower portion of Edoras and placed them in the cart she used for her visits. These weekly visits to the cottagers, besides her archery and the now only occasional swordplay between her and her brother or cousin, were her favorite time of the week. She could go among the people and simply talk with them and see if she could make their lives any easier with help or extra foodstuffs or some new thing for the children to play with. It gave her joy to help others; it lessened the ache in her heart and filled at least a portion of her soul with purpose.
She and Héohelm, the young Rider currently tasked with fetching and carrying for her on her rounds, stepped out of the kitchen entrance to Meduseld after having retrieved a few healing salves and poultices and a basket of mince tarts to give to the children in the lower edges. She stated to the young Rider, “First to Mistress Holdlith. I want to give her this healing salve.” She looked at Héohelm when all she received was a mumbled reply. He was busy trying to surreptitiously swallow one of the tartlets. “Héohelm! Those are for the children!”
“But they smell so good!” Héohelm said after swallowing the last of the tartlet.
Éowyn tried for a stern, reproachful look but failed and smiled instead. “They do smell good! Thilda may have many faults, but she does make a very good tartlet!” She admitted. She looked into the opening amid the cheesecloth and slipped a hand in to extract one of the delicious little pastries. She bit into it, warm and lightly spiced, it was indeed delicious. After finishing it off and licking her fingertips to clean them of the delicious yet sticky residue of the tart, she said, “Let us make a move before we are tempted to eat even more!”
“Agreed!” Héohelm said cheerily.
Éowyn smiled at the young Rider, one of the more pleasant of the Riders her uncle detailed to be with her on her rounds. “What are the odds that we should be offered some special mead by Mistress Holdlith today?”
“The odds of that, my lady, I would say are quite high indeed!”
Éowyn laughed again. “I do believe you are right.”
Mistress Holdlith ran true to form and Éowyn sat in her little cottage sipping the sweet mead and sitting in the older woman’s best chair, once again at Holdlith’s insistence. Héohelm stood attendant inside the door but was also sipping the fine mead at the older woman’s firm command.
“Now, Mistress Holdlith, you must tell me the truth!” Éowyn began briskly. “How are you doing?”
“Ah! My lady! I am well. I am well.”
Éowyn fixed her friend with a gimlet stare, for friend she had become over the years since she started this. “Holdlith, do not lie! I saw you reach for your back when you reached for these finely carved goblets."
“Ah well, yes. My back does pain me a little from time to time. But I am getting up there in age, M’dear!”
“Nonsense!” Éowyn exclaimed, but she reached into the sack she had set on the small table where they sat, near the small lit hearth. “This should ease some of those aches and pains. Rub a little in where it hurts, and you should feel as right as a spring rain smells good.”
“I shall save it for most need.”
“No,” Éowyn said somewhat firmly. “There will be more when needed. I will make sure of that! Use it when you will and not only when you must.” She looked Mistress Holdlith in the eye and would not look away until she received the older woman’s acquiescence.
“All right! Done!” she looked into Éowyn’s eyes. “You are a good girl. Good and kind-hearted. You will make a fine wife someday.”
Éowyn smiled, but she mentally sighed. The automatic assumption of her impending marriage to whomever cowed her spirit inwardly. It seemed the only road open to her and she looked upon it as an unwelcome duty, as so much her life was quickly becoming. Still she pushed such thoughts aside for the present and pasted a smile upon her face, but not fast enough for Holdlith who smiled knowingly.
“Héohelm, my lad! Can you inspect the chicken coop for me? The door keeps sticking and I would know why! Off you go!” Héohelm respectfully took his leave to fulfill his task.
“Good, he is gone. A nice young thing though, I do say!” She looked back at Éowyn. “I noticed that look, I’ve seen it before.”
Éowyn quickly demurred and began unpacking various bits from the sack. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Holdlith looked at her, “Yes you do, my dear. You have had a disappointment. What about I do not know, and I do not need to know.” She indicated the space in front of the stool upon which she sat. “Come here, child. Kneel here. I sent Héohelm outside because I sensed something. Now it is not widely known, nor do I wish it to be widely known, but I have always had something of the Sight.” Éowyn looked at her friend intently. She had not expected this. Holdlith held her hands out, palms up. “If you will permit me, my lady?”
Éowyn nodded, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that she trusted the older woman’s judgment. Holdlith took a few deep breaths and then gently laced her slender fingers through Éowyn’s reddish blond hair with her palms gently covering the girl’s ears. She closed her eyes lightly and faintly hummed a soft lullaby Éowyn had known as a child. It had a meditative effect on both women, young and old. They stayed that way for many moments. Holdlith then lightly kissed the crown of Éowyn’s head and unlaced her fingers from the young woman’s hair. Éowyn looked up into wise old eyes.
“You are sad now and I am afraid that will not end soon,” the older woman said with great empathy, “but it will not be forever. You will know great happiness and there will be a great love in your life. Eyes that have seen much and will have known their own pain will bring you to happiness.”
Éowyn stared at her friend. She did not quite know what to make of her words, but she did know her own feelings. “But I do not want love!” She fervently avowed because, by her observation, love only lead to sacrifice and submission. It meant giving up all one was, everything one called their own. Marriage meant becoming someone she simply could not be. “I would wish for renown though I know now that can never be!”
Holdlith looked at her with a mixture of compassion and surprise. “That is also something I see, though that path remains clouded in my vision.”
Éowyn looked at her with the eyes of hope warring with futility. “Praise to the Valar that it should come to pass!”
“My visions are always true, though I am never given a straightforward to path to them.”
“But you have given me hope! And that is priceless beyond jewels.”
She kissed Holdlith on the cheek and bowed to take her leave of the older woman.
Héohelm entered hurriedly. “You had better come quickly. There has been an accident.”
Éowyn raced outside only to find young Háláf under the wheel of a cart. His face was ashen white from the pain. She immediately flew into action. “Héohelm, take that end! Déor!” She motioned to Háláf’s father. “Grab the other end!”
He flew to the opposite end of the cart. “All right, together! And lift! Balwine!” she commanded the nearby cottager. “Help me to gently move Háláf out from under the cart!”
The boy groaned through clenched teeth, trying to be stoic as they gently shifted his position.
“Shh-shh! It’ll be all right! My brave boy!” Éowyn whispered fervently as she smoothed back his blond hair before inspecting the damage to his leg. She recalled all the bits of healing knowledge passed to her from her nurses. The lower part of the boy’s leg was starting to swell but there was no blood and she sent several prayers of thanksgiving to the Valar for the fact that no bones were protruding though the skin, because the only time she had ever seen that happen the man had to have the lower portion of his leg removed and he had unfortunately died afterwards of a fever that could not be controlled. This particular injury had happened to Éomer when he was fourteen. They had been roughhousing and Éomer had been felled by a tree stump and he fell wrong. To this day she still could not have told anyone how it happened that he fell, but fall he did and a broken leg was the result. But thankfully, it healed fully and it did not bother him. She could only hope the same for Háláf.
She looked into the worried eyes of his father, Déor. She felt for him. She knew that Háláf was his only son and he had recently been chosen to start training as a Rider. She had been present when the First Marshal Heregar’s herald had come to Déor’s cottage just a few months previous to reveal that Háláf had been accepted into the training Eored for the Muster of Edoras. Déor and his wife, Saeryth, had been beside themselves with joy and pride. It was the honor of a lifetime for the son of a potter to be named to the training Eored for Edoras. She saw in his eyes the dying of a dream. A determination to not let this particular dream die flared within her heart. She might not be able to see her life’s goal come to fruition, but she could do something for this family, for Déor, Saeryth and young Háláf. She would not see his dream die because of a random accident.
“He will be fine!” she told the father about his son. Her fervor filled her voice. “I will have my uncle send his healer to him! You will see.” She looked about for something to make a temporary splint for the boy’s leg. She spied two broken boards of middling length and ripped up the cloth that covered the contents of the small cart Héohelm had been pulling behind her.
“Thank you, my lady! Your generosity overwhelms me!” Déor stumbled out the words of gratitude.
“Pish! Don’t thank me yet. Not until the deed is done,” Éowyn stated as she continued to rip the cloth covering into strips. She looked at Háláf, who was gamely trying not to cry. “Háláf, I am going to tie your leg up so you can be moved to back to your cottage. I am sorry sweetling, but this is going to hurt.” She looked up and another cottager’s wife, Aldwyn, had come out of her cottage to see what had happened. “Mistress Aldwyn, might I borrow that cooking spoon in your hand?”
Aldwyn looked down at the big wooden mixing spoon she realized she was still carrying. “Yes, of course. My Lady!” She wiped off the residue of stew making on her apron and hand the spoon to Éowyn.
“Thank you, Mistress.” Éowyn turned back to the injured boy. “Now Háláf, you know what to do. Bite down on this as I wrap your leg, sweetling.”
Háláf did as he was told.
She set about wrapping his leg by first placing the strips gently under the length of his leg, then placing the middling sized boards on either side of the broken leg. Háláf squirmed and bit down on the spoon throughout the process. Soon she had the leg splinted. Déor watched wide-eyed and winced in sympathy pain for his son and was amazed at the Lady Éowyn’s skill in such matters. He started as he heard his name. He had been so fixated on the pain he saw in his son’s face.
“Déor, take your son back to your cottage. Leave the splint in place until I return with my Uncle’s healer.”
She smiled at the worried father and kissed the sweaty forehead of the son. “I will return soon.” She turned to the young Rider beside her. “Héohelm, please continue with my rounds. I regret that I cannot complete them myself today, but I must return to speak with my uncle, and I do not want that the other cottagers should wait any longer.”
“As you wish, My lady!” Héohelm stated, his fist on his heart.
Éowyn smiled at him and then turned to Déor. “I shall return as quickly as I can.” With that she turned on a heel and swiftly made her way back up to the Golden Hall. Éowyn nodded and smiled at the Hall Guards after having ascended the stairs in a marked rush. “Good day to you both,” she called out with an energy she had not felt in a good while.
“Good day to you, Lady Éowyn!” exclaimed Hama, one of her favourite doorguards.
Upon entering the main hall Éowyn saw Déorgar, her uncle’s main councilor. “Déorgar, where is my uncle? I must needs speak with him urgently.”
Déorgar looked upon her affectionately, but Éowyn was alarmed at how ill his eyes looked and he coughed heavily before answering, “He has returned to his study before the meeting of the council.”
Éowyn eyes held a look of concern for the King’s councilor. She had known him since she was a little girl and had grown fond of him. “Oh dear, Déorgar. Are you quite well? That cough does not sound at all good. Perhaps you should take your rest.”
“No, no. My dear lady, I am well. Perhaps a bit tired. But I cannot stop. The King has need of me.”
Éowyn looked at him, chagrin clearly written on her face. “Regardless, you should take more care. If your ladywife were still with us I know she would make you,” she ended earnestly.
A sad smile crossed Déorgar’s face as he thought of Wídhild, his wife of many years who had died of a wasting fever the winter past. “Aye, My lady. That she would have.” He shook his head as if to rouse himself back to the present. “But you were inquiring after the King. He is in his study.”
Out of concern for the old councilor Éowyn had momentarily forgotten her errand of mercy. “Yes, thank you. But remember. Take care.”
“Yes, my lady.”
They parted ways and Éowyn made her way to the King’s study. Knocking, she waited for permission to enter. A “Come!” sounded and she entered the study. Her uncle sat at his desk, parchments clutched in one hand. He looked up and delight stole across his face. “Éowyn!”
Éowyn ran up to him and kissed his bristled cheek. “Uncle! I need your help!”
