The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 68: Stormsinger

The Riders laid their cloaks across spear shafts to make a crude litter and placed the Lady Éowyn carefully on it but she showed no sign of life. In their grief and haste they were not gentle and Éowyn’s broken arm was jolted, but a numb blackness had settled on her and she was barely aware of the pain of jagged bones raked against each other.

As if in a dream she felt her sword taken from her hand..
‘Not my sword!’ she thought fiercely, but she was helpless to stop the hilt being prised from her grasp; the deathlike chill that had entered her blood when she struck dead the Lord of the Nazgul prevented her from speaking or moving…

‘Can you not leave it to your brother Éomer to avenge your father, my dear Éowyn? I would have you here by me in Edoras, not riding out in peril to fight our foes on the Riddermark….’

It was early evening and the bright spring sunlight was streaming into the Golden Hall. Servants were hurrying past to prepare the evening feast, but Théoden ignored them. He threw a turf on the great open hearth that stood in the middle of the hall then straightened up and brushing the dust from his hands he said quietly.;
‘Éowyn, my sister-daughter, you are as dear to me as Théodred my son. Among our people it is a great honour for a woman to carry arms and bear a shield, but your place is in the royal hall…’
‘Spinning and weaving, my lord uncle?’ Éowyn broke in impatiently. ‘Rather than embroider some fine cloth for the moths to eat I would have the ravens of the battlefield devour me!’

Théoden frowned and shook his head, then laughed in spite of his concern.
‘No-one will ever cage you, shieldmaiden of the House of Eorl!’ he said. Then he drew a long sigh and took Éowyn’s hand in his own and said gently;
‘The people could not bear to lose you, Éowyn. I could not bear to lose you. Sometimes we must put aside what we want and do what we have to..’
He raised a hand as Éowyn went to protest.
‘No, I am not going to give you a lecture on duty. Just remember the wishes of an old man….’

And a roguish gleam came into Théoden’s eye and Éowyn thought wryly that he had never looked stronger or more capable. Then her uncle put a hand on his sword hilt and said;
‘I will order the smiths to make a sword just like my own Herugrim. You may bear it to war, on condition you bide here too when I command it. Do you agree?’

The great sword Herugrim, handed down by his forefathers to King Théoden, had hilts wrought in the likeness of two horses’ heads facing each other and was the most famous in all the Mark. Éowyn could hardly restrain her excitement;
‘Yes, my lord uncle!’ she exclaimed. ‘and by your leave, order your swordsmiths not to make the blade any lighter. I can wield what a man can wield….’
Théoden bowed in assent.
‘As you wish, Lady’ he said, silently resolving to order the smiths to pare the fuller and so lighten the weapon by an ingot of steel. He took his niece’s arm and went on;
‘Tonight we hold a feast to welcome the counsellor sent by Saruman; his name is Grima; you will grace the banquet….’

And so the smiths of Edoras made Stormsinger, the sword of Princess Éowyn. It matched Herugrim in design but the horses' heads were smaller and had eyes of garnet, glowing red in the light of the forge. When Éowyn first bore it to weapon practice the men called it Breo Dearg, the Red Brand.

When Théoden saw how much Éowyn loved the sword he was glad; but when he saw how much time she spent at practice with it he grew uneasy. At last he said to her;
‘My dear Éowyn, it is time you took a waiting lady….’

Éowyn looked aghast.
‘My lord uncle, I have no need of some silly girl to wait on me. I can dress myself!’

They were standing in the weapons hall and Éowyn wore a riding suit of leather, scuffed and stained. Théoden said drily;
‘So I see’. Then he put his hands on his niece’s shoulders and said;
‘I would like you to be attended, at least during feasts when we welcome lords from afar…’ he saw Éowyn’s shoulders sag.
‘It will not be some silly girl, I promise. Gamling has a niece, and I hear she can wield bow and blade as well as you can yourself. Her name is Mira….’

