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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.
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