Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Twelve

Many other duties fell to Eowyn. Since there was no queen in Meduseld, Eowyn had from a very young age undertaken the housekeeping of the Golden Hall. She spoke daily with the chamberlain and steward, and often with the cook. The guardsmen’s roster was not in her hands, nor the ordering of the King’s council, but all else was. Even with Theodred lying dead in the Hall, the household must be attended to. On this sad day there was more than common for Eowyn to deal with, as many folk would come to honour the dead and must be fed, if not housed as well.

She sat long with her uncle and comforted him as best she could, seeing that he took food and drink. But for herself, she could at first take nothing, until one of the old serving women spoke out and said, “Lady, thy duty is to thy king and the folk of the Mark. If thou wert to be laid sick and weak upon thy bed because thy stomach was too fine to eat, then who would take thy place?” Then she set a bowl of good soup before Eowyn and added, quite kindly, “Indeed lady it wilt do thee good, and give thee strength to bear what must be borne in the days to come.”

“This is good advice, Lady Eowyn,” Grima son of Galmod said, “It is as this one says, lady.”

Eowyn did not answer him. She took up a spoon and began to eat the soup, but kept her eyes turned down to the bowl. The woman had been right of course, for if Eowyn were to be faint or ill, who with sit with Theoden but Grima? He seemed to think that Theodred’s death had bound him yet closer to Theoden and his kin, and he assumed an air of greater intimacy, hovering too close with his sad eyes and long face.

She was used to meet with the steward and the chamberlain in a small room near her uncle’s council chamber, and after she finished her breakfast she took up her keys and went in. Both men had been long in her uncle’s service, and both sorrowed greatly for Theodred’s death. Eowyn found that here, too, she must offer comfort, and she thought bitterly that there was no one to comfort her. They must all think her made of steel!

After some time, she was able to bring the talk around to what must be done this day and the days following. Theodred would be carried to his tomb this very afternoon, and afterward many mourners would follow Theoden back to the Hall. It comforted Eowyn somewhat to find that both these elderly henchmen had, despite their grief, been busy with what needed to be done. Only some few things required her approval, and she was relieved to see that she was now going to have some little time to herself. And there were several matters that must be referred to Grima son of Galmod, and when she said so, both men looked at each other and her heart sank.

Old Eorl the chamberlain said, “My lady, we are such old friends that I know I may speak out to thee! My lord Theodred told us, the last night he was with us, that upon his return Wormtongue was to be sent away! That was good news to us, but now it cannot be.”

“Was it spoken of?” Eowyn asked.

“Oh, yes, my lady,” Eorl replied. “He is much disliked by all us old servants, as surely thou must know!”

Eowyn smiled wryly. “Indeed I do know, and be sure that I honour thee for doing thy duty to my uncle despite it! But I cannot say more, for such matters are beyond me, dear friends.”

She went, bone weary, to her chamber and laid herself down upon her bed. She longed for sleep, but she could not stop the thoughts that whirled around and around in her mind.

She could not escape it, however. For she knew now that Grima, son of Galmod, Wormtongue in truth, had known two things before Theodred left Edoras on his last riding: that Theodred was riding to the Gap of Rohan, and that he intended, on his return, to dismiss Grima from Theoden’s service. How Grima had got word to Saruman or his captains, Eowyn did not know, but that he had she was convinced.

No sleep, but a bath and a fresh gown, her hair newly arranged, somewhat refreshed she went along to the Hall. Some few women guests came in, their menfolk following Theodred to his tomb. It was not the custom in the Mark for women to attend a funeral, even of kin so close as a cousin, indeed, even a widow of her husand. Eowyn moved about and spoke to all, and saw that the long tables were laid with wine and cakes for the returning mourners.

The day wore sorrowfully away. At last the great outer doors opened, the mourners returned. To Eowyn’s heartfelt joy and surprise, her brother Eomer came in beside Theoden, indeed the old man leaned on Eomer’s strong arm. She could see that her brother was still in his riding gear, as were those of his Eored who followed with the others.

He led Theoden to his great chair and turned to Eowyn, embracing her and kissing her pale cheek. “Eomer!” she cried, and could not stop the flow of tears. “How dost thou come to be here? Oh, I am so glad to see thee!”

“We were riding home and we came upon the funeral by chance, sister! Alas, alas for Theodred! Alas for the Mark!” He shook his head. “I scarce know…..Eowyn…..” Then, “I must go and put on clean garments! I am not fit to be in company….”

Eowyn thought that no one would care about such matters, but she saw that he was unlike himself, overtaken by grief and shock. She saw him go and speak to Theoden, then he left the hall.

For some time she was much taken up with speaking to the guests. She kept a watchful eye on Theoden, but saw that he seemed well enough, talking with the old friends who went to his side. At these times, she knew, grief took a different form, and the bereaved were able to both seek and give comfort in speaking of the dead. For herself, she moved about by instinct, her tall slender form straight as ever, her face calm and composed despite the turmoil in her heart.

It was as she drew near her uncle that she heard old Lord Aldor say, in his too loud voice, “So Eomer Eomundson is thy heir, now, my lord! A worthy man, but it is not like thy son. No, not like thy son. A sad day, my lord, a sad day.”

Eowyn saw that her uncle misliked these words, his face darkened with anger and he said, his voice harsh, “We will not speak of these matters now, Aldor. My son is only an hour in his tomb.”

Lord Aldor frowned. “I am sorry, my lord. I meant no harm.” He stood and moved away, shaking his head.

Eomer returned, freshly shaved and garbed. He looked across the room at Eowyn. It seemed all there wished to speak to him, and it was some time before he made his way to her side. Again he embraced and kissed her, then he turned to his uncle.

“Sire,” he said, and could not go on, for his voice was caught in his throat by his grief.

Theoden looked up at him, and then turned away, saying nothing. But Eowyn saw that his old hands trembled and that his mouth worked as if he would speak. And she saw, too, that Grima son of Galmod stood near, watching as a snake watches its prey, eyes glittering.

Eomer’s eyes met Eowyn’s. She shook her head briefly, and then said, “Eomer, hast thou eaten?”

“I – I have not,” he said, uncertainly. “But I am not hungry, sister. Excuse me, Eowyn, my lord,” here he bowed quickly to the king, “I must see to my men. They have ridden far and are weary.”

It seemed as though the guests would never leave, yet at last they were alone, Eowyn and Eomer and the King. Serving folk moved about the Hall, carrying away plates and cups, shaking out rugs, hanging trestles in their accustomed places. The fire on the long hearth was freshly fueled, burning up brightly. The old banners along the walls shone out, then were in shadow. Eowyn sat by Theoden, so weary she could scarce hold up her head, yet a kind of suspense held her still. Theoden had not spoken to Eomer since they had returned to the hall, yet he had been for some time in close converse with Wormtongue.

Grima Wormtongue now came again in, bowed to the three who were there. The king waved him to a chair.

The King looked up at Eomer. “Tell me,” he said, “how it is that you dare to stand so before me, having ridden hence in defiance of my order?”

Whatever Eomer had expected, it had not been this. He drew his breath in sharply. “Sire,” he said, calmly enough, “I did as I thought best.”

“As thou thought best? And yet, I am still King of the Mark, Eomer sister-son. And I bid thee stay here!” He brought his fist down hard upon the table. “Here art thou, riding in bold as brass, and my son dead!”

“For that, my dear lord, I am sorry,” Eomer said. “Alas, for this is a great blow to thee, and to all of the Mark.”

“But not to thee, Eomer! For art thou not now my heir at law? Being my sister’s son? Tell me, so puffed up in thy arrogance as thou art, was this in thy mind all along? That my son would fall, and open the way to thee?”

Eowyn held her breath. Yet again did Eomer answer calmly, “Sire, it is thy grief speaking! I loved Theodred as a brother. There is naught of good in this for me, only sorrow that a man I loved is now dead, and that he will never be my king.”

Theoden swore savagely. “I saw thee today, in my own Hall! Walking where my son once walked, bearing thyself as heir of the Mark! Think you that I am blind?”