At the feast that night Éowyn sat stiffly at the King’s table, and beside her sat her new lady in waiting, a girl about a year younger than herself and somewhat shorter, with long red hair wound in heavy braids and a broad, composed face. She had heavy-lidded grey eyes and did not seem put off by her new mistress’s coldness. Éowyn wondered was she really as good at bow and swordplay as her uncle said. She glanced along the table at the king; Théoden was talking battle tactics with her brother Éomer and Prince Théodred. Beside them, bored but watchful, sat the weasel-faced counsellor sent by Saruman. Grima. No-one would notice her leave. She rose and bowed and the guests bowed back. Mira got up to follow her.
‘You can stay’ whispered Éowyn as they got to the walkway running along the outside of the hall. ‘I don’t need you….’

Mira flushed in the darkness beyond the reach of the feast-hall lamps. She said;
‘I was told to wait on you…’
‘I want a sword-thane, not a maid-servant….’ said Éowyn.
‘I can wield a sword as well as you!’ snapped Mira.

Éowyn studied the girl’s broad honest face; spots of angry colour burned in her cheeks. Éowyn said;
‘Prove it’

Mira smiled and said;
‘Very well, I will. Follow me….’

Outside the moon was sinking to the jagged black line of the distant mountains. Lady and maid disappeared and returned some minutes later with their swords. They eyed each other as they tied up their kirtles and bound up their long hair with strands of wool. Éowyn gripped Stormsinger and Mira held a finely-wrought sword which her uncle Gamling had borne as a young warrior; its hilts were of silver and fashioned in the likeness of a wolfs-head.

‘Guard yourself!’ said Éowyn and attacked first, wanting to end the contest as quickly as possible. But Mira, whose name meant swift-footed, dodged the stroke and returned the blow. Moonlight glinted on the fine steel blades and blue sparks flew and faded in the darkened yard.

The moon sank lower and touched the tops of the mountains, and still they traded blows, but without either gaining advantage. Éowyn was taller and quicker, and had had only the best swordmasters, but Mira was dogged and strong and gifted with an instinct for what move her opponent would make next.

At last they paused, exhausted, standing back and leaning on their swords. Mira smiled at Éowyn in the moonlight and said;
‘Well, will I do?’
Éowyn, still out of breath nodded.
‘Yes’ she panted. ‘You’ll do…’

‘Mira!’ said Éowyn. ‘Where is Stormsinger?’

All around them servants and guards were hurrying up and down the Hall, packing what was to be carried with them to Helm’s Deep, and locking what was to be left behind in great wooden chests.
‘They have locked it up!’ replied Mira indignantly. Éowyn laid a hand on the girl’s arm and said;
‘Find it, I beg you Mira, and bring it to me ….’

She unfolded the sacking to reveal Stormsinger’s fine scabbard of red leather, worked in gilt and bearing a device of galloping horses. Ignoring the chaos of the Hall she picked up the familiar weight and gripping the handle she drew the great bright blade from its sheath.

She smiled; she would bring it with her. In the confusion no-one would notice…she laid a long slim hand on the blue-tinged steel then taking hold of the hilts she swung the sword up and over her head and down….and without warning it clashed with another blade raised to block it….

Éowyn started and moved quickly to recover her guard. The other weapon was removed and she found herself facing Aragorn. Without thinking she lunged again, and again he blocked her thrust. A charge of energy ran from the blue steel of the Rohan sword down the white steel of the fine Noldorin dagger. Aragorn felt it in his arm like the shock of ice or fire; it seemed to run straight to his heart and he sensed the anger behind Éowyn’s sword stroke. But he felt something else too; fear…..

‘You have some skill with a blade, my lady…’ he said softly, for Éowyn’s face was pale and fierce. He lowered his Elven hunting knife and spread his hands, leaving his heart undefended to her sword point. As if suddenly remembering herself, Éowyn hastily drew back. She fumbled to sheath the sword, avoiding Aragorn’s gaze and saying;
‘The women of this land learned long ago that those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain…’
‘What do you fear, my lady?’ asked Aragorn, thinking of how her sword had crackled with the intensity of her feelings….

