Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Eleven

Eowyn felt as though her legs were turned to lead. She stared at the rider, a Captain named Ulfwine, and his eyes met hers in pity and sorrow.

“This news must come first to my lord the king, my lady,” the man said. “Where shall I find him?”

She could not speak, but walked to the great doors and pulled them open. The noise echoed in the empty hall, as did the sound of their footsteps, hers and the Captain’s.

Servants in the corridor saw them and stopped, backing agains the wall as Eowyn and Captain Ulfwine strode by. Eowyn thought the corridor floor rose and fell beneath her feet, and there was a roaring noise in her ears. She wondered that she could yet walk, for her legs trembled and her heart pounded so that she could scarce draw her breath.

The door to her uncle’s chambers was closed, and a guard stood before it. This man fell back, unspeaking, as Eowyn lifted her hand and knocked hard on the carven panel.

Then the door was opened by Grima Wormtongue.

“Who disturbs the king in council?” he demanded, and then he saw Captain Ulfwine and even Grima son of Galmod said no more, but stood aside as Eowyn and the rider went in.

Theoden looked up, frowning, then saw the furled standard in Ulfwine’s hand. He rose to his feet, leaning on both arms against the table top.

“Sire,” Captain Ulfwine said, his voice flat and harsh, “thy son Theodred has fallen.”

Theoden shook his head, and said, “Nay. Say not so.” His voice was not much above a whisper.

“He fell at the Fords of Isen three days since, my lord.” Captain Ulfwine laid the standard across the table. “Those who bear his body come behind my lord, I rode ahead to bring thee this news.”

Theoden shook his head again. “Three days since? My son has been dead for three days and I never knew?”

Eowyn waited.

Captain Ulfwine nodded. “Yes, sire. The enemy came out in great force, my lord. It seemed as though they knew of our coming!” He drew an uneven breath and went on, “Sire, they were intent on the lord Theodred from the outset of the fray! It seemed not to matter how many of them fell in the attempt. At last he was surrounded and cut down, he and his bodyguard. After that the enemy fled as best they might, though we harassed them and killed many.”

“Yet thou art standing alive before me, Captain,” the king said, his voice thick.

The man looked as though he had been struck. “Yes, sire,” he answered. “Gladly would I have taken my lord’s place, sire.”

Theoden swept his arm across the table, sending maps and cups flying to the floor. “Gladly! And yet my son lies dead while thou art yet walking, and others besides!”

“Sire, many of our men fell! It was a fierce day, and a savage foe.”

“Many fell, but I care only for one!” Now he sat and wept, and all who saw were moved with great pity for the old man’s tears.

Eowyn knelt beside him, her own tears flowing. “Uncle, Uncle!” she said.

He stroked her bright hair. “Eowyn, my child! How are we to bear this?”

“I do not know,” she answered. Now she could not speak, but presssed her face to Theoden’s hands and wept.

She heard Grima’s voice. “Captain, come with me. It is best for now that we leave our lord Theoden and the lady Eowyn alone with their grief.” In the midst of her pain Eowyn thought that he spoke most kindly and was glad that he had taken the Captain and the others away.

That was a bitter day. Eowyn comforted Theoden as best she might while her own heart was breaking. As darkness fell the bier bearing Theodred rolled slowly up the hill to Meduseld and those of his men who had accompanied it bore his body into the Hall.

It was Eowyn’s duty to help the women prepare Theodred’s body for burial, but she had another and more painful duty to do first. Putting on her cloak, she went down to the gates where the wagons came carrying the other fallen, and she went among the folk and spoke to those who had come to claim their dead. She heard the shrieks of agony from women newly widowed, heard the cries of children now fatherless. She said what she might, wishing that she, too, could scream out her pain into the night, and do as they did who fell sobbing across the biers. Calmly and kindly she spoke, walking with her straight back among them all, so that they could see that the House of Eorl mourned with them.

One old man who now had no son took Eowyn’s hand in his. “My lady, tell Theoden king that all the folk of the Mark grieve with him.”

“Grandfather,” she replied, “this is a woeful day for the Rohirrim! And yet thy son was as much to thee as the lord Theodred was to the king! I fear there is no comfort for us today.”

Her attendants stood waiting. At last, with a cold rain beginning to fall, she gestured to them and they all walked back up to the Golden Hall.

Eowyn and the other women prepared Theodred for burial, and his body was laid on a trestle in the cold Hall, with a rider posted at each corner. She waited until her uncle came in, and watched as he looked upon the pale, dead face and touched the still hands. Not weeping now, but weary and slow, his face drawn and haggard, the king looked long upon Theodred. His son’s long body lay dressed in his finest garb, his hair braided as was the Riders’ wont, and his sword lay upon his breast clasped in his dead hands.

Theodred’s face was unmarked and was still the beautiful face that Eowyn had loved so well, and she went forward and kissed his forehead. “Cousin,” she murmured. “Cousin Theo.” But he did not answer.