Théoden immediately stopped and looked at his niece. Her face was full of life and purpose. It had been too long since she had looked so. His heart flared with happiness. “And what is it that I can do for you, Lytling?”
Éowyn answered in a rush, her emotions getting out in front of her ability to make sense. “A cottager’s son has had an accident and I think his leg is broken! His name is Háláf. He is nine and had just began training with the young Eored for the Muster of Edoras. I know his parents. They are good, hard-working people! They were so proud that he had been selected and now–”
“Shh-shh!” Théoden clasped his niece’s gesturing hands to still them. He smiled. “What is it that you wish me to do for this boy and his family?”
“I want you to send Léoulf to help them and to heal Háláf’s leg!” She paused and then said firmly, “I might not be able to fulfill my purpose in life but I will not allow this random accident to dash the dreams of Háláf and his family! You must send Léoulf!”
Théoden looked at his niece with a mixture of emotions running through him. Sadness for the loss of her own dreams and overwhelming love for her and the empathy she had for this cottager family and their dreams. “It shall be done!”
Éowyn beamed at him. “Thank you, Uncle. They really are a fine family.”
Théoden smiled. “I’m sure they are, Lytling. I am always glad to be able to help my people. And I will gladly do anything I can to see you smile again.”
Lytling (Old English): A little one, a young person or child (Rohirric was based on Old English, so I looked up a few Old English words.)
A/N: Thanks to Ellynn my wonderful word tamer and patient beta! ((hugs))
Ch. 9 - A Seed of Worry is planted
Three months later…
Éowyn stood with her bow in her hand, the leather of the well-worn grip, warm in her hand. She pulled the bow and sighted down the shaft, stilled her breathing and let fly the arrow. It hit the target on the hay bale with a satisfying yet nearly silent thwump. She smiled and reached for another arrow out of her quiver and repeated the motion again and again – each time the arrow finding the black. Each time she smiled. She could feel the tension of the morning slipping away as the meditative repetition of shooting worked its magic once again. She came out here amidst the trees of the shouldering forest to think and simply to be. Within her uncle’s hall she almost felt as if she could not breathe. Knowing that the goal of Shieldmaiden was no longer... No, she corrected herself. The goal of Shieldmaiden had never really been in reach. That reality had been difficult to reconcile within her heart. Holdlith’s words remained with her, but they were blunted by the realities of larders to be maintained and servants rotas to be approved.
She no longer blamed her uncle or her cousin or her brother. She knew that what they had done had been done out of love and she did not have the heart to blame them. But even with that acceptance, the truth of her life was that she felt rudderless and the weight of expectation was pulling her towards a life she did not want. She did not want the life that lay in front of her, mapped out due to who she was, but she saw no way out of it. A life of duty lay before her and she had to find a way of living that life. She was the King’s niece and she had responsibilities. People expected much from her. Sighing heavily, she walked to the hay bale target to retrieve her arrows. She walked back to Wildefýr and unstrung her bow and stored the rest of her shooting equipment in her saddlebags. She sighed heavily; she needed to return the halls to set the menu for evening meals for the next week with Thilda. Not a task she relished at any time, but it had become one of her duties now that she was coming of age.
Théoden watched Éowyn walk in from the stables. He noticed that she seemed restrained, almost as if something had muted her spirit. He knew what it was; it was just so much easier to pretend that he did not. But as he was an honorable man, he would not avoid watching what was happening to his beloved niece. True to her loving nature, she did not hold a long-lasting grudge against him, her cousin or her brother. Nor was it like her to shirk duty. She went about the cottages tending those in need, smiling and laughing and speaking to each cottager as if they were her only consideration that day. Théoden knew this because he often spoke to the various young Riders that he sent to accompany Éowyn on her rounds.
She smiled and went about her duties, charming all who lived in Edoras, but there were times when Théoden saw no joy reflected in her eyes as there had been in times past when she was unwittingly living with a lie. It struck him to the heart. He thought about what he might be able to do to help, but he could think of nothing. And the fact remained that he had already “helped.” That was the source behind Éowyn’s unhappiness, hidden so assiduously from even keen observation.
Later that afternoon Éowyn gathered up the basket filled with necessary bits and pieces for cottagers in the lower portion of Edoras. The visits to the cottagers, besides her archery and the now only occasional sword play between her and her brother or cousin, were her favorite time of the week. She could go among the people and simply talk with them and see if she could make their lives any easier with help or extra foodstuffs or some new thing for the children to play with. With them there was no side, no pretense, no silent judgment for what she was not. She looked in her cart again and saw the linen wrapped parcel that contained the carved rampant horse that she prevailed upon Éomer to make for Háláf, a boy in the lower reaches who had had his leg broken in a cart accident. She smiled; she could hardly wait to give it to the boy. He had begun the training to become a Rider, but that had stopped because of the cart injury. It was a clean break and Éowyn had seen to it that the King’s own healer had set the bone, but the child was still upset that his training should be delayed. So she asked Éomer to carve something special for him. Her brother was very gifted in wood carving when he had the time to indulge, but that did not happen often given his new duties as Third Marshal of the Riddermark. He had recently been named as such by their uncle. Éowyn could not have been prouder.
Earlier that month…
Éowyn fussed about her brother, straightening a buckle here, smoothing a fold there. He had to look just right. “Éowyn…enough!” Éomer grabbed her hands to still them.
“But I want you to look perfect! It is very important that you look just right!” Tears started to fill Éowyn’s eyes. “Papa would have been so proud. Third Marshall of the Riddermark!”
Éomer wiped a tear off of Éowyn’s cheek. “Yes, he would have.” He smiled, then teased gently, “But he would not have cared if I had a belt buckle crooked or a fold unflattened.”
“Mama would have!” Éowyn insisted.
Éomer smiled brighter. “Aye! That she would have! All right, smooth away!”
Éowyn smoothed one more wrinkle. “There, now you look perfect! Oh Éomer, I am so happy for you and so proud.”
Éomer folded his arms around his sister, hugging her tightly and kissed the top of her head. “We best be going.”
Wiping the tears away, Éowyn straighten her shoulders. “Aye, that we should.”
The investiture took place in the main hall, the Hall of Song, as was tradition. Éowyn scurried to her place in the front of the hall, near to the king. King Théoden stood at his throne in full regalia of green, white and gold for the investiture of his beloved nephew to the high position of Third Marshall. Éowyn beamed at her uncle, who gave her a very quick glance. While he held his somber countenance for this most formal affair, his eyes twinkled at her and she smiled even wider. That is, until her eyes passed over Grima, who stood at her uncle’s right hand, where Déorgar had stood for all the years of Éowyn’s life. Dear Déorgar, she thought. He had succumbed to old age; he had died the month previous. He had not been well for a while and he gave up his life to a breathing sickness. It had not been an easy end for him, but he had passed with Théoden, Éowyn and his two daughters at his side. At least he had died surrounded by love. It was all anyone could wish for.
Inexplicably, Grima had become counsellor to the King. It had caused comment. Grima was thought to be too young for such a high position, but when Éowyn mused in private company with her uncle what all were thinking, Théoden’s temper flared – a very rare occurrence where Éowyn was concerned. He had quickly apologized and had taken his niece’s hands in his and said, “Pray pardon, my child. My temper is inexcusable. You ask a fair question, and it is one I cannot fully answer. Suffice to say it was his father’s wish and I saw such need as to grant it. And now I must ask you to say no more about it. For I will not be able to answer more fully. Only to say that it is my wish.”
Éowyn searched her uncle’s eyes and was shocked as she saw sadness and fear living there, but also a stalwart resistance to any more questions. She smiled to hide the pain that was growing in her own heart. She swallowed her questions and kissed her uncle’s bristly cheek and said with forced cheerfulness, “Then we shall say no more about it!”
She quickly moved to straightened papers on his desk in an effort to distract herself from the tears that were threatening to slip past her eyes. She had vowed at that point to always be there for her uncle in whatever ways she could to ease his path through life. She may not have known what hold Galmod’s son had over her beloved uncle, but she would be there always to provide what counterweight she could. It was the one service, the one purpose she would not allow to be taken from her.
Feeling Grima’s eyes upon her, Éowyn glanced at him and quickly looked away. She felt nothing but coldness for him. She would never forgive him for the pain she saw in her uncle’s eyes that night. That hint of dread that now more often than not haunted his normally bright and resolute gaze.
She put aside such distressing thoughts for the moment. The investiture was about to begin. Éomer strode purposefully forth, looking calm and confident. He held his unsheathed sword in front of him as he walked. It lay on his open palms, his arms forward and bent at the elbow, one hand at the intersection of guard and blade; the other under the flat of the blade. Only the slight strain around his eyes showed Éowyn the little bit of nervousness he felt inside. It was a tell that only she knew about. Théodred stood at his father’s left, the traditional place for the heir to the Golden Throne to stand. As soon as Éomer came to the foot of the steps that lead up to the throne, Théodred descended stopping on the last step.
“Who comes to serve Théoden, son of Thengel, King of the Mark?” Théodred intoned the formal words of inquiry.
Éomer answered in a strong clear voice, “My name is Éomer, son of Éomund, and I come to serve Théoden, son of Thengel, King of the Mark.”
Théodred stepped to one side as ceremony dictated, intoning, “You may pass to stand inquiry in front of the King.”
At this Éomer ascended the four steps to stand before Théoden, who rose from the throne to make further search of Éomer’s heart.
Théoden eyed Éomer with the pride of an uncle and the command of a King. “You come to serve your King?
“Yes!” Éomer proclaimed firmly.
“You come to protect the Mark and its people even if it should cost you your life?”
“Yes, it is my will to serve!” Éomer avowed solemnly. He kneeled raising the sword with both hands as he bowed his head. “I offer my sword, my heart, my life in service to you, my king, and to the people of the Riddermark. Accept it as you will!”
Théoden looked down at his nephew and Éowyn saw pride and love fill his face. “I accept your sword, your heart and your life in service to the Mark. Rise, Éomer, son of Éomund, I name you Third Marshall of the Riddermark. Sheathe your sword and embrace your king.”
Éomer rose and sheathed his sword and embraced his uncle as raucous cheers ripped through the Hall of Song. Éowyn clapped her hands and wiped the stinging but happy tears from her eyes, she walked forward to embrace her brother. Through her stinging eyes she chanced to see Grima not cheering, and she thought she saw a flash of malevolence cross his pale face. She blinked to clear her vision and by the time she looked again he wore a smile. She did not further examine him or the feelings he evoked not wanting to spoil the happiness she felt in this moment for her brother.
Éowyn started and then looked at Héohelm. “I am sorry, Héohelm. I was away, but I am back now!”
The young rider laughed a little. “Not to worry, my lady. As ever I am at your service if only to keep you from tripping over stray dogs or falling into watering troughs.”
Éowyn looked down and did indeed see an adorable stray puppy at her feet. She crouched down. “Aren’t you a sweet little thing?” She did not reach for the puppy but waited for it to trust her enough to come near. Within a few moments it came near and sniffed her and began to lick her hand on her knee. Only then she did reach for the dog to pet it. This lasted many moments. She laughed, stood up and dusted off her hands on her cloak. “Onwards!” They took several steps and then heard a bark.
Héohelm looked behind him. “My Lady, it seems we have acquired a new companion.”
Éowyn looked behind her and there was the little stray puppy, sitting in the middle of the street, panting and looking expectant. “Well, come along, my little friend.” The puppy barked and started trotting happily to them. “All right. Are we all assembled now?” She said looking at Héohelm.
“It appears, my lady!”
“Right then! Onwards!”
Within a few minutes they were knocking on the door belonging Háláf’s father. Déor immediately answered, “My lady! Thank you for coming!”