And before she could bethink herself a reply to deflect him, before she could raise her defences, Éowyn said;
‘A cage…..’

Aragorn nodded, thinking;
‘Then we are alike, Lady Of Rohan, for I too fear a cage, prepared for me by friend as well as by foe….’ And he looked at her with understanding and pity, and she saw his look and for a moment her lower lip trembled and tears sprang into her eyes. Then he bowed, as if he was aware that he had caught a glimpse into her very heart, as he should not have, and he hastily took his leave…
‘My Lady…’

The late afternoon sun was still slanting strongly, but now a great shadow fell across Éowyn’s face as she lay on the crude stretcher. She opened her eyes and saw that she was being carried under the great gate of Minas Tirith. The underside of the arch was blackened by smoke but she could discern a frieze of mounted knights and a king in arms wearing a high winged crown.

‘Aragorn!’ she thought with desperate longing then drifted back into darkness.

She was once again in the Golden Hall of Meduseld, but it was no longer full of busy servants and noblemen. The doors lay open and the guards were not at their posts. There was a smell of late summer, withered grass and ripe wheat. A warm wind blew through the hall and in the bright shafts of sunlight thistledown whirled and shimmered like great silver stars. Overhead the banners of the noble houses of Rohan billowed in the wind and Éowyn realised she was alone in the hall of her fathers….

She was seated on her chair, which stood at the right hand of the king’s, or had until Grima took it over. Now there was no sign of Grima, nor of her uncle.
‘Am I awake?’ she thought ‘Or is this a dream? Where are the people…?’

As if in reply to her question a figure appeared in the open doorway. Outlined against the brilliant sunshine he was tall and gaunt and clad in a mail tunic. Éowyn’s heart leaped with all the pain of hopeless desire; Aragorn!

The man walked forward into the hall and Éowyn clasped the carved armrests of her high seat, feeling the smoothness of the worn horses’ heads. The long stride, not wasteful of effort, as of one used to long journeying in the wilderness, could only be that of Aragorn.
‘Has he come back to claim me, or to torture me?’ she thought.

But the figure continued walking towards her, and suddenly she realised it was not Aragorn. The long hair on the shoulders was red and bound in dreadlocks. The face was fair but fell and not like the face of a man. And the hand resting on the hilts of a great long sword of ancient design bore the sign of a red dragon. Despite herself Éowyn shrank back in her chair; what land neither of the living nor of the dead had she descended into when she struck the Lord of the Nazgul and felt his dying spirit engulf her own?

‘You must come with me’ the figure said in a voice not unkind but cool and distant.
‘Who are you?’ demanded Éowyn but the figure ignored the question and repeated;
‘You must come with me. You cannot stay here…’

Suddenly Éowyn realised that he was right; the hall was empty and bare and deserted. Were all her people dead, then? She looked at the stranger and said in a defiant voice;
‘I slew the Witchking’

Marfach bowed and said;
‘All praise to the one who smote the Lord of the Nazgul. But he has slain your uncle, the King of Rohan, and taken your past. And Aragorn whom you love but who does not love you has taken your future. The sword Stormsinger that you treasured has been burned to vapour by the fierceness of the Nazgul which it destroyed…’

Éowyn stared at him aghast.
‘What then is left for me?’ she asked. ‘..but death?’

And Marfach stepped up to her and reaching out he took her hand in his. It was strong but not ungentle. ‘Another destiny awaits you, Lady of Rohan….’
‘What?’ she asked in a faltering voice..
‘The promise of Ithilien….’ Marfach replied. Éowyn stood up and faced the open door. She looked at him; his face was pale and his mail tunic stained with blood.
She asked;
‘Are you an Elf?’

Marfach smiled and answered.
‘Not any more’

‘‘With these great powers came many spirits of like kind but less might and authority; these are the Maiar, the Beautiful, the folk of the Valar. And with them also are numbered the Valarindi, the offspring of the Valar…they are many and fair…..’’

The Annals of Aman
JRR Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien.