Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Thirteen

Eowyn felt faint. Never before in her life had such a weakness come over her, but now she had to hold hard onto the back of a chair while the room spun around her. She heard sounds, maybe voices, but could hear no words, just a buzzing din. Before her eyes she saw the flames on the hearth and the gold and silver of the cups that stood upon the table, she saw the banners on the wall stir in the air.

She saw her uncle the king sit heavily down, staring into the air, and she saw Grima Wormtongue standing tense by the door. What next must she do? She forced her thoughts into stillness. Eomer taken at swordpoint! Theoden ordering Eomer to prison! What worse could befall them? This made Theodred’s death an ordinary matter, sad but common, a warrior falls: it is but the fortune of war. That Theoden could have been brought to do it! Now she looked again at Grima. His eyes met hers for a heartbeat, then he looked away. She saw that he was sweating and pale, and that the pulse throbbed in the veins of his neck.

Tucked into her waist was the long pointed dagger that she ever carried. For one moment she thought how easy it would be to step forward and thrust it into him, into his black treacherous heart. She thought of him, falling dead at her feet, his vile blood staining the floor of Meduseld…………..

She looked again at her uncle and despite her fear and anger she felt pity stir in her heart, for he looked very old and sad. He looked at her and she fancied that she saw a plea in his eyes.

Then he said, “Leave us, Eowyn.”

She bit back hasty words and bowed her head. She lifted the skirt of her gown a little, so that it might not touch Grima son of Galmod as she walked by him. She did not go out the side door, but walked the length of the hall and opened the great doors that had not yet been barred for the night. For a moment she stood still in the dark. To each side she saw the lighted braziers, and, below on the stairs, the torches flared, the light glinting off the helmets and breastplates of the doorwardens.

“Who is on guard?” she called softly into the dark.

“It is I, Brego,” a man’s voice replied. “And Walda, my lady.”

The two guards came to where she stood, and Brego said, “What is it, my lady? Is aught amiss?”

“The king has had Eomer my brother arrested. They have taken him to the cells! Oh, I am so afraid of what those men might do!”

Walda cursed bitterly. “That Wormtongue is at the bottom of this, I warrant! But my lady, we cannot leave our posts!”

“Surely, surely thou might send for some others who are not on duty? I do not ask that any try to free my brother, but only to see that he comes to no harm!”

“Let me think,” Walda answered. “Yes, my lady. That we can do, for the watchman will soon pass by and we can send him for Captain Ulfwine! He will know what best to do! Fear not, lady. The lord Eomer will come to no harm.”

“But they must hurry! Grima will know that loyal men will rally to my brother! He will wish to do the mischief as soon as may be! Who knows but what the order might already have gone forth?” She was near frantic, imagining the worst. “I am going there now, myself, but….but I can do naught, alone.”

“Nay, lady! Thou art not thinking. Here, consider this, lady. Those men, whoever they may be, they will not dare harm thy brother in thy presence! No greater surety of his safety could he have!” Brego said.

His calm common sense brought her back to calm herself. “Yes, yes,” she said, gratefully. “I see that thou art right. Then I will make haste, but pray, pray, tell that Captain Ulfwine to make haste!”

She ran around the corner and down the side stairs, then down farther into the alcove that led to the kitchens. The kitchens were empty, the fires banked, all in order for the next morning. She caught up a candle and lit it from the one wall sconce that still burned, then fled down the long corridor that led to the cellar doors.

As she expected, those doors were locked from the inside. But Eowyn knew every nook and cranny of the Golden Hall, and she ran past these doors and down another narrow hallway to the wine cellar. It was locked, but she had a key and it hung now in the netted reticule on her girdle, as always. This lock was oft used, so opened readily and quietly.

At the back of the wine cellar was a door leading to the main cellar, and barrels of wine and ale were brought into the Hall this way, rather than from upstairs where the kitchens opened to the courtyard. The main cellars opened directly to the cobbled roadway, and so it was easier to manage the heavy casks.

This door was not locked, although it would not have mattered, for she had a key to it, as well. She stood quiet for a moment, listening. The cells were at the far end, so she could hear naught. She put the candle out and opened the door a crack. The cellars were lit but dimly, three or four torches in sconces cast a poor light. But now she heard voices, and one of them was Eomer’s.

Quickly through, she ran across the bricked floor. There, in the alcove, was Eomer, bound hand and foot to a chair. He did not seem to have been harmed.

“If you fellows knew what was good for you, you’d let me go,” he said, in a conversational tone. “My uncle will think better of this, I assure you!”

“No doubt, my lord,” the one said. He shrugged. “But until I hear otherwise, it’s here that thou wilt stay!”

“Tell me, thou blackguards,” Eomer said, and now his tone was not pleasant, “what has Grima promised thee?”

“Master Grima is the king’s right hand man,” another of the men said. “We takes our orders from him.”

Eomer swore, then laughed. “The king’s right hand man! This is what the Mark has come to! That Worm imagining that he will get away with this! Well, let me tell thee that he will not!”

“Listen, my lord,” the first man said, “until we get orders otherwise, we do what we was told. Hold the Lord Eomer, but see to his comfort and see that he comes to no harm. Now, ain’t we done that?”

Eowyn stepped into the light. “Have they, brother?” she asked.