Éowyn replied, “Not at all, Déor! I do so enjoy coming and spending time with you and your family. You know that!” Déor beamed at Éowyn’s words. “Now then to business! Léoulf continues his visits, does he not?”
“Aye my lady! He comes about twice or three times a week to change the wrappings on Háláf’s leg. He says that the leg is healing nicely and that Háláf should have no troubles with it in the future. All thanks to you, my lady.”
“Pish! I am only happy I was able to help. Where is Háláf? I have something for him.”
“Oh my lady, you do too much already.”
“Again I say ‘Pish!’ It gives me great joy to do these things. Where is Háláf?”
“Here, m’lady! Look at me!” Éowyn looked to the entrance that led to their small chicken coop. The boy was upright and walking on a pair of tall walking sticks, though his injured leg was still bound with wrappings infused with a healing salve.
“Praise the Valar, you are walking!” Éowyn exclaimed.
Háláf made his way over to a bench near the hearth and sat with a soft plop. The smile of accomplishment was shining on the boy’s face and it lit Éowyn’s heart with joy. She knelt at the boy’s side. “That was excellent, Háláf, that truly was!”
The boy smiled. “I have been practicing all week to show you! You said you had something for me!”
Déor interjected, “Háláf! It is the Lady’s to give! It is not for you to ask! Tis not right, boy!” Háláf looked somewhat chastened.
“It is all right, Déor!” Éowyn quickly said. “No harm done!” She turned her attention back to the quiet child. “I do have something for you. But it is not just from me alone. I asked my brother, Lord Éomer, if he could do something for you.” She paused briefly to turn to her young attendant. “Héohelm, if you would please hand me the package from Lord Éomer.”
“At once my lady.” The young Rider ducked out the door and came back with a smallish package wrapped in undyed linen. He quickly presented it to Éowyn who then placed it in young Háláf’s lap. “Unwrap it!” she instructed the stunned child.
Háláf untied the knot at the top and the linen fell away from a beautiful rampant horse carved in rosewood. Éomer had outdone himself. Éowyn grinned ear to ear at the look of rapt delight on Háláf’s face. “My brother had some time between duties, and I prevailed upon him to carve something special.”
“Oh my lady!” Saeryth, Háláf’s mother, exclaimed. “This is too fine for us! Surely not.”
“Once more, I say, ‘pish!’ My brother was happy to do it. And he will be hurt if Háláf did not accept it.”
Háláf looked at his mother in a mute plea for her to accept the gift. “Well, in that case,” Saeryth smiled, “we gratefully accept this gracious gift on one condition…” She looked pointedly at her son. “That this gift that the Lord Éomer so graciously gave to you is not be to paraded in front of your friends. For I am sure it was not given with that intention.” Háláf nodded his head most vigorously. “Then aye, my lady.” She looked back to Éowyn. “We most graciously accept the Lord Éomer’s work.”
Their rounds completed for the day, Éowyn and Héohelm made their way back to the Golden Hall. It had been a most satisfying day and Éowyn felt happier than she had in some time. Upon reaching the kitchen entrance, Éowyn asked Héohelm to stow the cart and then return to the kitchens afterwards. She had secured two scones and two mugs of mead from Gamith, one of the kitchen maids. After his return from the stables were the cart was kept, he gratefully received the mug and scone from Éowyn and they sat peaceably, eating and drinking.
After she released Héohelm from her service, Éowyn made her way up to her Uncle’s study to tell him how Háláf was progressing. Before she knocked on the door, she noticed it was slightly ajar and she could hear two voices. One was her uncle and the other was Grima. She was deeply concerned how tired the king’s voice sounded. They were discussing an issue of some contention, and then came a phrase that fell ill upon her ears. “Yes, all right, Grima. If you think it best. Leave me please. I find I am suddenly fatigued.”
Then came an unctuous, “According to your will, my lord. I will take my leave.”
She heard a rustle of robes and movement towards the door. Suddenly she realized that she did not want them to know she had overheard and dashed around the corner listening for a door click as the signal that Grima had departed. She waited a few moments, then went back to the study and knocked the door. Receiving a tired “Come!” she entered. Théoden sat looking despondent, but upon seeing Éowyn his face lit with joy. “Éowyn!”
“Uncle? Are you well?” Éowyn asked, searching her uncle’s eyes, seeing behind the joy a weariness that was unlike her energetic uncle.
“I will be fine. Already I feel better now that you are here! Come sit with me and tell me of your day!”
Éowyn gladly did as she was asked and they spoke long and cheerfully, but at times a troubled look would cross her uncle’s face which he would quickly hide again. Not before Éowyn would notice though, but before she could comment he would again engage her, and the conversation flowed once more. Even so, a seed of worry planted itself in her heart and would not be dislodged.
Thanks to Ellynn...my word wrangler!! ((hugs)) :-)
Ch. 10 – Lies Shared and Truths Foretold
3017 TA, Edoras
The clash of swords never failed to stir Éowyn’s heart. This time was no different, but there was a melancholic tinge connected to the sound now. That avenue was closed to her; not that it had ever really been open, but the possibility of valor had lived in her heart. It still did. Try as she might reconcile herself to her fate, that small seed of futile hope remained alive in a corner of her heart. And it made acceptance of her life as it stood difficult. Also, there was almost a motherly concern as she watched the young riders sparring. It had been a little under two year since young Háláf’s leg had healed and he had been able to take up his training place in the youth Éored. She came to watch the young potter’s son train often, and often with a mother’s concern for his safety. She frequently took the slight detour to see him train when she was off on her weekly rounds helping those of Edoras’ less fortunate inhabitants with whatever was a pressing need. Sometimes, these were essential needs such as a roof that wanted fixing before the winter rains; sometimes it was simply keeping company with someone in need of a friendly visit, to companionably sit and share a cup of spiced mead. Oftentimes she discovered the pressing need while enjoying a cup with those who had become friends. Many, she found, were too proud to say what they were lacking, and only through observation and sharing their lives did she discover what would make their lives easier. She had come to treasure these excursions. They got her away from Meduseld and all its duties and expectations. And if she were honest with herself, she had of late noticed a slight sense of despair that had begun weaving its way through the Golden Hall and she welcomed the time away.
“My lady! Did you see?”
Éowyn roused herself from her musings at the sound of Háláf’s voice. She looked to her side and saw the bright red of exertion color the twelve-year-old boy’s cheeks. There was a spark of life in the boy’s eyes that delighted Éowyn’s heart. “Yes I did, Háláf! You are becoming quite the swordsman!”
Háláf’s eyes lit with happiness at her praise. “Thank you, my lady!”
Éowyn smiled. “I am off to see your father and mother. I shall tell them of your progress.” Both Déor and Saeryth would appreciate whatever she could tell them about their son’s progress because life rarely afforded them the chance to see their son in training.
Háláf blushed as only a twelve-year-old boy could. Then Éowyn saw another thought light up in the young eyes. He started hesitantly, “It’s papa. It is his back. It hurts him all the time, especially when he works at his wheel. But he won’t say anything about it to you.”
Éowyn looked thoughtfully at the boy. “Thank you, Háláf, for telling me this. I shall talk to Léoulf about what can be done. You best get back to training before Master Heredig starts looking for a wayward young rider."
“True! Goodbye my lady!” Háláf bid her before opening the gate and running back to his training group.
Mulling over the new information imparted, she looked at Heruling, her newest attendant for her rounds. “And we are off to the potter’s house! Apparently Déor has been keeping secrets!”
“Aye, my lady,” Heruling said noting the look in Lady Éowyn’s eyes. This did not bode well for the potter, he thought, thinking of the spirited lady he served.
After giving Déor a lecture on holding back about what ailed him, Éowyn found herself once again sitting in Holdlith’s small and well-kept little house. Seated once again on Holdlith’s best chair at the continued insistence of the older woman, she waited for the special mead that Holdlith was known for. Éowyn had, over the years, become very fond of the older woman and smiled as she watched Holdlith putter about readying the mead and cakes for Éowyn and whichever young rider attending her. Holdlith handed the first cup of mead to Heruling, who obligingly took the cup. Technically he was on duty and should not be partaking of mead, but after his first few visits he realized that partaking was a necessity as not to injure the woman’s feelings. So, per Éowyn’s instructions, he did take the one cup and glad he was for it, because it was a very fine mead indeed. Holdlith always served it warm which made it even more delicious and it managed to stave off the early spring chill nicely.
Éowyn swirled the warm mead in her mug and inhaled the slightly honeyed scent deeply. As she did, some of the tension of the past week flowed away from her. She looked up and saw Holdlith looking at her intently. “What?” she inquired, her defenses half-heartedly engaged.
Holdlith peered at her over the rim of her own steaming mug, “I don’t know. That is for you to tell me.”
Éowyn sighed. “Uncle is suggesting again that I marry.”
“And this idea does not find favor with you?”
“Honestly, Holdlith, it does not.” Éowyn fell silent, so many emotions roiling inside her.
“It would give you a chance to start your own household away from Meduseld. You said yourself since Éomer removed to Aldburg to live as Third Marshal you have not been very happy there.”
“I know what I said and that remains true, but I just cannot leave my uncle. He needs me.” And I do not trust Grima, she thought, but did not give voice to the idea. She did not think that Heruling would repeat anything she might mention, but such thoughts were better left unsaid.
“That he does, my child. But what of your happiness? Where does your heart lay?”
Éowyn was silent. Her heart lay on the training ground still. It yearned for what it could not have. A life of valour and renown that was closed off to her. She thought of her friends, all married and young mothers with their own households. Her heart screamed “no!” when she thought of that life; which was the only path that lay open to her. It was not of her choosing, but it seemed to loom inescapably as her destiny. “No place where it can go!” She tearfully whispered. She looked with eyes of despair at her friend.
Holdlith smiled kindly at her. The older woman then looked up at Éowyn’s young attendant. “Heruling, can I ask you to do me a great favour?”
“Aye, Mistress. What is your need?” Heruling asked, brimming in youthful earnestness.
“The latch that leads to my beehives. It keeps sticking, can you look to see what needs to be done?”
“At once, Mistress.” Heruling knew he was being dismissed; he had three sisters and could recognize when women needed to be alone to discuss whatever it was they discussed. He took his leave through the front door.
“Nice young man!” Holdlith said with a smile. She turned back to her friend. Kindness lit her eyes as she said, “My lady, give me your hands.”
Éowyn extended her hands and Holdlith held them in hers. She was saddened from the despair and sadness she felt growing within the young woman. She still saw happiness for Éowyn, but she also saw a long path leading towards it. She moved closer and smoothed the young woman’s hair in a loving gesture, eventually placing her hands on either side of Éowyn’s head covering her ears and lacing her fingers through the reddish gold tresses. She sang an old rhyme that calmed Éowyn’s spirit.
“I still see happiness in your path and yes, I know you don’t want to hear talk of love, so I will place that off to the side. Change will come in a most unexpected way. How, I do not know, it is unexpected,” she said with a smile. “But have faith, my child, that things will turn out as they are meant to. But always remember to be true to yourself and follow your heart.”
Éowyn looked at her friend. “Thank you, and I know it should help, but I’m still unsure of my path,” she said with a sigh.
“I know,” Holdlith said. “I could tell you what I see, but you must discover the path forward to it yourself. Only then will it be your true path.”
Éowyn smiled ruefully at her friend murmuring. “Thank you.” But still she looked as bemused as ever.
Holdlith patted her hand and then caressed her cheek. “Have faith my child!” she whispered.
