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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."
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