“Sire,” Eomer said, pleading, “uncle! Do not speak so to me!”

Theoden scowled. “I will speak to thee in any fashion I choose! But we will leave this matter aside for now. I would speak to thee of thy errand. Did thy errand prosper, that led you hence against my desire? Or was it indeed a mare’s nest that took thee and thy eored from my Hall?”

“Sire, we found what we feared, an incursion of Orcs, not only from Mordor but from Orthanc. All were slain.” He stopped. “There is more, besides, my lord.”

“Say on,” Theoden said.

“I bring news that Gandalf Greyhame, called Mithrandir, is dead, fallen into the endless abyss of Moria,” Eomer said.

“This news is not all bad, then,” Theoden said, and he smiled grimly.

“We met, upon our return from the eaves of Fangorn, three travelers—“ Eomer began to say.

“And so thou brought them here to me? That I might grant them leave to wander in our land?” Theoden demanded.

“No, sire,” Eomer said flatly. “These were honourable folk, enemies of our enemies, and I made them free of the Mark and lent them horses besides.”

Theoden scowled. “At the least thou art no liar!” he said. “For I knew all this. Thy men have been talking freely, and this tale brought to me by one who is loyal to me!” He rose to his feet. “Some Ranger from the north, an Elf, and a Dwarf! Come into the Mark from Dwimordene and the golden witch who hides herself there! Wizards and witches, is that what we need now in the Mark?”

“Sire, I did what seemed best! Let me tell all, and it may well be that thou wilt see that I did right,” Eomer said.

Eowyn saw that Eomer was striving to remain calm. She said naught, but stood by cold with fear, for her uncle was enraged beyond anything she had ever seen. She put it down to grief, thinking her uncle was utterly driven beyond himself, and hoped that the mood would pass.

Yet it was not to be. For now Theoden said, “My command was plain, Eomer, that thou wert to stay here! My command was that any stranger be brought to my seat! Neither of these commands didst thou obey! Think thou that thou art king already? Well thou art not!”

“That is true, sire,” Eomer said. “Sire, I can only repeat that I did what I thought was right. I had to decide a hard matter quickly, and these seemed like trusty folk!”

“So you say,” Grima said. “Yet my lord’s commands were plain enough.”

Eomer strode to Grima and caught him by the throat. “From my uncle the King I will suffer much, but from thee I will suffer nothing! Shut thy vile mouth, Worm, or I will shut it for thee!” And he pushed Grima, so that Grima fell heavily to the floor.

Suddenly the door was thrust open and four men came in and surrounded Eomer, their swords drawn.

“What is this?” he shouted.

Grima struggled to his feet. “He has threatened me, and this in the presence of the king! Take him! Take him!”

Eomer looked at Theoden, his eyes ablaze with fury. “What is this, uncle? Does this Worm now give the orders in the Golden Hall?”

Theoden hesitated. Then, slowly, reluctantly, he said, “Thou hast defied me, and offered violence to my counsellor.”

“And now what?” Eomer demanded. “Am I to be killed, for the sake of Wormtongue?”

Eowyn started forward, but stopped when she saw Eomer shake his head.

“No,” Theoden answered. “No, thou wilt not be killed.”

“Take him to the cells,” Grima ordered, looking at the king. “See to his comfort, but see that he is locked in.”

“Uncle!” Eomer shouted. “Tell them nay! Tell them to release me!”

Now did Theoden look directly at Eomer and his eyes were red with hatred and anger. “I will not be defied, though it be by my own! My own! Must I bear indeed with an heir who is not loyal to me? Must I bear with violence in my own rooms?” And he turned away.

Eowyn ran to Theoden and clung to his arm. “Uncle, uncle! Please, please do not do this thing!”

He lifted her hand from his arm. “Let be, Eowyn, let be.” Yet he would not look at her.

She saw that Eomer put up his hands, palms out.

“Then take me,” he said. “I will come willingly.” He turned to Eowyn. “Sister! Fear not. All will be well, I promise thee.”

Then he turned to Grima son of Galmod, and he smiled. “Enjoy thy moment, Worm. For it will be short.”