Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Fourteen

Almost could Eowyn have laughed, for the four guards scarce knew what to do in their surprise.

Eomer did laugh, but then he said, “I am glad to see thee, sister! What of my uncle?”

“The king is with Grima,” she answered. “I thought it best to come to thee, Eomer.”

The four guards looked at each other. Finally one said, “It would be better if thou wert to leave this place, my lady. It isn’t fit for such as thee.”

“I am quite content,” she replied, “for I wish to talk with my brother.”

“And I with thee,” Eomer said. “Get my sister a chair!”

“We have scarce spoken,” she said. “I would hear all that thou hast to say.”

One of the guards drew a chair forward. “Here, my lady,” he said. “I fear it is dirty.”

“It will not hurt me,” Eowyn answered. She leaned toward Eomer. “Have they hurt thee?”

“No,” he answered shortly. “Only my pride, I suppose.” He smiled at her. “Eowyn, Eowyn, this is a bitter day! What maggot has got into my uncle’s head? I almost think he must have been drunk.”

“He was drinking more deeply than usual, Eomer, but I think his mood was more grief and anger at Theodred’s death, than at thee.” Hesitating, she looked at the guards. “Do not stand so near! I would be private with my brother.”

“But lady, we are to guard him!”

“Think thou that I am going to overset thee and free him?” she asked scornfully.

Then there was loud banging on the main cellar door, and a man’s voice shouted, “Open in the name of the king of the Mark!”

Now the four men drew their swords, and one stood next to Eomer, holding the point to his throat. “It is not Master Grima,” he said. “And he ordered us to…”

Eowyn flew up, such fury boiling in her blood that she was half sick with it. She pushed the man’s sword away. “Men of the Mark,” she shouted. “This is my lord’s nephew and heir! Dost thou wish to plunge the Mark into civil war, and that with two hungry enemies at our borders? This is treason!”

Again the shouting at the main doors, and men pounding upon them.

The four looked at each other and at last one shrugged and said, “The lady is right. We cannot now kill the lord Eomer, and those others will get in sooner or later. I do not wish to die for Grima Wormtongue.” He bowed briefly to Eomer and Eowyn, then ran to the big doors. “Hold thy horses,” he shouted. “I will open the door!”

In rushed Captain Ulfwine and half a dozen others, swords drawn. They shouldered the guards aside and came to where Eomer sat bound to the chair.

“My lord, my lord,” said Captain Ulfwine, “what madness is this?”

“The King my uncle has put me here, Ulfwine, and here I will stay until he releases me,” Eomer answered calmly. “But I confess that I will be glad of thy company!”

Ulfwine shook his head. “Who are these men? Creatures of Grima Wormtongue?” He gestured threateningly to the four guards, who now stood together against the wall, seemingly prepared to make a fight of it. “Put thy swords up, you fools! We offer thee no violence.” He turned again to Eomer. “Surely, lord, we may set thee free of thy bonds, at least!”

“Yes,” Eomer said. He looked at Grima’s men. “I will not attempt to flee, so take thy ease. But do so over there, I do not wish any longer to look upon your faces.”

He was soon unbound and stood rubbing his wrists and stamping his feet. “Ah, the blood returns! Why must it sting so confoundedly?” He embraced Ulfwine. “Thou hast been quick! What goes forth in the town?”

“Rumour, my lord. And new orders for the gates, that no stranger may come in who cannot speak the tongue of the Mark!” Ulfwine answered.

“Well, well, that is not such a bad thing, maybe,” Eomer said softly. “But those folk are coming that I met in the East Emnet, and I would not have them turned away. Still, one of them speaks our tongue, and so they will be passed in.”

“And wilt thou indeed stay in this prison, my lord?” Ulfwine asked. “Surely the king will think better of this!”

“Mayhap he will, in time,” Eomer answered. “But for now I have given my word.” He put out his hand to Eowyn. “My sister, thou art worn to thy bones, poor girl. Go now to thy chamber and take what rest thou can. Be sure I am safe now, and thou may rest easy.”

“I will,” she answered. “But first I would hear all that passed on thy foray. What of these three strangers that you speak of?”

Before Eomer could answer, the door opened and Grima son of Galmod entered in haste. He came to where Eomer stood unbound, and he stared at Eowyn and at Captain Ulfwine, then at his own henchmen who stood against the far wall.

“What is this?” he hissed. “What were thy orders?” He shook with rage, and all could see he was beside himself. “Fools! Thy orders were to kill him!”

“Sir,” one of the men answered. “The lord Eomer has pledged not to run, and we did not fancy getting into any ruckus with Captain Ulfwine, so that is where the matter rests!”

Grima turned to Eomer. “Thy uncle will not forget! He is not in his dotage!” Then he smiled. “He will heed me, thou must know! In me he has at least one loyal and trustworthy counsellor! He no longer trusts thee, he knows thy schemes!”

Eomer drew a long, uneven breath. “Get thy stinking carcass out of my sight, Worm. Go back to my uncle! Tell him thy lying tales! If it indeed is true that he trusts thee more than me, then I am content to sit in this cell until I am dead.”

