Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Thirty Nine: The Queen of the Golden Hall

A hasty meal had been prepared, and Eowyn stood at the King's board and waited upon the men there gathered. The talk was all of war, of the strength of the defences and the position of Gamling and Erkenbrand. The host would set forth within the hour. Already, men were come from the armoury bearing spears and swords, banners and shields bearing the device of the white horse. Strider and Legolas were clad now in shining mail, and Theoden too wore a hauberk of steel over his tunic.

Carefully, the shieldmaiden lifted the heavy golden chalice from it's place above the head of the table. Her every sense seemed somehow heightened since her encounter with Strider in the hall. The gold felt thick beneath her fingers, the ornate carvings smoothed by a thousand other hands, precious with the weight of years. The mead filling the cup was smooth and honey-golden, heady with a sweet, cloying scent. Eowyn felt faintly sick.

She bore the cup to Theoden and knelt carefully at his left hand. The scuffed stone flags were cold against her bare feet, the folds of the heavy woollen dress a weight against her leg. She could feel the strangers' eyes upon her; Gimli's bold, calculating stare, the cool appraisal of the elf. The very air felt warm and close about her, every breath filling her with nausea.

Struggling to keep her voice level, she offered the cup to him. "Ferthu Theoden hal! Recieve now this cup and drink in happy hour. Health be with thee at thy going and coming." Meaningless words.

Theoden drank and smiled down at her, merry as a boy on his first spring outing after a long winter. The aged fingers that took the chalice were strong and assured now, firm as steel beneath the leathered skin.

She held the cup for her brother, and his eyes too were sparkling with lust, impatient for the thrill of the ride and the slaughter. Legolas's eyes, sad, but beneath that a fountain of gladness ready to gush forth. Gimli's eyes, dark and crinkled and humorous beneath scowling brows. Gandalf's eyes, relieved, joyful, fearful, tender, knowing... many, many things.

Aragorn's eyes. Dark grey, infinite, filled with a strange light. His glance swept into her, washing away all her defences as if they had never been, powerful, driven, staring deep into the darkest corners of her thought. His hands closed over hers as she raised the cup to him. Strong, warrior's hands, hardened by the grip of a sword, the fingers calloused and leather-hard, but slender and sensitive as a minstrel's. The heat and intensity of his touch sent an involuntary shudder through her fingers. She wrenched her gaze away from his as though scorched by some fire.

"Hail Aragorn son of Arathorn." she muttered.

Inexorably, unwilling, her gaze was drawn back to his. The ranger stared into the frozen grey eyes, and his face grew troubled as if what he learned there disquieted him.

"Hail Lady of Rohan." he answered softly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After they had supped, Theoden went out before his doors and stood gazing out over the host there assembled. The white horse ran rippling in the wind from a score of banners, his captians stood upon the uppermost stair, tall and proud and fell. He smiled upon them, eager now for blood and for redemption.

"Behold!" he cried aloud to the assembled host, and the aged voice was kingly again, grown in power and authority. "I go forth, and it seems like to be my last riding. I have no child. Theodred my son is slain."

And Eowyn marvelled at him, and the change Gandalf had wrought in him, for he stood like some god out of legend, and his tears for Theodred were swept away in the waxing of his power as he stirred the hearts of the host to a quickening flame of vengeance.

"I name Eomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new lord as you will. But to someone I must now entrust my people that I leave behind, to rule them in my place. Which of you will stay?"

No answer to that, for none was required. They were warriors, captains of the Mark of Rohan. None could elect to stay and yet retain their honour.

"Is there none whom you would name?" Theoden asked. "In whom do my people trust?"

"In the House of Eorl." Hama's answer.

"But Eomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay, and he is the last of that House."

"I said not Eomer, and he is not the last," Hama replied. "There is Eowyn, daughter of Eommund, his sister. She is fearless and high hearted. All love her." As if by saying the words he could make them true. "Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas while we are gone."

No chance for her now to disillusion them. 'The silence of a man is taken for refusal, a woman's for acceptance,' she thought wryly. She met Hama's gaze bitterly, and it seemed that in his eyes there was a strange, almost fearful reverence. Something undefinable passed between them then. A pride, a recognition of their small victory, though none would ever know what sacrifices of these two had made this day possible. Whatever tomorrow would bring, the House of Eorl would not fall in treachery and dishonour. She remembered suddenly the words of Grimbold so long ago, when Theodred had yet lived and there had been hope in the morning."We shall not go lightly to death..."

"It shall be so!" Said Theoden. "Let the heralds announce to the folk that the lady Eowyn will lead them!"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As the host at last stood ready to depart, Aragorn looked back. Upon the highest step Eowyn stood alone, clad in the mail that Theoden had given her, the bright sword Aenlic set upright before her upon the stone flags. Her hair floated upon the tossing wind like a banner of gold. But for that, she might have been a statue, an eternal guardian set in stone before the high doors of Meduseld.

The westering sun lit all the plains with a red fire, and even as Aragorn watched in awe, the statue of the girl seemed gilded all with molten gold. The sunlight caught in her hair, and the silver mail was kindled to flame. Golden, piercingly bright she shone for a moment like an image of the splendour of some great warrior queen out of the vanished years.

Even as he turned his face aside from the great light, the trumpets sounded the challenge. The horns of the host were lifted up in music, and the horses reared and cried aloud. Then the King raised his spear, and the host was swept together like a tide. The plains rang with the thunder of their hooves and the clash of spear against shield. Two riders galloped at the head of the host. Two horses bore them, white as driven snow, Shadowfax and Snowmane, the last great Meara and his scion. The King and the White Rider! With a rush like the sudden onset of a great wind, the last host of Rohan wheeled towards the Eastern hills, merged, quickened to a torrent, and was gone.