Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Fifteen

Eowyn woke long before the bell that signalled the change of door wardens. It was yet black night, and there was no moon. She leaned on her bedchamber window-ledge and breathed deeply of the clean fresh air, and let her thoughts run free in the stars that blazed overhead.

No more would she walk the path she had walked before. Whether or no change came from without, as Eomer hinted, she would no longer submit meekly to her thralldom. Since it seemed she had to endure, she would endure as she herself chose, not silent, but forthright and clearspoken. Duty she would not set aside, for as a daughter of the House of Eorl duty came with life. But that duty she would do as a woman, not a child.

It seemed to her now that she had been mistaken all along. When bid to set aside her sword and helm she thought that she had to set aside that which made her what she was: her free spirit and heart. Never again! The air she breathed this night was the air of freedom, no matter that the outward signs would remain. Inwardly, she would be made anew.

She gave some thought to how she would best meet this new day. Her duty to the King required, in her mind, that she attend upon him first thing. Then she would see Eomer, and if any dared say her nay, this new Eowyn would soon show what metal she was made of. Her brother, in prison! For naught but the lies of Grima Wormtongue and the folly of an old man. The old man she owed respect, but it seemed only for what he was on the outside, the King of the Mark. Inwardly? Where had the warrior Theoden gone? Where the wise king?

This new Eowyn was not afraid to face the truth: there was some evil sorcery at work, and Grima son of Galmod was at the least its agent. Far off in Orthanc the wizard Saruman sat like a vile spider, weaving webs of evil, and so the Mark was caught. Tangled in war, the Mark needed a King in command, one who could cut through the threads of confusion. Eomer must now take up his seat at the king’s right hand, so Eomer must first be free.

Her new clearsightedness showed her that she must now do what she had not done: she must go about Edoras and seek out those men who would side with Eomer, those men who did not fear Grima son of Galmod, those men whose hands were clean and whose first loyalty was to the Mark of Rohan and the House of Eorl. That there were many, Eowyn knew. Those who sided with Grima would fall away quickly, when loyal men spoke out loud and certain.

Elfhelm and Erkenbrand were far afield, but right here at the Hall were such as Ulfwine and the doorwardens and Theodred’s Eored and those men who had ridden with Eomer. They obeyed the orders they believed came from the King, but how long would they simply obey if they could be shown that it was not the king who gave the orders, but old Galmod’s son Grima, Grima Wormtongue? Many, many of the lords of the Mark knew him of old, and few had liked him even as youths. It was not because he was of lesser station, but that he resented those of higher position and showed it with every breath he took. It seemed he blamed someone for his birth and station. There was no harm in a low born man wishing to raise himself. This commonly happened, and the “new man” was as good as any. The great folk of the Mark did not require ten generations of nobility, as they said was the case in Gondor. In the Mark a strong swordarm and mighty deeds in battle were sufficient to lift a family from obscurity to gentility. Theoden himself had granted lands and titles to many, and thus the Mark was made stronger.

Grima could not grant lands nor position, except through his influence over the King. He could only wheedle and connive and make himself the King’s toady. Once secure in Theoden’s esteem, he had begun to undermine the court, taking upon himself the office of granting audiences with the king, taking upon himself the ordering of the council. No longer could the folk of Edoras walk freely into the King’s hall. Now they must make appointments with Grima, and likely grease his grasping fist.

Eowyn understood perfectly what it was she was proposing to herself. There could only be one end, and that end was the exile or death of Grima, son of Galmod. Once such deaths had been common in the Mark, as lordling vied with lordling for lands or women or some such. Generations of kings had slowly brought these wild ways into seemliness, the Rohirrim had learned to deal with each other by law, not might. Yet the wild blood was still there, and it seemed it coursed through her own veins. She herself, she thought, could kill Grima, but it would not be necessary. Nor would Eomer need to do it. Grima’s crimes, his lies and deceits, would be enough, once the Lords of the Mark put him to trial. Mayhap the midst of a war was the wrong time, but while he was holding the reins of the Golden Hall, there was no hope for the Mark any way.

She thought of the events of these last days. Theodred’s death, ending the direct line of Theoden son of Thengel. Eomer’s imprisonment and how near he had come to being killed! What more could she suffer? Yet suffer was not the word she chose to use. She saw these events now as trials, and found that she had passed some test she had not known she was required to take. Like metal tempered by fire, she was stronger not weaker.

At last her maid came in to find Eowyn already dressed, and plaiting her own hair.

“My lady! I am here as thou bid me! Did you not say the bell?” the girl asked.

“I did, but I found that I could not sleep. Do not trouble thyself, Mercia, but see rather to my room. I am going now to the King, then I will see my brother. Do you go along to the kitchen and tell the cook to prepare a breakfast for the Lord Eomer. I do not think anyone else will think of it.”

The King was alone in the room where he breakfasted. Eowyn entered and, going to him, kissed his cheek as was her wont. “Good morrow, uncle,” she said.

He looked at her in silence. At last he said mulishly, “I am the King, Eowyn, and thy brother defied me!”

Calmly, she answered, “My brother Eomer has done no wrong, uncle. He thinks only of the Mark.”

He said, “He has ever been a trusty man. If he will beg my pardon….”

“I am sure Eomer will do whatever thou might require, uncle,” she answered.

Then entered Grima son of Galmod, as she spoke.

“No doubt!” Grima said. “A man might say much, to get out of prison. But we must consider why he is there in the first place, sire!”

“We will speak of this matter later,” Theoden said peevishly. “I would break my fast in peace.” Then, looking at Grima under his frowning brows he said, “What news, Master Grima? Has word come from Erkenbrand?”

Grima shook his head. “Nothing yet, sire. But we must consider that he has ever been mighty thick with Eomer, and thinks himself as a little king in that part of the Mark.”

Eowyn let her eyes meet Grima’s and she held that gaze long, until at last he looked away. Never before had she done so. Always had she avoided his gaze, thinking it defiled her. Well, it did not. This was but a taste of what defiance she would offer him!

Then came in the chamberlain. “My lord,” he said, bowing to the King. “There are come four strangers who would attend upon thee in Hall.”

Grima began to speak, but Eowyn rose to her feet and said, “My uncle the King will see them now.”

Grima glared at her, but said naught. He followed Theoden and Eowyn down the corridor to the Hall.

It was as yet empty. The morning sunlight poured through the vents onto the clear wood fire that burned upon the hearth. Theoden took his seat, and Eowyn smiled inwardly to see Grima sit on the step below, like a dog. She stood behind her uncle, and looked to the main doors.

The doors were flung open, and the four strangers entered……………………….