Éowyn sighed heavily, shook herself and stood, smoothing her woolen skirts of light green and smiling a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. “Well, this butters no parsnips! I must get on with the rest of my day,” she said resolutely shaking off the melancholy that threatened the edges of her mind. She asked, “Can you spare Heruling? I can send him back if more needs to be done.”
“Hmmmm!” Holdlith murmured distractedly. “Tush! There is nothing wrong with the gate. I just said that to send him from the room!”
Éowyn chuckled guiltily. “Oh dear. He really is quite sweet. In a puppy dog sort of way.”
Holdlith eyed her slyly. “Oh, is he now….?”
Éowyn rolled her eyes, “Yes, and no I do not think of him in that way.”
Holdlith’s eyes danced with mischief, “Of course not!” she chuckled conspiratorially.
Heruling chose that moment to reappear and stopped at the scene of girlish gaiety; his life with three sisters taught him never to ask “What are you talking about?” It never yielded a safe answer. Instead, he gave a quick head nod and stated haltingly, “Mistress Holdlith, your gate is fixed.”
Holdlith gave a quizzical look at Éowyn and made her way out to the small beehive enclosure, and she found to her great surprise and delight that the gate which had always stuck a little opened smoothly. She turned to Heruling, “Young man, I thank you greatly!” Heruling blushed and mumbled, “You are welcome.”
“Well, Mistress Holdlith, I think we will be taking our leave of you now!” Éowyn said with fervor to shift focus from the blushing young Rider.
After completing her errands Éowyn and her attendant made their way back up the hill to the Golden Hall. Having dismissed Heruling after a shared bottle of mead and a few purloined tartlets, Éowyn traced her customary path to her uncle’s study to share with him the day’s events. She reached up to knock on the door to her uncle’s study when it abruptly opened to reveal Grima Wormtongue’s odious presence. She had never warmed to her uncle’s latest chief councilor and she doubted she ever would. There was just something about him that spoke to her of unease, but in deference to her uncle who would not hear a word against him, she held her opinions to herself. “Pardon me!” she spoke with a trace of unpleasantness she had not had time to scrub from her voice. She saw malevolence and something else glint in his eyes before the mask of unctuous solicitude could slip over his features.
“My lady,” the oily voice sounded, “can I help you?”
“No, Grima. Thank you. I have only come to see my uncle.”
“Oh! But I am afraid that he is weary now and wished to left alone,” Grima said with all solicitude and a hard glint of persuasion.
“Then my visit shall cheer him as it always does,” Éowyn said, undeterred and pointedly ignoring his oily attempts at suggestion. She noticed his eyes flick quickly back and forward as she could see the gears in his brain working on what response to give. Choosing to relent, he bowed as a supplicant.
“As you wish, my lady!” Grima stood and then seemed to slither away. Éowyn watched him go and as she did, she could feel cold dread nipping at the edge of her mind. His was ever a disturbing spirit. She wished she could sever him from her uncle’s presence and yet, with each passing year, he seemed to graft himself more fully to Théoden’s side, becoming more ever-present as time wore on.
“Éowyn! My dear!”
Éowyn shook herself from the disturbing train of thought at the sound of her uncle’s voice. Looking at Théoden she hoped that her smile hid the growing concern at the tired look in his eyes. Eyes that used to snap with vigor and vitality. If she did not know better, she would think that, slowly but surely, her beloved uncle’s lifeforce was being sapped.
“Uncle! Much I have to tell you of my day!”
His eyes sparked with some of the vitality that had been his wont. “Come sit with me and tell me of your day.” He moved over to the padded settee covered in green velvet in the corner of the room. It had become their space to spend time and talk.
Éowyn noted his gait was slower and again she pushed aside the flare of worry within her heart. She first talked of the various requests and observations she had made and then she slipped into the stories to tell. Stories such as how young Háláf was coming along in his training. At that telling a look of pain crossed Théoden’s face. He clasped Éowyn’s hands and looked at them. He looked up into his niece’s eyes and ventured forth with a forbidden subject. “I am sorry that you cannot train to become a shieldmaiden. I am sorry that I misled you all those years. I am so sorry that you cannot follow your dreams.” He looked into her eyes with such hurt sincerity that Éowyn’s heart broke. Against her will, She felt her eyes brim with tears. It was the private pain in her heart. She never spoke of it, not even to Holdlith and certainly never to her uncle, to Théodred or even her brother, for she had no wish to cause them any more pain than the whole situation already had.
She looked to the side in what was probably a futile gesture to hide the tears that had welled in her eyes. “Why do you speak of this? I do not even think of it. It is done and gone.” Except from my heart, she thought. Genuinely she said, “I understand why you did it. It was done out of love, but it is done now. I do not think of it.” Having retained at least a portion of control over her emotions, she looked back at her beloved uncle whose unhealed pain was evident on his face. “I am happy as I am,” she said pasting a smile on her face.
“Of course you are.” Her uncle affirmed a little too vigorously. “I am just tired and perhaps feeling regretful because of it.” He gave her the same pasted-on smile she had given him. Both knew it was a lie they shared, but it would have to do, because the reality could not be changed. Switching the subject, Théoden said as briskly as he could, “I had a dispatch from Éomer today. He enclosed a letter for you…” Éowyn took hold of the intended distraction her uncle mercifully extended for her, to avoid the futile emotions of longing for what could never be.
A/N: So many thanks to Ellynn! My wonderful word wrangler! ((hugs))
Ch. 11 – A Smile and Brave Words
Later that night…
The evening meal had been long and tedious, but Éowyn always attended it because her presence gave her uncle joy to have her so close, though in doing so, she had to endure Grima Wormtongue’s noisome presence which gave her no joy at all. She sat by her hearthfire later that evening after having excused Waerith for the night; she desperately needed some time alone. She loved the older woman who had been sent from Aldburg by her brother when she turned twenty to be her lady-in-waiting. Sadly, Guthhild had passed away of a wasting fever and, while theirs had been a tempestuous relationship, she loved Guthhild and she did not feel as if she could trust the lady servants of the court; Grima’s influence upon new hires had begun to be felt throughout the household of Meduseld. Guthhild had held sway through her large personality, but since her passing there was a gap that Grima was quickly consolidating. Her uncle insisted that she have a lady-in-waiting as it was proper for her as his niece. But before Grima could act, Éowyn had written her brother and Éomer dispatched with haste Waerith to tend Éowyn. It had been a joyous reunion. Waerith had been her mother’s lady-in-waiting since Éowyn had been a young child. After her mother's death she had continued in service at Aldburg and was still there when Éomer had come back to take up residence as Third Marshal.
Sipping a mug of her favoured mulled wine and returning it to the end table, Éowyn sat wrapped in her thick settee blanket of velvet and lamb’s fleece and unfolded her brother’s missive. A pang of longing echoed around her heart as she lay her eyes on his strong sprawling handwriting. She could not be more proud of him. He was Third Marshal just as their father had been, and it was no more than he deserved and had worked for, but it did not mean that she did not miss him terribly. The first few words were a blur as she looked through tears at the page, but she shook her head and berated herself for the pathetic emotion. Tears served no useful function therefore she swallowed them and continued reading the letter.
Once again, I ask you to come to Aldburg. We could be together again, and you would have purpose here as my chatelaine. Please say yes!
The tears of longing she had just willed away returned again in full force and filled Éowyn's eyes. She desperately wanted to join her brother at Aldburg, to return to their childhood home and to be away from the court and their gossiping ways. To be her brother’s chatelaine was purpose indeed. At least then she could have a measure of freedom and identity. It was not her ideal, but it was better than this half-existence she had here where she was not chatelaine, nor child, nor bride. She was nothing here, except her beloved uncle’s only smile. With that thought she breathed in deeply and wiped away her tears. In her heart she knew she could never leave her uncle, no matter how much she longed to be anywhere other than here enclosed in the Golden Hall. She set the letter aside, too tired to compose any sort of response and went to bed where she proceeded to lay in her four-poster bed thinking too many thoughts until the wee small hours of the morning, when sleep finally claimed her.
The next day she was setting about the task of readying her cart for the morning trip down to the lower edges of Edoras, the only bright spot of her week, when she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Feeling eyes on her back she looked over her shoulder to see Grima Wormtongue’s foul presence. She repressed the need to shiver against the feeling that crawled up her spine as he drew near. “Grima, you startled me!”
Unctuous and oily came the reply, “Oh my Lady Éowyn, that was never my intention. Please forgive me.”
“Of course, Grima. But there is nothing to forgive,” Éowyn said with the perfunctory smile and response one gave as she quickly avoided his searching gaze. She looked back at her basket and still feeling his eyes on her she asked politely and distantly, “Is there something I can do for you?” She felt him slide over to her side, somehow sensing that his eyes never left her.
Again the oily voice said, “I think it is so very thoughtful how you look after the less fortunate of Edoras.”
She continued to fill the basket and replied non-committally without looking up, “I do what I can to help our people.”
“Yes, you do. You are so caring.” There was an odd catch in his voice that gave Éowyn pause.
“T-thank you, Grima.” Against her better judgment she looked at him and wished she had not because for just a split second she saw something in his eye that froze her soul. He looked upon her with longing that he quickly covered. It was as if he had not expected her to look at him in that moment and had not taken care to guard his expression.
He quickly bent a bow and said quickly, “I am needed elsewhere. My Lady.” And with that he beat a hasty retreat.
Éowyn stood for several moments staring after him, the full horror of that hastily hidden emotion harrowing her soul. She tried to put aside all the consequences that look presaged, but still it stayed with her, disrupting the calmness of her thoughts with menace.
August 3018 TA, Edoras
It had been a year since that chance encounter with Grima. Ever since that day Éowyn had made every effort to not be alone in the same room with him. He simply made her feel so uneasy with that intense stare that he gave her only when he thought she was not looking. More disturbing though was the fact that his hold on her uncle was growing stronger all the time. The few times she tried discussing it with Théoden, Grima always seemed to appear and the one moment she had found time alone long enough to speak with her uncle still caused her heart to grip in sadness when she reflected upon it. He had been muddled and confused, and when she pushed him upon the subject, he became angry that she should speak badly of Grima when he had been such a help to him. Éowyn had stood silent, hurt by his accusations and confused by his anger. Only when she apologized for her words did he calm down. She remembered that evening. She sat and sang to her uncle and played on her harp, the only instrument she had shown any real aptitude for or interest in. She played some old Rohirric songs that caused her uncle’s eyes to clear momentarily and show real emotion. She never again spoke to Théoden of Wormtongue. Thusly silenced, the worry had only coldly grown within her heart, just as an untended wound would fester.
Éowyn shook from her thoughts and saw that she had already arrived at her destination, the little house belonging to Déor the Potter and his wife Saeryth. It was Saeryth who had spoken her name and was rounding the corner of the small house in her best clothes, incongruously coming from the hen coop out back.
“Saeryth! Working even now? We had best be off or we’ll be late for the ceremony.”
Háláf, Saeryth and Déor's teenage son was being elevated from novice to apprentice. A very important day in the life of a young Rider. A Rider of Rohan started as a novice and then after a period of three to five years, he was evaluated by his masters to determine whether or not he was ready to take the next step, which was apprenticeship with the Muster of Edoras itself. Only after the apprenticeship was served and the young Rider was found worthy by the master of the Muster, would he become a full member of the Muster. Because of a cart accident Háláf had had to delay entering into the training for the youth Eored by a year, but because he had been such a quick study and eager learner his masters deemed him ready for Elevation to apprenticeship as if he had entered the training at the time of his acceptance and there had been no accident.
Déor appeared from inside the doorway of their house. “My lady! Perhaps you can shift my good wife. I can’t seem to.”
