Daughter of Kings
Chapter Twenty three: The Leave Taking
It was three months ere Theodred was fit enough to ride again. In that
time Grimbold and Elfhelm together strove to hold the fords against
Saruman. Strangely, the assault seemed to have lessened somewhat, and
none could tell what Saruman's policy in this was. Eomer and
Erkenbrand, too, had some success at keeping the enemy at bay, although
the assault upon the Westfold seemed to have grown rather than
On the first day of the new month, Theodred went at dawn to his
father's chamber. The old King lay beneath the woven hangings of the
bed, feeling for once the blessed release of sleep. Theodred stood
silent in the doorway, feeling like an intruder, but as he watched, it
seemed to him that the King's face was peaceful, even beautiful. Lined
as it was with premature age, yet it seemd that for once the King was
no more than any other old man, wearied by long toil, yet still one in
full command of all his senses. Theoden's beard and hair white as snow
shone still unsullied, and his face, though leathery and hard with the
passage of time, was clean, a slight colour was in his sunken cheeks,
and he wore a clean tunic of dark green. Eowyn probably had something
to do with that. Theodred smiled at his sleeping father, and gently he
bent to kiss his cheek. There was no need to awaken him. Theodred would
be back soon enough.
When he straightened up, Theodred saw that Eowyn stood in the doorway.
A basket of linen was cradled in her arms, and seeing his eyes upon
her, she entered and silently began to return the folded clothes to
their drawers. Theodred smiled sadly, wondering that she took all this
upon herself. He knew full well what he owed to his little cousin.
Theodred sighed gently. He could not have coped without her. It was
Eowyn who had cared for his father all throughout the long years, alone
and unaided she had tended the King in his dotage, protecting him as
best she could from Wormtongue's influence. He should have helped her,
Theodred thought with a sudden stab of guilt. Always it seemed Eowyn's
lot to remain here caged whilst he and Eomer rode abroad, and yet he
knew full well that she was the best rider in the Mark, and second in
swordsmanship only to himself. Why did he ever command her to remain
behind, when he could see full well the pain it wrought in her every
time he rode away.
Theodred watched silently for a moment, and then he knelt beside her,
helping her at least in this small duty. He watched her face, the
penetrating dark grey eyes that communicated nothing. His little Lily.
So he still called her to himself, though he knew that she prefered the
title of Shieldmaiden in these dark days. What had happened to his
cousin? To all of them? He thought of the children they had been,
innocent of the darkness in men's hearts. He remembered the day that
she was born, when he had cradled her in his arms and watched as Eomer
tucked a small white lily between her soft wollen blankets. He
remembered the first time he had looked into her solemn grey eyes, and
felt love stirring within his breast for the tiny babe.
He watched her as she smoothed out his father's bedcovers, her face
expressionless. Eowyn's face, he thought suddenly had become like a
dark window, shuttered tight against all love or weakness. Her eyes now
were dark, and always he saw there smouldering the terrible hatred, and
anger cold as ice. Every time he left her caged, he drove another nail
into the prison of her despair. His little Lily.
Theodred put out a hand to stay her, and as she met his gaze at last, he embraced her, then silently, he turned and was gone.
It was three days later that the Prince, riding upon Brego came at last to the Fords of Isen.
Three days, and the orcs were there before him.