Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Nineteen

”Hail, Lord of the Mark!” she cried. “My heart is glad at your returning.” The Return of the King, Chapter 3, The Muster of Rohan.

Though she spoke of gladness, Eowyn felt none. Yet it was good that Theoden King rode home after mighty deeds, and with him rode Eomer and many other great lords. And, though she was heartsore, Eowyn wondered at the small warrior who rode beside the King on a stout hill pony, for Aragorn had spoken briefly of this, of the Halflings, and the reality was more astonishing than the tale.

The King’s lodging was prepared, and Theoden caused a tent to be raised beside it for the Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck, for so he was named to Eowyn. She saw that while he was a child in size, he was not a child but a small man. It pleased the king to have this Meriadoc wait upon him at table, and then to seat him with the great ones in the camp, but Eowyn saw Meriadoc’s eyes and that he was ill at ease.

She, with the others, listened to the old tale of Baldor son of Brego. Eowyn had ever disliked this tale, for such pigheadedness in menfolk did not seem admirable to her, but only pigheadedness. True it was that Men of the Mark kept their vows, but it seemed to her that there might be times when it was folly to keep to the strict letter of such a promise. Too often was it after a night of deep drinking that such things happened; indeed, Baldor son of Brego had been at least half-drunk when he swore to take the Paths of the Dead, and was likely still muddled in his head when he sought the door under Dwimorberg on the morning after.

However that might have been, there was no deep drinking this evening, but a sober and silent meal in Theoden’s pavilion. Though Theoden was ever courtly and courteous, he had never been much given to mirth. Guests at his table took their cue from him almost insensibly, and when his mood was sombre, as it was this day, no one could be aught but sombre as well.

So it was that they spoke of Aragorn. Eowyn could not keep all her grief and pain from her voice when she spoke of him, and Theoden, who was not quick at seeing such things, saw part of it at least, and attempted to comfort her. She sat in silence, unable to meet his eyes, and when someone spoke to Theoden, the moment passed. Theoden’s words had not comforted her, but had awakened resentment, for she felt that her innermost thoughts were laid bare for all to see, her most private pain held up to common view. Maybe no one had heard, but maybe someone had! Was she to be spared nothing? Had she not managed to humiliate herself enough by herself?

Now came the Rider from Mundberg, Hirgon he was called, and he bore the Red Arrow that summoned the Rohirrim to War before the gates of the White City. Even Eowyn, who thought that she had reached the depth of despair, felt the chill of fear and dread when she saw her uncle take the arrow.

Soon after the King rose from table and bid all there to seek their rest, for on the morrow they were to ride to the Weapontake at Edoras. Eowyn lay sleepless on her couch all that night, for her heart and mind were in such turmoil that she scarce could draw her breath. She knew that the great days of her time were drawing near, so near that it was as though some vast monster lay on the road ahead of her, and the stench of its breath polluted the air she breathed. There was only one way to conquer such a vile creature, that way was to ride at it, to ride hard and fast, shouting defiance and fury! To wait in meek silence while it crept closer was cowardice. Worse, it was cowardly blindness, and whatever Eowyn was, she was not blind. The half-light of dawn came, a day of mirk and cloud, and she rose when she heard the camp called to life around her.

Eowyn arrayed herself as a warrior once again and called the Hobbit Meriadoc to her. This request only did Aragorn make to me,”said Eowyn, as they passed among the tents, “that you should be armed for battle.” Such gear as could be found was given to him, and he donned the mail and helm and took the small round shield upon his arm.

She saw again what she had seen the night before, that while he had a child’s stature he was not a child, but a man grown, with a man’s heart and courage. Indeed, the tale of his deeds was such that any man twice his size might envy, for the doings of Meriadoc and his countryman had been told to Eowyn, once by Aragorn, and again by those who rode to Harrowdale with Theoden. She wondered bitterly why her uncle was so sure in himself that he had the right to order this Hobytlan warrior’s goings and comings. Below that thought was another, that Theoden ordered her goings and comings as well, dismissing her as only a woman, and smiling as one does at a child.

Neither she nor Meriadoc was a child! Why must they obey?

Duty. Duty. Always she had done her duty. And what had it gained her? This: to be smiled at and then left behind.

Theoden now called her to him. He kissed her forehead and called her daughter and embraced her lovingly, but he was saying “farewell”. She did not again ask to ride with the men of the Mark, but only bent her head and allowed his caress. He stood back from her and regarded her with a question in his eyes. “Daughter,” he said at last, “I see that thou dost not weep to part from me. So sternly dost thou bear thyself, as a child of our stern people. Yet I would have some softness from thee.”

She smiled a twisted smile. “Uncle,” she said. “There is no softness left in me. Yet I will kiss thee, and call thee father now at this moment, for surely thou hast been a father to me! “ She embraced him and kissed him, and felt hot tears scald her eyes. Yet part at least of what she felt was anger, and it increased rather than decreased as she saw the bustle of the camp, and the men eager to ride off to war.