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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.
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