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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
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