“That may be thy fate,” Grima said. “Think thee that these men will disobey the king? Even Ulfwine here?” Yet he was trembling and sweating with fear and doubt.

“I have not been asked to disobey my king,” Ulfwine said, standing very close to Grima. “But there is no law sending me hence! It is ever our law that a highborn man of the Mark may have trusty men in attendance upon him, wherever he may be! Even were my lord Eomer accused of some great crime in truth, he has the right to be served by his own men. Think thee that any of us will go against law and custom in this matter?” He moved closer yet, causing Grima to back up in haste. “But what would a cur like thee know of such things? My lord has sent thee hence! Now go. Do thy worst!”

Grima laughed. “The day will come when thou wilt all rue thy mistaken loyalty to this Eomer! He seeks to set aside the lawful king!”

Eowyn laid her hand upon Eomer’s arm. “No, brother! Do not dirty thy hands upon him!”

Captain Ulfwine swore a dreadful curse, then said, “Get thee hence, Worm! I am not so dainty as the lord Eomer here, I do not fear to dirty my hands!”

Grima left, beckoning one of his men to follow him, saying to those remaining, “Watch them! Watch them all, even the lady!” But his men looked at each other in doubt, and it was plain to see that their hearts were not in the matter.

When once he was gone, Ulfwine said to Eomer, “Here’s a pickle, my lord! Who knows what mischief he is going to do?”

“Whatever he does, it is beyond us,” Eomer answered. “It seems he did indeed intend my death, but came too late! If my uncle listens to him, I can do naught about that! I do not fear that my uncle will order my death, and I do not fear either than any man of the Mark would kill me at Grima’s bidding, not now at least. Those fools over there? Would they have done it? Who can say?”

“But here we are at war, my lord! Thou art needed in the Mark, not sitting in a cell!” Ulfwine protested. “The enemy is on the move, as surely thou must know as well as I!”

“I do not think I shall be here over long,” Eomer said. “I have a suspicion that something comes upon the wind.”

“Never hast thou been fey and farseeing before,” Eowyn said doubtfully. “What is in thy heart, brother? Tell me!”

So it was that Eomer Eomundson told his sister, and those trusty men who stood by, of all that had befallen him and his Eored near the eaves of Fangorn. This tale is told elsewhere, so this chronicler does not tell it again.

“But they are only three,” Eowyn said at last. “What is three?”

Eomer smiled. “Thou wilt see, my dear sister! And even so, I know that my uncle will think better of this, for while Grima has his ear tonight, he cannot keep all the Mark from my uncle’s seat! Grima has his allies, very true, but they are not enough to stand up to men such as Elfhelm and Erkenbrand, to name but two. They will not consent to my imprisonment, nor will they stand to have Grima ordering the war.” He kissed her and hugged her and said, “Because of thy quick thinking tonight, Eowyn, I am alive and will stay alive! I do think that Grima intended to have those fools over there kill me, I do think that in truth. Until I saw thee come like a ghost out of the darkness over there, I thought my throat would soon have been cut! What took Grima so long to get here, I cannot fathom. Perhaps he had much to do, to keep the king from setting me free tonight! What else might have kept him, I do not know.”

“It must be so,” Eowyn said. “What should I do? Should I go to my uncle? What if Grima….”

“No, Eowyn. Grima will not harm the king. What would he gain? No, he will only do what he has ever done, he will connive and plot and slither about. What hold he has over the king I do not know, but it cannot last much longer, I think. He must play too many off against the other! What he could do in the dark he cannot do in the light! While I was away, and Theodred, it was one thing. But I am known to be in Edoras, sister, and dost thou think that folk will not wonder, “Where is Eomer Eomundson? Why is he not with the king?’ Think thou that many in the town will believe me guilty of anything at all?”

“They will not,” Eowyn answered. All the men standing near murmured agreement, and even Grima’s men standing by nodded.

“Then go thee to thy rest, sister. We shall soon see what the morrow might bring.”

So she left, returning to her own chambers. Her maid was waiting for her, and was full of the night’s events, it seemed everyone in Edoras knew now of Eomer’s arrest. And it was yet the same night!

She sent the maid quickly away after her hair was unbound and her nightclothes on. “I would be waked early,” she said to the girl. “Come to me when the bell rings for the doorwardens to change. Do not be late!”

Eowyn got herself into bed and snuffed the candle and closed her eyes. She felt as though she had been in rushing water, tumbled about against rock and river-bottom, bruised and half-drowned. Her limbs ached, and her hands trembled, and unshed tears stung her eyes. Yet behind all the pain and fear was a tiny glow of comfort and pride, for she had in truth saved Eomer and the Mark this night.

Ice had long encased her heart, and care had worn all gentle feeling from her thoughts. Her uncle long in the toils of Wormtongue, and she all alone to deal with it, day upon weary day. Then her cousin’s death, and her brother’s imprisonment, all to be borne with all else upon her slender shoulders. There were scarce any of her powers as a living being left to her, except the powers of simply breathing and walking upon the earth. So long had she carried these burdens that she wondered, half-asleep, what it might be like to be free of them……