“Husband! That is quite enough out of you! Thank you very much! You know as well as I do that if the eggs are not collected at the proper time our chickens get all in a fuss.” She turned to Éowyn. “It seems we have very temperamental chickens!” Her eyes flashed with merriment. “They seem to think that they rule the roost!” Éowyn laughed.
“Little do they know that I married the biggest hen of the lot!” Déor quipped affectionately.
Saeryth walked up to her husband and gave him a quick peck on the cheek as if to illustrate the point. “Well somebody has to look after you!” She smiled up at him.
Éowyn smiled at the couple and thought back to when she first started making her rounds. She had begun the task because she saw a need and, as the niece of the King, she felt obliged. But the chore had turned into a delight; and she received far more than she gave over the years. She received friendship and acceptance from the people of Edoras, which was more than she received within the Golden Hall.
When she first met Déor and Saeryth, they were deferential towards her as the niece of the King. Now they viewed her as a friend as evidenced by the playful banter they exhibited around her. She smiled at their loving relationship and for the first time she thought to herself that it would be nice to have someone she could banter with, someone to love. She quickly put that thought aside, though, as an impossibility. As the King’s niece she would not be given that choice. She had so far resisted a match and would continue to do so. If she could not have the kind of match that Déor and Saeryth had, then she would not marry. Until she was forced to, she thought facing a hard truth of her life. At twenty-three she was getting to be past the “first bloom” of matrimonial intent as she had overheard it put to her uncle by Grima. She felt dread even thinking about it all. She inwardly sighed and pushed aside such dreary thoughts because this was a good day, and those days were rare enough.
“Come let us be off!” she said forcing a cheerful smile into her heart and eyes. “Háling!” she called the latest of Riders to attend her.
“Yes, my Lady!”
“Go ahead and tell the master that we are on our way and to not start the ceremonies until we have arrived!”
“Yes, my Lady!”
It had been a rare thing for Déor and Saeryth to see Háláf train. The daily grind of life as a potter did not allow Déor much in the way free time to go see Háláf at the training ground. They mostly kept up with his training through Éowyn who would report to them on her weekly visits, so they were beside themselves with joy to have the opportunity to see Háláf's elevation to apprenticeship. Their son lived with the other novices during the training. It was thought the best way to forge the way of the Rider upon young minds. As a reward for hard work and diligence though, the novices were given the privilege of visits home once a month. Háláf had never missed a monthly visit.
It was a short ceremony; Háláf stood at the steps leading up to the dais near the training ground with four of his fellow novice Riders. He spied his parents and Éowyn in the front row and gave a small quick smile. Saeryth waved with all the fervor of a proud mother and Éowyn was amused to see Háláf blush in adolescent embarrassment over his mother’s obvious excitement. Éowyn marveled at how splendid and how grown-up Háláf looked in his new apprentice’s tunic and leather bracers.
Each boy had one bracer stylized with the horse rampant, the device of the Riders of Rohan, which symbolized their future as Riders. The other bracer was cut and stylized with their family device, usually made by their mother or nearest female relative to symbolize where they came from and who it was they would fight to protect.
Resplendent in his ceremonial armor, Theodred was the representative of the King given charge and responsibility over Edoras and its Muster. He stepped forward on the dais and held up his hand. “This is a proud day for Edoras. To welcome new Riders into our midst. To recognize courage and honour. To help these young novices move forward to a new level of commitment in their training as they join the Muster of Edoras. To continue their journey among us! I come this day to celebrate and to give thanks that we have such brave and capable young men answering the call, learning what it is to be a Rider of Rohan.” He looked over to the five boys waiting at the step of the dais and drew his sword from its ceremonial scabbard and placed it vertically on the floor of the dais. He intoned, “Who is it that asks entrance into the Muster of Edoras?”
The five boys simultaneously drew their swords and answered in a strong voice of one, “We ask for the honour to join the Muster!”
Theodred looked upon them sternly. “Come forth, ask and hear our judgment.”
Háláf was the first to ascend the steps. To be the first forward signified that the masters deemed him to be their most promising novice. As he knelt, his sword point set into the dais floor, he placed his hands upon the hilt. Éowyn could see him swallow nervously before he posed his question, but it was a clear strong voice with which he spoke, looking Théodred in the eye as was the custom, “I am Háláf, son of Déor. I ask for the privilege and honor to join the Muster of Edoras.”
Théodred looked at Master Heredig and inquired, “Master Heredig. Is Háláf, son of Déor ready for admittance to apprenticeship among the Muster of Edoras?”
“Yes, my lord Prince. He is,” Heredig responded with fervor.
Théodred’s eyes smiled but his expression remained controlled. “Being assured that you are equal to the task, Háláf, son of Déor, I ask you, do you believe you are ready for the journey forward, come what may?”
“I am ready to learn. I am ready to try and to fail and to try again.”
“Then step over the sword and into the service of King and country.”
Háláf stepped over the sword.
“Sheathe your sword and be accepted as one of us,” Théodred stated formally but with a hint of joy in his voice.
Háláf sheathed his sword as Heredig handed Théodred a leather coif that bore a circular insignia of an eight-pointed star sitting on an interconnected sworl. Théodred held it up and intoned, “Wear this and let it show that you are one of us. Those who are chosen to serve in the Muster of Edoras.”
Háláf turned forward so Théodred could place it on his shoulders and buckle it in place in the back. The pride that shone on his young face matched that of his parents, Éowyn noticed as tears of pride stung her own eyes. She looked at Théodred and shared a smile with her cousin before he beckoned the next novice forward.
After the ceremony followed a feast that included the newly elevated apprentices and their families over which Théodred presided. Éowyn knew it was one of his favoured duties and unless he was in country with his Éored, he always led the Ceremony of Elevation. Éowyn walked over to Théodred as he stood speaking with Lord Éador and Lady Maerlith, whose son had also been elevated in the ceremony. Éowyn nodded to the Lord and Lady, and politely said, "Congratulations to you and to Ceorl. He spoke well. You must be proud."
Lord Éador inclined his head. "Thank you, my Lady. We are. Do you attend many Elevation Ceremonies?"
"When I can. I find them inspiring."
"Indeed?" Lady Maerlith questioned snidely. "One would wonder-"
Théodred interrupted, drawing a cross expression quickly mollified from Lady Maerlith, "Lord Éador. I spy Lord Frea over by the wine steward's table. Didn't you wish to speak with him about grain storage?"
"I did indeed, my lord Prince, thank you for bringing him to my attention. Come, my dear." He held his arm out for Lady Maerlith and she had no choice but to accept, though it had been all too clear that she had wanted to stay.
"Of course, my dear." She bowed to Théodred. "My Lord Prince." To Éowyn too. "My Lady."
Éowyn inclined her head. Watching them descend upon Lord Frea, Éowyn looked up at Théodred. "Lord Frea is not going to thank you for that, you know."
"True, true.” Théodred’s face held an expression of mock contrition. “I could call them back if you wanted me too."
Éowyn flashed a look at him. "Don't you dare!"
Théodred flashed a mischievous grin and then just as quickly it was gone. "You're welcome, by the way!"
Éowyn sighed at her beloved but exasperating cousin. "Thank you," she mocked prettily. She and Lady Maerlith had crossed swords, unfortunately not literally only figuratively, on more than one occasion. Lady Maerlith was fond of pointing out Éowyn's unmarried state and other perceived social deficiencies but never within earshot of the King, so she did have some self-preservation instincts. "She is such a tiresome woman!"
"Of course, she is. She is a married woman of noble birth. There is no variety in that kind," Théodred murmured under his breath so only Éowyn could hear him. Éowyn snorted in a most unladylike fashion. Théodred continued, "Not that I am not delighted to see you, but why are you here?" His grey eyes fell on her curiously.
Éowyn shifted her gaze out on to the gathered crowd and spotted Háláf and his parents. "Here to see a friend's child elevated."
Théodred followed her gaze and saw who she was looking at. "The first boy to be elevated? Háláf was it?"
"Yes. One of the families I visit. Háláf had an accident with a cart and he broke his leg just before he was to start the training and I made sure he got proper healing from Léoulf. I could not stand to see his dream pass him by." Her voice trailed off as an old wound unexpectantly reopened and she fell silent.
A few seconds ticked by. "Éowyn..." Théodred began, the one word laden with re-invoked pain, but Éowyn stopped him.
"Tush! It is nothing. The past is done." She looked into his troubled grey eyes. "A scrap of remembrance, that is all!" She gamely stated, smiling.
Théodred looked into her blue eyes and saw a pain she was trying desperately hard to hide behind a smile and brave words. He let it stay hidden as it sliced open his own heart. There was nothing to be done for it, but it still pained him that he played a part in something that still hurt her after all these years had passed.
"My Lord Prince, might I introduce..." Théodred did not hear the name given by the portly lord who had unwittingly saved them from further painful introspection. He looked at Éowyn and they shared a look before the royal masks slipped back into place. Fairly or unfairly, they began once again to play the roles society had given them.
A/N: As always so many thanks to Ellynn, my wonderful word wrangler! Patiently unwinding my meanings! (((hugs)))
Ch. 12 -- Helpless
“Be gone with you! We have no room for beggars here! Be gone!”
Éowyn overheard the doorwarden shouting at the gates as she and Háling were leaving Holdlith’s dwelling at the completion of her weekly rounds. She motioned for Háling to leave the cart and follow her down to the gate.
“Héoláf! Come here,” Éowyn called sternly as she approached the doorwarden she had known for years. Héoláf was not known to be an unkind man and that was why she was so shocked at his words.
The doorwarden turned to the sound of Éowyn’s voice and immediately looked contrite. “My Lady!” He bent his head with his fist on his chest and advanced to stand in front his lady.
“What words did I hear you speak? When has the welcome of Edoras grown so cold?” Éowyn chided, concern evident in her voice.
“Beg pardon, my Lady. So sorry you should hear the harsh words, but they are the direct order of Grima Wormtongue.” Héoláf spoke the last phrase as if by rote, but Éowyn could hear the undercurrent of reluctance in his words.
Upon the doorwarden’s utterance of the name of her father’s chief councilor, Éowyn’s countenance grew cold and withdrawn. “I see.” She bit off the words. “Héoláf. Can you tell me what his words were?”
Héoláf looked a bit sheepish as if he were speaking out of turn, but he did continue. “Grima said we were to be wary of strangers hanging about. And were to deny entry to anyone who did not have a specific purpose within the walls.”
"Surely not our own people?"
Héoláf pursed his lip and said in a chagrinned voice, "Anyone."
Éowyn saw red, but she tried desperately hard to control her emotions. She knew that Grima’s hold over her uncle had grown to such a degree that he listened to fewer and fewer words that countered the oily, noisome councilor, but it was still ingrained within her that one did not show this sense of sorrow and alarm to those outside the family. “I see.” Again, spoken with clipped tones. “I cannot promise anything, Héoláf, but I will speak with my cousin when he returns as to the meaning of such an order.”
A look of cautious relief crossed Héoláf’s face. “Thank you, my Lady. It does not sit right, but I cannot disobey.”
Éowyn smiled warmly at him. “I quite understand, Héoláf! You may resume your duties.”
“Yes, My Lady!” The guardsman bent his head and placed his fist on his heart, and returned his post.
Éowyn turned to Háling. “Take up the cart and let us return to the Golden Hall. I must see if my cousin has returned yet and speak with him!”
Háling quickly retrieved the cart and rushed to keep up with his lady. He had seen her in this mood before and it never did to keep her waiting. She was like an arrow loosed and woe betide anyone who stood in her way.
Having arrived at the kitchen door where the cart was to be unloaded, Éowyn turned to Háling. “Háling, I am sorry to leave you to this, but I must see if my cousin has returned yet.”
