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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Upon the doorwarden’s utterance of the name of her father’s chief councilor, Éowyn’s countenance grew cold and withdrawn.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
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