Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Seventeen

The next day Eowyn arose betimes and donned her riding dress. She put over all her mail coat and then her sword belt. Thus arrayed she went into Theoden’s Hall where she met with those folk of Edoras who were to join with her in ordering the move to Dunharrow.

Though Grima son of Galmod had done much that Eowyn disliked, he had possessed a talent for organizing this and that. Each district of the town had its captain or warden, charged with those who dwelt in their area. The master list was still in Theoden’s office, carefully made out in Grima’s neat hand. But it was in cypher, and Eowyn did not have the key! She gazed in disbelief at this evidence of Grima’s character, and wondered what other surprises might be in store. Still, Eomer had lately inspected the stores and housing in Dunharrow, and she did not fear disaster, just annoyance.

The next three days saw Eowyn ride forth to Dunharrow and back several times. Though the people of Edoras understood the need for this trouble, it was a trouble and so there were hard words and quarrels here and there. Often, the sight alone of Eowyn’s slender form, mounted on her tall mare, was enough to quell unpleasantness. But now and again there was more to it, and she grew weary of listening to complaints and arguments. The weather broke, too, and the road was soon a sea of mud under a driving rain. Broken wheeled carts littered the side of the road; children wandered off and frantic mothers ran shouting hither and thither.

Once at Dunharrow there were more difficulties. Who was to quarter where and with whom, who was to order the kitchens, the stables, the milking sheds? Was there enough fodder for the beasts? Should all dogs be tethered, or should they be allowed to run loose? That last, at least, Eowyn quickly settled: the dogs must be tethered, for some had begun chasing the milk cows, and there were some dead sheep to account for.

“Sheep?” Eowyn sighed. “Why would anyone bring sheep?”

“Mutton, my lady,” old Lord Aldor said.

Eowyn slumped in the saddle. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Mutton, of course.” Then it entered her head, was there a butcher?

Her own quarters were cramped, much smaller than she was used to. But Mercia had ridden thither with her, and soon had Eowyn’s things in order. The girl, besides, had shown herself to be quick and trusty, and wrote well enough to take notes for Eowyn.

The first night, Eowyn fell exhausted onto her cot and was asleep before she could feel the strangeness of her surroundings. But she woke in the predawn darkness and lay quiet for some time, listening. Horses stamped hooves, dogs barked, children cried out. The guards called one to the other.

She wondered where Theoden and Eomer were, and what had befallen them. And now, now that she was alone and quiet and in the darkness, she allowed herself to say, “Aragorn.”

”A year shall I endure for every day that passes until your return.” ….as she spoke her eyes went to Aragorn…… Chapter 6, The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers.

Again she said that name. “Aragorn, son of Arathorn.” Now, for this moment, she was content to simply think of him, to recall every least thing about him that she could bring to mind. His dark hair, his grey eyes, his firm mouth, the column of his neck. The timbre of his deep voice, and the way he walked. Had she not longed, once, for the wind from the North to carry such a one to her? For none of the tall golden haired men of Rohan had ever stirred her blood as had Aragorn just by entering the Golden Hall.

He had come in such mighty company, too! An Elf, a Dwarf, and the Wizard Gandalf. Gandalf’s voice, thundering in the Hall, and Theoden rising tall and straight from his chair. Her brother Eomer free, ahorse once again, on the Mark! “Forth, Eorlingas!” had been the cry, and then she was given her armour and her sword and her office…..and he had been by, he had seen her thus arrayed……now she exulted in what she had once despised: her beauty. Ah, she knew she was fair, and she knew that few garments became her so well as the white gown and the silver mail, no ornament so suited her as the long sword glittering in her hand.

Her eyes had learned in a heartbeat what she thought fair. A tall man, dark haired and stern of face. But surely he could smile? Surely that stern mouth could soften? Not now, no, now was no time for smiling, for they rode to war. But surely she could not lie here thinking of him and he not think of her? “Aragorn… she murmured.

Though these days were wearisome and long, and though she was cold and wet and hungry at the end of each, she could not still the spring of happiness that bubbled up in her. All the wretched months and years of caring for Theoden alone, of enduring the presence of Grima son of Galmod, of being denied her freedom—all gone, all nearly as if they had never been. Though Theodred’s death was like a bruise on her heart, she could not be woeful. Those sad dark days, they meant nothing now, or they had been the coin, maybe, with which she paid for today.

The people were ever glad to see her out and about among them. She brought order and calm wherever she walked or rode, and her smile brought smiles in return. Though she had ever been known and loved just for being a daughter of the House of Eorl, now all learned to love her for herself. She stinted no effort, found no task beyond her, and saw quickly to the root of any problem put to her. At times she would lift a girl-child up to sit before her on her horse. These little girls were oft too shy to speak, to do more than sit in wide-eyed bliss to be so singled out, but one said, “When I grow up, lady, I will be such as thee!”

“And what is that?” Eowyn asked, smiling.

“Why, fair and rich, my lady! My mamma says that thou art a child of good fortune,” the little girl replied. “She says that thou art sure to marry a great lord and live soft for the rest of thy days.”

Now did Eowyn laugh. “Is that what thy mamma says? But, maybe I will never wed, but will be an old maid, and spend my days knitting, or some such.”

The child shook her head. “No, my lady. For they say, too, that thou can ride like a warrior, and will get a husband that way, by chasing him down, if thou canst not catch one any other way.”

Eowyn set this little girl down and rode away laughing. As a daughter of the royal house her future marriage was of great interest to all in the Mark, but never before had Eowyn herself seen any jest in it.

It was not that Eowyn forgot, at this time, that the Mark was at war. But she herself was young and strong, and felt within herself the certainty that victory was to be theirs. Though she suffered somewhat of discomfort, no true misery fell in her way just now, and her days were full of deeds that came easily to her hand. The years she had endured in silence had strengthened her, for nothing that happened now happened in dark dreariness, she was not caged nor bound any longer.

Wars are fought by the young. Elders sit and move armies about, forces beyond reckoning interfere with desired ends. But when those now young are old, when the Riders who charge shouting down into hordes of the enemy are bent and slow with age, they will look back at these days as the best days of their lives. Then were they free and merry. Often miserable with weariness or cold, always were they bold and brave as well. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the power to overcome it.

Eowyn like her folk had that bright physical courage, and now that her bonds were put off, it rose in her like the sun after rain. What had weighed her down was that imprisonment of sad duty, and the denial of her true nature. Far down in an abyss had she been, and now she was on a mountain top, standing in the keen fresh wind, breathing the air of freedom. A dizzying ride, she thought, imagining herself lifted on the wings of some mighty bird. From black dark to golden light, and she gloried in the sunshine.