“You need not make apologies to me, my Lady. It shall be as you say.”
“Thank you, Háling!” Éowyn flung the reply over her shoulder as she made her way through the front portion of the Golden Hall to the stables. Théodred was due back this day. She would ask Gamhelm if he had seen him yet.
As Éowyn neared the stables her question was answered. She saw her cousin standing next his horse Windsong and was in deep conversation with Gamhelm. She overheard Théodred mention something about a slightly uneven gait in his horse’s trot as Gamhelm cast an inquiring eye upon Windsong’s front left knee.
“Master Gamhelm! Hello!” Éowyn began, “sorry to interrupt, but can I speak to my cousin…” Her voice trailed off, leaving her long time and quick-witted friend to supply the remainder of the sentence himself.
“And you wish to be alone!” replied the burly horsemaster. Éowyn answered with a tremulous smile. Gamhelm looked at Theodred and took the reins from his Prince’s hand. “Leave him with me. I will see what I can see.”
“Thank you, Master Gamhelm.” Theodred nodded his head to the old Master of the Stables. He watched as Gamhelm led Windsong away, then turned toward his cousin casting her a purposeful look. “And what were you wanting to say that could not be said in front of Master Gamhelm?” who was entrusted with many a family secret making his exclusion curious indeed.
Éowyn took a deep breath and then let it out. “Are you aware of Grima’s latest order to the doorwardens?”
Immediately wary, Théodred gave her a level stare. “No. I am not." He breathed an expectant sigh. Nothing that originated from Grima was good. It was only variable degrees of bad. "What is it?”
“That they are not to let in strangers from abroad, including our own people," Éowyn emphasized and then continued, "and that they are not to allow anyone past the gate who does not have express business within the walls.”
“Why would he give such an order? That has never been our way.” They looked at each other and the thought of what hand Théoden had had in this order lay unspoken between them. “I will speak with Father.” He paused. “Though he may not even listen to what I have to say.” A look of sadness fell across his fair face.
Théoden sat in his chair in his study late in the afternoon pondering upon thoughts that he would rather not be thinking while watching Grima shuffling through court papers that needed seeing to. Grima had tried not to mention it, but it was beginning to sound as if Théodred was having growing feelings of restlessness. He could see that it bothered Grima to even intimate such a thing and he tried to hedge around the idea, but if it was so, it was very troubling indeed. It was true he and his son did speak less of late. Théoden had always sought his son’s opinions and Théodred would make a fine king, but after him, not before. Théoden sighed. It seemed of late that he could place trust in fewer people even those closest to him and as a result was he was feeling more and more isolated.
His bout of Ash Fever earlier in the year had been severe and it had taken him a longer time than usual to regain his normal vigor. In fact, he still had yet to regain it fully. Grima kept advising him to slow down, to try not to spend his energy all at once. These things took time. That is what Léoulf, the King’s healer, had told Grima. Too many people around him at any one time was too taxing. He did not feel up to his usual strength and it was better that he saw fewer people. Those at court had been concerned, but Grima worked to allay their fears. Théodred had had to take on more of the daily responsibilities of kingship while Théoden had lain in bed with fever. Only now was Théoden beginning take back some of the less taxing duties of kingship. Éowyn never left his side during the worst of his illness and Grima had made sure that he was not disturbed during his convalescence, but even now those of the court gave him a wide berth. They bent their heads in acquiescence and when they thought he was out of earshot, they would murmur about the pallor of his skin or how tired he looked.
He heard something of a commotion outside his door. He could hear Théodred wanting to gain entrance and Grima was trying to reason with him. Théoden sighed and called out, “Grima! Let my son come forward!”
Silence, and then the door opened to reveal his son stepping over the threshold waiting for permission to advance, agitation clear on his face. Théoden sighed suddenly feeling more than a little weary. “Come forth, my son. What it is you wish to say?”
Théodred eyed him with what appeared to be an assessing look at what he saw and then spoke, “Father! Did you know that Grima sent an order to the doorwardens to bar entry to those without a strict stated purpose to enter Edoras? Even those of our own people?”
“Yes. Grima explained that there had been trouble outside the gates, and this was a necessary order,” Théoden answered in a faint voice, so unlike his usual tone of assurance and command.
Theodred looked surprised. “If this was the case, why I not informed of such trouble? I am Second Marshal and Edoras is within my responsibility as such.” He looked at Grima accusingly.
Oily came the response from Grima. “Oh, I am sorry, my Lord Prince. You were away and could not be consulted and I thought it best to act quickly.”
“Nevertheless, I am back and, as Edoras is my responsibility, I would see this order rescinded. I shall re-issue the order myself should I find it is indeed necessary.”
“But my Lord Prince, it has been ordered in the King’s name. It would be a breach in protocol to rescind it summarily,” Grima countered with an offended unctuousness.
Théodred turned away from Grima and petitioned his father in a restrained manner, looking into Théoden’s almost vacant eyes. “Father, you settled upon me the responsibility of Edoras. Do you wish to rescind this grant? Is it not my right to make these judgments?” Théodred held his father’s eyes searching for any sign of the father he knew and loved within this distracted and tired man who sat before him. He finally saw a glimmer of Théoden's old self.
In a voice trying to gain strength Théoden stated in a voice more like himself. “Grima, you shall rescind the order. I have granted my son this responsibility.”
At first, this pronouncement was met with silence. Théodred looked at Grima and saw a flash of malevolence, quickly snuffed out. “You heard my father.”
Noxious solicitude dripping in the reply. “At once, my King.”
Somewhat buoyed, Théodred looked back to Theoden. “Thank you, Father.” But as he spoke, he saw that vacant look reclaim his father's eyes. He bent his head hoping to hide the look of despair threatening to steal across his own features. He placed his fist on his heart and left the study quickly lest he betray himself with a look of pity.
Theoden watched him go, noticing the pace of his departure. Almost as if he could not get away fast enough.
Grima saw the look on his King’s face; it was one of sorrow and disbelief. Théoden was aging before his eyes. The plan was unfolding quite well. Even with the hiccup of Theodred convincing him to rescind the Door order He decided to take that defeat and turn it into an advantage. He said in a sorrowful voice, “He became most agitated when challenged.”
Theoden turned to look at Grima and spoke in a resigned voice, as he looked back at the door through which Théodred had left. “That he did.”
“Pity. And he is your son,” Grima said with a voice filled with regret.
“That he is,” Theoden said. And suddenly he felt more tired and more alone than he ever had before. But at least there was always Grima.
Théodred left his father and his emotions were running thick and fast through his heart. Théoden had listened; he should have felt reassured, but somehow he did not. He was aghast at how tired and distracted his father looked. He knew he was still recovering from a particularly virulent strain of Ash Fever, but somehow Théodred did not think that accounted for all his listlessness, his lack of vigor. It was very disturbing to see his father in such a state. When last they spoke before the Ceremony of Elevation the month previous, he had not seemed this distracted. Or had he? In truth, Théodred had been so busy before he left Edoras preparing to make the tour of the East Emnet settlements as he did every year, that he and Théoden had only passed a little time speaking. Actually, he now remembered that it was Grima who cut short their time together speaking of how the King needed his rest. As a dawning horror began to fall upon Théodred’s heart, he prayed to the Valar that his suspicions were false. He felt that, aside from Éowyn, he could trust no one at court with discussion of such a delicate and disturbing fear. It was a sad state of affairs, but true nonetheless. And Éomer was presently in Aldburg, Théodred cursed inwardly.
As his feet found his way to his cousin’s rooms to seek her counsel in this most disturbing idea; he resolved that he would write to Éomer post-haste and bid him come to Edoras. He needed allies and he trusted his cousin implicitly. He knocked on Éowyn’s door.
“Cousin, are you there?” He waited a few moments as he heard the last harp strains of an old Rohirric lament followed by a short sharp bark. He then heard a “Come!” He opened the door and saw Éowyn at her harp. A small terrier jumped up for attention.
“Myrthu! Boy! Did you miss me?” Théoden scratched the little mutt colored dog behind the ears.
“He always does. As do I.”
“I haven’t heard you play in so long,” Théodred said by way of changing the flow of conversation. It was not successful.
“Because you have not been around.”
“I have had duties—”
“That was not a criticism, only a statement of fact. Sit and I will play for you.”
Théodred tried to continue in his own defense, “But I –”
“Sit!” Éowyn said firmly, “and then we will talk.”
It was then that Théodred noticed the strain around his cousin's eyes. Dutifully he sat, knowing he would get no answer until song's end and listened to a sweet sad lament. One he had heard the skalds sing often in the Hall of Song. It was a song of times past, both joyous and sad.
The last strains died away as Éowyn placed her hands on the strings to still their motion. She looked at Théodred and sighed. “It has been too long since I have played for anyone other than uncle, and half the time his mind is elsewhere…”
“You still play beautifully." He paused and then spoke with a heavy heart, “Father is getting worse. He was not as he is now before I traveled the East Emnet.”
“He was. You just didn’t notice.” Théodred began to object, but Éowyn stayed his comment her hand. “Again cousin, that was not a criticism but a statement of fact.” She pushed the harp into its resting position and walked the short distance to her cousin. She clasped his hands, staring into his troubled dark blue eyes. Normally she would have teased him into a better mood, but she sensed that at this moment that was not the right approach. “You have not noticed because so much has needed your attention.”
Théodred continued to stare into her eyes then sighed a hard sigh. “How bad has it been, then?”
Éowyn broke the stare and measured in her mind just how much to tell Théodred. She would not, she could not mention her own personal fears of Grima and his unwanted attentions. She could not even admit them to herself, let alone give voice to them. “Uncle grows more tired, more easily distracted, more easily angered. He listens to Grima. Not even I can convince him otherwise.”
“I got him to rescind the door order.”
“Did you? Well, that’s something at least.”
“But even then, I sense that something is wrong. It is in his eyes. I look and I see nothing of the father I know.”
“It’s Grima. And uncle will not hear a word said against him.”
Théodred sighed heavily. He had never felt so helpless. He would write to Éomer, but he was unsure what any of them could do as long as Grima held sway with the King.
Myrthu (Lit: Myrðu; Old English, basis for Rohirric): mischief, trouble
A/N: As ever many thanks to my wonderful word wrangler, Ellynn making my stories better and seeing my meanings! ((hugs))
Ch. 13 - Stormcrow
The next day Éowyn woke to love and kisses, and then a sharp bark. She opened her eyes and there was Myrthu smiling and wagging his tail. “Well hello! My lovely boy!!” Éowyn cooed at the rambunctious terrier. Myrthu waking her up was always the high point of her day, especially of late. Éowyn scratched behind his ears. “So my boy, what will the day bring?” She sighed. A knock came at the door. “Come!”
“Hello! My Lady!” Waerith bustled in with Éowyn’s morning cup of warmed spiced mead. “Good morning!”
“Good morning, Waerith,” Éowyn replied warmly.
Myrthu barked. “And good morning to you! My little Mister!” Waerith called down to the dog and quickly extracted from her basket a bone from last night’s roast lamb. She knelt down and presented it to the royal mutt, who accepted it with great relish and enthusiasm.
Éowyn laughed. “You spoil that dog!”
Waerith replied, “Well, of course! It is a well-known and accepted fact that the Royal mutt is to be spoiled rotten!”
Éowyn smiled. “How very wise you are!”
“Thank you, my lady!” Waerith bent her head, smiling, but then quickly sobered. “Remember today is Audience Day. You must look your best to receive.”
Éowyn sobered as well. “I had briefly forgotten. Thank you, Waerith, for reminding me.”
