Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Thirty Two: Comers From Afar.

The green and golden banner fluttered gently between the high snow-scattered mounds, coming to rest before the hooves of a great grey horse. The tall gelding flicked his ears warily, dancing delicately aside to avoid the falling scrap of cloth. The man who rode him steadied him with a gentle hand against the grey coat. His hand was rough, and leather-hard, but longer and slenderer than warrior's wont. He was a tall man, straight backed, and broad shouldered, though narrow about the hips and waist. His limbs were long and slender, and young he seemed by his vigour, and the quiet strength with which he guided the great horse, yet his dark hair was flecked through with grey, his skin leathery with long days in the wild, and his grey eyes held the memory of many things both sad and joyous. The man was not particuarly extrordinary, yet there was something in the lean, savage frame reminiscent almost of a wolf, something quietly menacing in the dark eyes. Even from where she stood high above the streets of Edoras, Eowyn could feel the power that radiated from him. He lifted a shaggy head, and even from that distance she could feel the lines of fire drawn between their eyes.

"My Lady Eowyn," Hama bowed his head slightly as he spoke to her. "There are four strangers at the King's gates who would have speech with him."

Eowyn frowned slightly. "What names gave they?" she asked, troubled by the memory of grey eyes.

"Aragorn son of Arathorn, Legolas son of Thranduil, and Gimli son of Gloin, if those names mean aught to thee." Hama replied. "But the one who leads them is Gandalf Greyhame."

The old wizard drew the grey cloak tighter about him, as if warding off the chill glances of the horse-lords. Shadowfax stepped high, walking proud and unerring along the steep cobbled road, a prince returning victorious to his own land. Behind their tireless lord, Hasufel and Arod trod wearily, their tired hooves stumbling on the stones. Gandalf raised his head, quick eyes seeing much in the faces of men before it was spoken, seeing the hoplessness in their faces, the sense of dread long delayed, but certain. The people turned to watch them as they rode, but as soon as the riders had passed on, they turned their faces away. Lifting his eyes to Meduseld, the aed faeder caught a glimpse of white shining far above, but almost as he watched, it vanished and was gone.

Eowyn, white shieldmaiden of Rohan stood silent behind her uncle's throne. The king's silver head was bowed upon his chest, and he seemed almost asleep, but his eyes glinted warily. At the King's feet, the Worm crouched. Slowly, he raised his head, looking at Eowyn with slow, heavy eyes. His thin tongue flicked out, licking pale lips. His pale eyes blinked slowly. Loud in the silence, the heavy wooden doors swung open with a dull thud. A bright light streamed in through the breach, blinding after the whispering shadows of the hall. The Worm's pale eyes blinked. The doors were shut again, and the beam of light shrank and was cut off. Four dark figures could be seen amidst the shadows. They strode forward, footsteps loud upon the stone flags. Before the tapestry of Eorl the young, they seemed to pause, conversing in low tones. Eowyn felt a chill steal up her spine. As the four strangers drew level with the firepit, their faces were thrown into sharp relief by the dancing flames. An elf, tall and fair with bright eyes intent upon the throne. A dwarf, clad all in armour with a beard of rich red. A tall dark-cloaked man whose eyes burned with some menacing purpose. A stooped, old figure who leant upon a slender wooden staff, white-bearded, humble, clothed in grey rags. The old man's staff rang upon the stone as they halted before Theoden King. There was silence. Then the old man spoke.

"Hail, Theoden, son of Thengel! I have returned. For behold! The storm comes, and now all friends should gather together, lest each singly be destroyed."

Theoden's head snapped up, looking directly at the old one. Slowly, menacingly, he rose to his feet, leaning heavily upon his staff.

"I greet you, and maybe you look for welcome here. " He said. His eyes glittered strangely. "But truth to tell your welcome is doubtful here, Master Gandalf. You have ever been a herald of woe. Troubles follow you like crows, and ever the oftener the worse. I will not decieve you: when I heard that Shadowfax had come back riderless, I rejoiced at the return of the horse, but still more at the lack of the rider; and when Eomer brought the tidings that you had gone at last to your long home, I did not mourn."

Eowyn stared. Those tidings had never reached her ears. Half in wonder, half in cold dread, she watched as the wizard bandied words with the Wormtongue. The Worm's callous insolence frightened her. The calm assurance with which he spoke of Theodred's death, of her brother's treachery, the barefaced lies upon his flickering tongue as he accused the strangers of being in league with Isengard. Eowyn's eyes darted from face to face, anticipating some fearful stroke. The tall man with the wolf's eyes met her gaze, and she stared back, waiting for the dark emnity to burst to sudden flame.

"Then it is true, as Eomer reported," Grima was saying, "That you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood? It is not to be wondered at. Webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimordene."

At this, the dwarf gave a low growl of rage, and strode forward, his hand reaching for a non-existent axe. Eowyn's own hand flew to her side, and she had to stiffle a curse. Grima had taken her dagger.

Things might have gone amiss then, but for Gandalf. A single touch of his hand upon the dwarf's shoulder and he stood as if stricken to stone. Slowly, the ancient figure robed in dusty rags looked up, and with his very glance, Eowyn's clenched fist fell useless to her side. Slowly, softly, the old man began to sing.

"In Dwimordene, in Lorien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever, long and bright.
Galadriel! Galadriel!
Clear is the water of your well;
White is the star in your white hand;
Unmarred, unstained is leaf and land
In Dwimordene, in Lorien
More fair than thoughts of Mortal Men!"

Then suddenly, he changed. His grey cloak was cast back, and he was clothed beneath all in glimering white. Fire flashed from beneath thick brows.

"The wise speak only of what they know, Grima son of Galmod." He said, and now his voice was perilous, colder than ice. "A witless Worm you have become. Therefore be silent, and keep thy forked tongue behind your teeth! I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving man until the lightning falls!"

The staff in the old wizard's hand flashed with sudden flame. There came a crash of thunder. All light was stricken frojm the hall. The old man stood alone, illuminated by the blinding light, and the Wormtongue reeled backwards, shielding his eyes against the old one's radience. Eowyn heard the hiss of Grima's voice in the darkness:

"Did I not counsel thee, Lord to forbid his staff? That fool Hama has betrayed us!"

Slowly, light grew in the hall again. Through the louvre in the roof, blue sky could be glimpsed, high and far off. A bird sang. With slow steps, ignoring the sprawling figure of the Wormtongue, Gandalf inclined his head before Theoden's throne.

"Now Theoden son of Thengel, wilt thou heaken to me?" he whispered, and now his voice was gentle again, the kindly guardian bringing comfort to a world that grows cold. "Dost thou ask for help? Take courage, Lord of the Mark, for better help thou wilt not find. No counsel have I to give to those who despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to thee. Wilt thou hear them?They are not for all ears. I bid thee come out before thy doors and look abroad. Too long hast thou sat in the shadows trusting to twisted tales and crooked promptings."

Eowyn it was who broke the spell. Quietly she took Theoden's arm, raising him from his throne. He turned to her, and the bitterness and dismay in his eyes as he looked upon his niece made her breath catch in her throat. Eowyn bowed her head, willing away the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Eam." She whispered, so that only Theoden could hear her. He gripped her hand with a painful strength that shocked her, and she pressed the aged fingers tight in return.

Slowly, Theoden son of Thengel stepped down from the dias. A light seemed to follow him as he descended. With Gandalf by his side and Eowyn his sister-daughter in his following, Theoden son of Thengel left the shadows of the dark throne, and the still immobile Wormtongue sprawled upon his face behind him.