Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Ten

The morning of February 23 brought strange tidings indeed, for news was brought to the King that the horse Shadowfax was returned.

Theoden put off his blankets and went to the stables where the great beast trotted dancing about the paddock. Theoden called to the horse and it came to the rail and bowed its head once, twice, and three times, then reared and sped away, its long tail like a banner. Theoden swore mightily, naming Gandalf yet again as sorcerer and horse thief, but he did not again try to handle Shadowfax.

Several days passed. Eomer returned, having ridden up to Dunharrow to inspect the stores there; he had ridden beyond to Helm’s Deep on the same errand. Grima son of Galmod scoffed, pointing out to Theoden that no such inspections were needed, for had he not himself seen to this matter the fall before?

“My lord,” he said to the King, “did not the order come from thine own lips? I wonder, sire, that this nephew of thine does not seem to think that thou art capable of attending to the affairs of thy realm.”

Eomer was not by when Grima spoke thus to the king, but Eowyn heard and anger flared in her. Speaking quickly and without thought she said, “That was not the way of it, my lord!” Anger made her thoughtless, she spoke louder than her wont.

Theoden winced. “There is no need, my child, to shout at me! Thy loyalty to thy brother is admirable, but Grima is right, we attended to these matters last fall.” Then, seeing her face, he went on, “I know, sister-daughter, that no harm was meant. But I am king of the Mark and I know how to care for my own.”

Never had Theoden spoken to Eowyn like this! It was not that he had never before scolded her, for he had, when she was younger and was wont to take foolish risks, keeping up with her brother and her cousin. But always she had known he loved her, never before had that cold note been in his voice, and never had he suffered anyone to say a word against one of his family. She said no more, but withdrew to her own chamber, and sat long with that miserable needlework in her hand. This is what she had come to!

Then the last rays of the setting sun spilled over the ledge of her west-looking window. She thought of her cousin Theodred, somewhere in that scarlet glory, and she allowed hope to warm in her heart, thinking that when he returned things would be different. She shivered, thinking how she hated the thought of seeing Grima at the evening meal, yet she knew she would sit in her usual seat beside her uncle. Soon, soon, the long table would again be a pleasant place for her, soon merry talk and song would again fill the Hall.

While they were yet at their meat a rider came in, and sent that Eomer might attend him in the porch. “What is this?” Theoden said. “Who is that?”

Eomer rose, saying, “It is Elfhelm, sire. He has news for me.”

“Then let him come forward!” Theoden said.

Elfhelm came before the king, but he looked sidelong at Eomer. “Greetings, sire. Greetings, my lord Eomer and my lady Eowyn,” he said, bowing.

“What is so urgent that thou must disturb my nephew at his meal?” Theoden asked, but his voice held good humour, and he did not point out that his meal was also being disturbed.

“I have word from the Eastfold, sire, that a raiding party from --- from the Black Land has been sighted,” Elfhelm answered. “They have come down from the Emyn Muil.”

All folk in the Hall murmured, turning each to his neighbour. “Mordor!” was heard.

But now spoke Grima, son of Galmod. “From the Black Land? Are we come to hearing such, while to the west and north real enemies walk the land?”

“These are real enemies!” Elfhelm said, looking at Eomer. “My lord, we must haste, they will do great harm to all our folk in the Eastfold!”

“Yes, yes,” Eomer said. He turned to the King, “Sire, I must ride hither! I shall take my Eored, and part of…”

Theoden put up his hand and stopped Eomer in mid-speech. “What folly is this? Orcs come down from the Emyn Muil? From Mordor? Oft is it seen that rumour of evil fattens by flying, and this rumour has flown a long way!”

Eowyn saw Grima’s face, intent and pale, his great light eyes watching the King and her brother. She thought his hands trembled.

She did not speak, but sat, scarce able to breathe.

“Sire,” Eomer said, earnestly, “this is no rumour. Elfhelm would not bring such news if he were not sure!”

“Elfhelm!” Theoden said then. “Who is King of the Mark?”

Elfhelm stared, then said, “Why, thou art, Sire.”

“Yes, I am King of the Mark. Theoden son of Thengel, not Eomer son of Eomund!” Theoden threw down his cup, and rose. “Attend me in my chamber, Elfhelm. You, too, Grima, with Eomer. These are not matters for the Hall.”

Eowyn went again alone to her rooms, and sat staring into the fire, wondering what was being said below. It was very late when Eomer knocked at her door.

“I am off, sister,” he said. “We ride now, and I do not know when I might see thee again. Wynnie, take care! Things have gone awry, the King has forbid me to go East! Yet I must, and I fear his anger will fall on thee.”

“Must you yourself go, brother? Cannot Elfhelm-“

“I must go, I must!” He embraced her quickly, and kissed her cheek. “Be wary, sister, and do what might be done, if anything, so that the King might think well of my errand! Sister, he is fallen into such folly! It will not be one moment too soon when Theodred is come home, for no other can untie that Wormtongue from my uncle’s leg! The insolence of that brute!”

Then he was gone and Eowyn, leaning out the open window, heard the thunder of his Eored’s passage through the town. She did not go to her bed, but sat sick with dread and anger until the pale dawn.

She would have given much to breakfast alone, but of late she always sat with her uncle in the breakfast room annexed to the hall. When she went in, the fire had not been lit, and there were no plates or cups upon the long table. Her uncle’s chamberlain came in and she asked, “Why is the King’s breakfast not laid out? Is there some trouble this morning in the kitchens?”

He looked at her, and said, “Oh, my lady, my lady! The king breakfasts with that Wormtongue this morning and he has bid me tell thee that thou must make shift for thyself! My lady, I am sorry, it seems that I offer thee discourtesy but indeed, indeed, the King said those very words!”

“Why, if that is so, that is so,” Eowyn said calmly. She smiled at the old man. “Do not look so distressed! It suits me very well to breakfast in my own rooms.”

She walked with heavy feet through the Hall. The hall was silent, the hearth cold, pale wintry sunshine lit the vents. She went out the small door adjacent to the great doors of the Hall, and walked to the edge of the porch. The sharp wind cut like a knife but she felt colder in her heart than from the weather. Far off the mountains rose white tipped, and the grasslands rolled out of sight before her.

She saw riders approaching, and waited. They rode up to the bottom of the shallow steps and Eowyn saw that they were men of Theodred’s Eored, and that one of them bore a standard, furled and lying on his saddle before him.

It seemed that time stopped. She looked away, back out West to the mountains, then turned about so that she looked East. Her heart beat so that it shook her, and all the blood in her body ran thick with dread. Surely, surely, if she were to just walk away and never look back she would never need to hear what these men had to say. But she did not.

A daughter of Kings, raised to duty. She turned again, and watched the first man dismount and come up the stairs bearing Theodred’s standard. She saw that this man had a smudge of dirt upon his pale face and that his long braids were half-unplaited. There was blood, not red but dried brown and rusty, upon the staff of the banner.

His eyes met hers and she quailed inwardly, and bit her lip so hard that she tasted the metallic tang of blood in her mouth. Yet she stood slender and tall, and the wind caught her gown and her hair and she had to put up her hand to brush her hair away.

That little motion started time again for Eowyn. She bowed her head slightly.

“I would speak to the King, my lady,” the man said. “For I have news of his son…….”