She took a fortifying sip of her spiced mead and pondered the day ahead. Audience Day happened once a month and used to be a joy to attend. It was where the people of Edoras and surrounding environs would either petition the King or come to show a particular ware they had or to give thanks for a previous petition come to favourable fruition. Outside Meduseld on the green there was a festive market-fayre and it was a day of community sharing and gathering. While the market still took place amid gaiety, over the past months, since his bout with Ash Fever, the day long audience was taking a larger toll on Théoden’s health and energy and of late he had become somewhat irascible as the day wore on. Éowyn worried it was becoming too much for him.
She used to tour the fayre with either Théodred or her brother or sometimes just the latest of her weekly attendant Riders, but with her uncle needing her throughout the day, she had given up the joy of the fayre to stay by his side, near the ever-noisome presence of Grima. And in her position as niece to the King she was expected to play her part resplendently, regardless of her own personal feelings. She sighed, sipped again the mead, and set it upon the bedside table. “Well then, we had best begin.” She opened her closet to survey which gown was to be chosen for this day's duties. The ceremonial gowns were all shades of white to ivory; unmarried girls in Rohan wore only these shades, symbolizing they were yet untouched. Daily wear consisted of light pastels. Wearing colors came with marriage, as they gained their full womanhood and identity. She chose an ivory brocade with a long waist and flared sleeves lined in ivory silk to go over her white cambric chemise.
She sat as Waerith brushed her hair until it shone a soft blondish-red fire. As Waerith lightly twisted the two small front portions of her hair, Éowyn pondered the day ahead and a small rivulet of dread started to pool in her stomach. She distractedly held the first twisted portion of hair while Waerith worked on the second strand. The expected difficulties of the day's events causing her to chew her bottom lip pensively. The older woman then tied back both strands with a white ribbon secured in the middle, allowing the bottom of the strands to comingle with the waves of her hair. The only pieces of jewelry adorning her were small diamond drop earrings, a silver belt that rode low on her hips and her mother's pendant which she was never without. Éowyn always made an effort to present herself to her best advantage on Audience Days because her uncle always managed to notice and it put a smile on his face, if only for a while.
"Done, my Lady. You look lovely."
"Thank you, Waerith." Éowyn spied a small tear in the older woman's eye. "Waerith... What is wrong?"
"Nothing, my Lady," she answered stoutly. "It just struck me how much you remind me of your mother when she was young."
"Oh…" Éowyn asked hesitantly, "Do you think she would approve of me, Waerith?" Éowyn did not know why that particular question suddenly bubbled to the surface, but for some reason she desperately needed to hear the answer to it. An affirmation of a memory? A mother’s love that was a constant in her young life that somehow she needed to feel in this moment.
"Oh my, yes! My Lady! I know she would." Waerith stroked her hair, bringing forth a reddish golden tress and placing it on Éowyn's shoulder.
Éowyn smiled at Waerith. "Thank you." She clasped the older woman's hands, giving them a small squeeze. Taking in a fortifying breath, she declared, "Right, onwards!"
She approached the side entrance that led to the dais where Théoden would make his entrance that traditionally began the Audience Day. Éowyn caught sight of Théodred speaking to his father and in mid-sentence Théoden absentmindedly wandered off to speak to Grima. Éowyn saw as Théodred watched his father wander off. The pain and mute frustration on her cousin’s face cut deep into her heart. As she caught his eye, Théodred did not even try to hide his pain from her. There was no point in doing so. They shared this little world of mute pain and sorrow, bearing witness as one dear to them both slipped away day by day.
Théodred offered her a chagrinned smile as she walked up to him. She shared the same smile and then moved to take her place at Théoden’s side. She was rewarded with her uncle’s vacant smile and a small pat on her arm as a thank you. Her heart warmed a little at the small display of affection until she caught a malignant look that quickly left Grima’s face as she caught him eyeing the gesture.
She steeled herself and began the arduous process of fending off his presence in her mind as they entered the Hall of Song together with Grima on one side and Éowyn on the other. Théodred walked behind Théoden in his place as heir to the Mark. She surveyed those who had come forth. Some she recognized from her weekly visits to the lower edges of Edoras. Others she did not recognize, and they had most likely come from the outlying settlements and villages of the West Emnet, for this month was their time to petition. Next month belonged to the East Emnet. But if a need was very pressing, one could petition the King on any given Audience Day.
By scanning the gathered petitioners Éowyn could tell a great deal. From the villagers wearing their best out of respect for their liege, to the high families dressed in gentile shabby in order to impress upon their King their lean circumstances, to silently bolster the need for the requested funds or boon. Éowyn thought cynically that come next feast day this shabby gentile would be set aside so that they could impress all and sundry with their opulence. She sighed; it was from this lot that she was expected to choose a husband. The thought so depressed her spirit until she realised that Grima must have heard that sigh and focused his noisome gaze upon her with a speculative gleam that struck her heart with fear. All emotion was instantly wiped from her face as she cast him a cold regal look. Having been caught, he cast his glance elsewhere. Éowyn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. These mental fencing matches with Grima exhausted her spirit.
She looked at her cousin, hoping to catch his eye and maybe claim a little of his welcome strength, but Théodred was looking at his father as Theoden gingerly lowered himself onto the throne in order to begin the audience. The look of pity and pain on her cousin's face as he watched his once vigorous father feebly seat himself cut Éowyn to the core. We all carry our own private pain, she was reminded as she looked away from Théodred before he could see hers once again. Theirs was a shared pain, but sometimes even a shared one needed its private moments.
The morning wore on and Éowyn could see her uncle visibly tiring. She heard an untoward noise coming from the direction of the front entrance. She met Théodred's eyes and then looked in Grima's direction. Thankfully, he was distracted speaking with the King on some matter. Théodred motioned silently that he would attend to the possible problem at the front and left the dais to see what was causing the disturbance. He walked toward the front with as much haste as would not cause notice. Nearing the wide double doors he glimpsed a grey figure dressed in rags and his heart leapt in expectation and joy. Even garbed in tatters Théodred knew an old friend at once.
"Gandalf!" he said in a low voice that was designed to not carry far as he moved closer to the carved wooden front doors held open for Audience Day. The sun still shed late morning light and cast the wizard's shadow onto the paving stones of the inward landing before entrance into the hall proper. As such, that was the only portion of the old man to have crossed the outer threshold of the hall.
The wizened old man looked at Théodred and a smile grew across his whiskered face.
"Théodred, my dear boy! It is good to see you!"
It was then that Théodred noticed a strange wisdom in the old man's eye. Granted Gandalf always brought wisdom, which at times had not been entirely welcomed in all circles of Meduseld, but Théodred had always respected and even liked the old man. But this look on the crinkled face presaged unpeaceful times and that struck Théodred to the heart.
"And it is good to see you, old friend," Théodred spoke truthfully. "But you come here strangely garbed, even for you." He smiled, but with the next words his smile faded. "What say you from abroad? And," at this he looked at the door wardens, "what has caused you to deny Gandalf entrance on an Audience Day when all may come forth? He has long been welcomed in our lands."
Hama, the chief door warden, spoke earnestly, "It was ordered, my Lord Prince."
"Ordered? By whom?" Théodred stated, his temper starting to ignite.
"The King! But that order was to be rescinded!" Théodred stopped to compose his emotions as best he could. "Rest assured, Hama. This order may bear the King's name, but most definitely the order did not originate with him."
Hama gave him a knowing look, but said, "That may well be, my Lord Prince. But I cannot interpret the decree, I can only follow it."
"Rightly said, Hama. Be it on my own head and not yours that I shall take counsel with Gandalf here and now."
Hama bowed to Théodred with his fist on his heart and a relieved look on his face. "As you will, My Lord Prince." At this, he and the other door wardens moved off to tend to other entrants for Audience Day.
Gandalf peered at the younger man. “Thank you, my friend.”
Théodred bowed his head. “What brings you here, Gandalf? Garbed in such a way and with a such look in your eye." Théodred gave him a pointed look as he guided the old man away from the line of Audience supplicants to share a few private words.
Gandalf gave a gruff half laugh. "You always were too smart for your own good."
Théodred shared the half-laugh. "Many a schoolmaster would disagree with that statement."
Gandalf replied derisively, "Well, there is learning and then there's life. Something some schoolmasters don't always account for."
"True, but you did not come here to bandy words about myopic schoolmasters."
"No, I did not," Gandalf said, portent heavy in his voice. He looked about to determine what spying eyes and ears might be about. "In short, Rohan is in danger."
Instantly Théodred's eyes narrowed with his concern. "Danger, of what kind? And from who?"
"Grave danger... from Saruman."
Théodred drew back in disbelief at first. "Saruman? He has always been a friend--" He did not finish the thought that was about to echo Grima Wormtongue. He inwardly recoiled at the very thought of parroting the noisome councilor's words. Instead, he asked, "What proof do you have? I do not doubt your words, but I cannot bring such a charge before the King without proof..."
"I have only my word and the fact of what Saruman has done to me," Gandalf said forthrightly as he watched pain slash across the younger man's face before he next spoke.
"Things here are not as they once were, my friend. The King may not believe you." And even if he did, his word cannot be trusted if he breaks faith with his own son, Théodred mused painfully as he thought back to his father's promise to rescind the ban on entrants into Edoras only the night before.
Gandalf stared at Théodred. "Still, I must try."
"Then I will stand with you. For you have only ever been a friend to Rohan."
Éowyn looked up and saw Théodred approaching quickly. He stopped at the first step that led to the King's dais and bowed his head. With his fist on his heart, he unbent and said in a clear and purposeful voice, "Gandalf Greyhame begs an audience with you, my Lord. I ask that you give him voice to speak!"
Grima Wormtongue stiffened as if angered and Théodred saw his eyes flash angrily before slipping on the supplicant's mask once again. That look confirmed to Théodred all he suspected about the noisome man's intentions and fear for his father flared even more brightly in his heart.
"Tell him to come back tomorrow. The King is tired from this overly long Audience Day and wishes to retire," came the oily response from Grima who moved to the step just below the throne as if to protect the King from a tiresome petitioner.
Théodred ignored the loathsome counsel and looked directly into his father's vacant eyes. "My King, I do believe Gandalf should be given voice this day."
"Théoden King! Hear me speak!" came Gandalf's forceful voice from behind Théodred who sighed deeply at the inopportune interruption. The tone of command seemed to rouse a response from the King. His eyes snapped with affronted pride and he spoke with some force.
"Théodred! Stand aside. We will hear what Gandalf Stormcrow has to tell us."
Myrthu (Lit: Myrðu; Old English, basis for Rohirric): mischief, trouble
A/N: Many thanks to Ellynn, my word wrangler who patiently unwinds unwieldy meanings! ((hugs))
Chapter 14 – Storm Clouds Gather
Théodred stepped aside reluctantly. The hall became silent as the two old men took the other man’s measure. Éowyn observed Gandalf as he tried to rein in his temper breathing deeply as Théoden eyed him. She then shifted her gaze to her uncle. He seemed to be in the present moment, not the distracted shell of his former self that he so often was. A movement to his right caught her eye. It was Grima flicking his wrist reflexively to free his hand from his overly large sleeves as he placed a hand on the Golden Throne.
“Well, Gandalf Stormcrow. We are waiting for your great words of import,” he said with a slight tenor of derision. “What is it that you wish say now that you have our attention?”
Éowyn heard titters from the collected audience. She looked in the direction from which the closest sound came and saw it was Lady Maerlith, who stood in what Éowyn knew was her third best gown, daring to look at Gandalf with derisive amusement. Éowyn’s stomach roiled with indignant anger. She looked at Grima and saw that he was actually enjoying the shallow humour he had engaged in. The pain in the pit of her stomach grew.
Gandalf did not even deign to acknowledge that Grima had spoken. He stood his ground resolutely and announced in a loud, clear voice, “Saruman, once friend to Rohan, has betrayed you and plans for war on Rohan.”
Théoden’s eyes flashed. “Nonsense! I have it from Grima that Saruman seeks nothing but good for Rohan, as ever he has done.”
Éowyn saw Gandalf’s eyes flick to Grima and, following his eyes, she spied a look of haughty self-assurance on the pale noisome face of her uncle’s chief councilor.
Gandalf stated in a matter-of-fact voice looking straight at Grima, “Then Grima is a fool, or in league with Saruman.”
“Enough!” Théoden raged in a voice reminiscent of his former self. “Gandalf Stormcrow! State whatever ‘evidence’ you may have for such slanderous statements and then begone from my lands, else I will clap you in irons and leave you to the crows who share your name!”
Éowyn gasped at such a threat.
Gandalf stared icily at his former friend and stated formally that which he had told Théodred only moments before this disastrous audience, “I have only my word and the fact of what Saruman has done to me. He has held me prisoner and only by sheer good fortune have I made my escape.” Now he flashed temper. “I came here for aid. And found only wisdom parroting idiocy!” Gandalf looked scathingly from Théoden to Grima as he pronounced the word “idiocy”.
“I wish you to leave! Stormcrow! Fly with the speed of all our horses.” Théoden then seemed to leash in his temper and looked upon Gandalf with only a residual glint of temper in his eyes. “But never let it be said I am ungracious to those who anger me. Choose from my stable a horse suitable to your ‘needs’. This is the aid I will grant you, unnecessary though it is. Small cost to be rid of such nonsense. Guards! Let Greyhame pass so we will hear of his foolishness no more!”
Gandalf looked at Théoden, shaking his head. “I take my leave as you have taken yours. Farewell, Théoden, Son of Thengel. I have warned you and now that service discharged I have only to wish you well.”
Éowyn expelled a breath she had not known she had been holding. Gandalf seemingly heard the small sound amid silence, and he turned grey eyes of such sorrow upon her that they seared her soul. He then gave a small nod and swept from the room. Éowyn watched him go, staring after him and wanting to know what lay behind that sorrow. But in her heart, she already knew. A soft thwump beside her broke into her thoughts. She looked to the throne. Her uncle slumped back onto it. The expended emotion and vigor attendant upon the previous few minutes had taken a heavy toll on Théoden’s energy and his face looked ashen grey as he could barely hold his head erect.
Théodred, standing next to the throne, also saw his father slump and immediately took control of the situation, as heir to his father’s throne, and stepped forward addressing the gathered many for Audience Day.
“My Lords, Ladies and gentlefolk. This will conclude Audience Day for today. Those who have not yet had audience please may you leave your names with my Lord Steward, and I will see that issues are made right.”
There was a general concerned mumble to the assemblage, but all respected the word of Prince Théodred, and those with audiences unheard began to find their way to the Lord Steward to do as the Crown Prince had instructed. Éowyn had begun tending her uncle in his need and caught a glimpse of hatred on Grima’s face as he watched Théodred speak to the crowd. The pain in her stomach intensified, now only to be joined by a pain in her heart as she recalled the look in Gandalf’s eyes before he swept from the hall. She swallowed it all, burying it beneath the mountainous duty she owed to her now-ashen faced and clearly exhausted uncle.
As the Audience gathering was dispersing for the day and the names for those still in need were being amassed, Éowyn helped her uncle to his bedchamber to settle him in after his exertions. This duty performed, she then sought out her cousin. She found Théodred standing on the stone steps at the front entrance to Meduseld, looking out over Edoras and the plains beyond the walls of the city. She could sense the many emotions running through him from the tense, erect way he held his body. The pain and the frustration were palpable.
"Cousin?" she said softly.
Eyes of frustration and sadness were turned upon her as Théodred shook his head. "I can do nothing. I know in my heart that Gandalf's words of warning are true. Our people are in grave danger, and yet Father will not hear me! Always he listens to Grima!" His voice rose in frustration as he cast his eyes to the distant shouldering mountains. Éowyn watched as he fought an internal battle between royal restraint of emotion with the eyes of his people on him, and the genuine emotion and frustration he felt watching his father slowly decline. Gradually, as Éowyn knew he would, Théodred mastered his emotions. Only then did she step closer and reach out to touch his hand in comfort and understanding. His hand closed around hers as he leaned over and kissed the top of her head.
"What else can we do?" Éowyn murmured quietly, dropping her voice so that only Théodred could hear her.
"Send for Éomer."
"Beyond that?" Éowyn asked, knowing there was no certainty, no path beyond that decision that either could see.
"I do not know, cousin." Théodred looked to the sky as if searching the blue above for an answer. "I do not know."
Unseen by either, Grima retreated from a recessed alcove near the entrance and stole away back into the relative darkness of the hall.
A few days after the disastrous audience with Gandalf, Théoden was at first querulous which then had lapsed into listlessness, and he had kept to his bedchamber. Éowyn spent much of the first day with him trying to soothe his nerves and bring him back to some semblance of himself able to receive visitors and continue his duties of state. The next morning she was sitting by his side reading, when he suddenly awoke from slumber shouting, “Elfhild!” His eyes were wild with grief as if it were freshly minted. Tears came to Éowyn’s eyes. It was the name of her aunt, who had died in giving birth to Théodred.
“Shh-shh! Uncle. I am here! It was all just a bad dream,” she spoke soothingly.
Théoden looked at her, wild eyes not quite recognizing her at first. Éowyn briefly wondered if it were Elfhild he saw in those first few moments. His eyes cleared, though remembered pain was still present. “Éowyn?” he whispered, a question hanging in his voice, confirming her thoughts of her aunt.
“Yes, uncle. It is me. It was only a bad dream. Please go back to sleep and try to get some rest.” She smoothed his brow and placed a kiss on his forehead.
“Play for me so that I can return to sleep,” her uncle softly requested.
“Of course.” She got up from the side of his bed and sat behind her harp which had taken up residence in Théoden’s bedchambers, so often did she play for him. She lowered the harp rest onto her shoulder and began to pluck the strings in a calm and sweet lullaby her mother used to sing to her as a child. Théoden watched her playing at first, but slowly his eyes closed and soon he was breathing the even breathes of a deep, hopefully dreamless slumber. She watched him sleep as grateful tears gathered in her eyes. Her harp music seemed to give him joy and she was happy she was able to give this gift to him. She played the last strains of the piece and allowed the strings to reverberate, gently diminishing on their own.
She felt her heart would break looking at her uncle slumbering peacefully. For a moment or two she allowed the sorrow of the situation settle over her. The frustration, the unfairness of what was being done to him. The utter helplessness she felt in the reality of Grima’s influence. But she shook herself out the melancholy that threatened to take hold. She straightened her shoulders and stuffed the negative emotions back into a corner of her heart where she could safely ignore them for a while longer until life once again let them loose. It was the battle that she fought every day. But she would prevail. Her uncle and her cousin needed her strength. She had no time for weakness. Quietly she moved the padded rest from her shoulder and returned the harp to its resting position, and quietly left the chamber.
Whatever her destination had been, it was not where her feet had taken her. She realised she was on the path that led to the stables. She smiled thinking that her feet more than her head knew what she needed.
“Gamhelm!” she called out and waited for the booming voice of the master stableman to reply as she walked into the stables. She did not have long to wait.
“My lady!” the burly stablemaster called out, delight evident in his voice as he emerged from the tack room. He took one look at her face and said gently, “How fares the King?”
Éowyn took one look at the kindly face and all defenses she had built up over the last few days simply crumbled as she ran into the older man’s gentle and accepting embrace. She sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes and had not even noticed that Gamhelm had picked her up and carried her inside and away from onlookers. The stablemaster simply held her and allowed the tears to flow unabated as he stroked her hair and murmured soothing sounds much like the ones he would use to calm a frightened and skittish horse. Soon Éowyn’s tears abated long enough for her to gasp out a few explanatory words, both necessary and unnecessary, all muddled together in the moment. “Oh Gamhelm!” Éowyn stumbled out at last. “I hate seeing him like this!” She sniffed.
Gamhelm looked at the sobbing face of the woman he had come to regard almost as his own daughter and saw a young girl with a smudge across her nose and hair falling loose from her braid, crying because the other girls ignored or teased her once too many times. A fair few times she appeared in his stable after tussling with one of the girls after one insult too many and she did not want Guthhild seeing a torn pinafore or dirt in her hair. He would try and tidy her up as best he could before sending her on her way back to her nurse. And when she was training in secret and had sore muscles and bruises for which she could not go the master healer lest questions were raised as to how she came by such injuries. He would then tend to her bruises with the salve he used on the horses and would give her advice on what to do for sore muscles. He sighed, realizing that there was no amount of “tidying up”, no salve that could soothe Éowyn’s tears this time. His heart broke as he realized there was little he could do to be real use to her.
“Oh my lady,” he said gently wiping away her tears with the clean, rough cloth he gone into the tack room to retrieve for the polishing of Prince Théodred’s saddle. “Just being there with him helps him a great deal. This I know.” He did not really know such a thing for sure, but he was sure of the affection and care Théoden had always shown for his niece and nephew. He paused to try and gather something other than words of empty comfort. He was always honest with both Éomer and Éowyn. Too many people at court offered what they thought the two wanted to hear, but Gamhelm, while in the proximity of the court, was not of the court and tried to give honest counsel.
“It is a hard thing, my lady, to be in your position. To see the things you see. To know the things that you know. And yet I know your strength, my lady, and your heart. And you are more than equal to this moment. Though it is hard to see the one you love dwindle through undue influence,” the older man admitted.
He knew of Grima, and by Éowyn’s word, knew of the effect Grima was having upon the King. It had been too long since the King had come to the stables to ride, which in and of itself was noticeable. King Théoden was a fine horseman with a true feel for his mount and saddle. A man’s character can always be determined by how he sits a horse, Gamhelm mused silently. The horse Grima always chose to ride inevitably came back scarred emotionally, if not physically as well. Skittish and spooked, Herefara always came back sweaty and showing signs of ill treatment. It took the stable boys three times as long to settle him back into his stall after a ride. As such Gamhelm had a very dim view of the pale, noisome man. He could not be trusted. And Lady Éowyn was in daily contact with him. He pursed his lips together and said firmly, “You will bear up under this, my lady. I know your spirit. You may not always know your spirit, my lady. But I do. There’s not a stronger, more caring heart than yours. Now smile for me. Lie to me and tell me you feel better!”
A genuine smile appeared through Éowyn’s tears. “Oh Gamhelm!” She squeezed her arms around his neck. “I love you!”
“And I love you, too, my lady!” he voiced the sentiment that could be spoken only in private company. A few at court would not approve of the stablemaster saying such a thing to the niece of the King. He looked into her blue eyes and saw the sadness receding, at least for the moment. Placing her on her booted feet, he said gruffly, “Now be off with you! I have work that needs doing!”
Éowyn stood, unfazed by his accustomed gruffness. “Thank you, Gamhelm!” she said solemnly. And pulled him down a little to place a kiss on his whiskered face. “I do feel better.”
Gamhelm smiled. “Now be off with you!”
Éowyn left stable in search of Théodred in a much more confident gait than he had seen her use in a while. He watched her from the stable door as she entered Meduseld proper. He spoke truly. She was strong of heart, but these were troubled times in Edoras. As stablemaster, he heard things. And what he heard gave him much disquiet. A thunderclap interrupted his musings. He cast an eye to the skies. They were darkening and promised rain soon.
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