Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Twenty: Destiny Awakes

Eowyn sought out Lord Aldor. “My lord,” she said, “I am here to beg a boon of thee.”

This old man had known Theoden as a youth. He was hale and strong yet and had arrived at that time of life when he spoke his mind without hesitation. He now regarded Eowyn. “I would do much for thee, child,” he said. “Speak thy mind.”

“My uncle has bid me stay here, my lord,” she answered him. “Yet I cannot! I must go, lord Aldor, and since I must, I pray that thou wilt take charge of our folk.”

He said nothing, but looking frowning at her. At last he said, “I am an old man, Eowyn Eomundsdattir, and yet never heard such words from one of the House of Eorl.”

“Nevertheless, my lord, I will leave this place,” she said. She sighed. “Dost thou refuse me?”

“Art thou determined, my lady?” he asked.

“I am, my lord.” Now she took one of his hands between hers. “My lord, we are old friends, thee and me! It was this hand that comforted me, when news was brought of my father’s death.”

“No child have I, lady Eowyn,” he replied. “But ever in my heart thou hast had a daughter’s place. I cannot deny thee!”

Eowyn put aside her qualms of conscience. It seemed to her that she moved by rote, as if some other mind controlled her body. Far off in a corner sat little Eowyn, quiet and watchful, and this other one moved about calmly, arranging to leave her old life and enter upon a new one.

It was easy to put on a warrior’s gear and stride down to the horse-pens. There was the old man who had been her first riding instructor, he had sent Theoden away with a laugh that long ago day, saying, “I will see what metal this lass is shaped from, sire! Did I not see her aunt Gudrun through her first trials ahorse?”

Now when he saw her he frowned and gestured that she should leave him. But she stood firm.

“Nay, my lady,” he said, with a curse. “Do not ask me what I know thou hast come to ask me!”

“Then I will not,” she said, with some bitterness in her voice. “Do you look the other way! For I will not be stopped, not by thee nor by any man!”

He shook his head. “I will speak to the King thine uncle, my lady! I know that he has bid thee bide here and take his place as leader amongst the folk! Think thou that I would not as lief disobey my lord as not? Think thou that I relish being told that I must needs stay behind, hiding from the enemy, for Theoden deems me to old to ride?”

Yet there was that in his aspect that told her he would not go to the King. His anger was not feigned, but he would not betray her.

She went in among the horses and caught a tall gelding with grey hairs on his muzzle. He came willingly with her to the stable and she swiftly saddled and bridled him. Mounting, she trotted the horse through the rows of tents to her own bower.

There, standing forlorn, was the Hobbit Meriadoc. He was arrayed as a warrior, but stood disconsolate, watching the turmoil and uproar of the camp as men rushed hither and thither, preparing to ride.

Everywhere were women. Some clung to the stirrup of a rider, some stood aside, stony-faced. Few children ran about, their mothers bidding them to stay away. But Eowyn saw that the womenfolk could not stay away. Those who had husbands here, or lovers, had come for the last look on a beloved face, a last embrace.

Most were but roughly dressed, having turned out early and run to the camp, hair unplaited and uncovered. So were women accustomed to mourn, their hair unbound and uncovered, no care taken with their garments. And Eowyn saw now that these women were already in mourning, knowing that many of these riders of the Mark would not come riding home.

For a moment or two her heart wavered and her steely resolve softened. If it was pain she sought in this riding, she need not go, for pain would soon find her again. Her uncle, her brother, all the bold young riders she knew: how many would fall? How many would be laid to rest on the Pellenor fields before the gates of the White City?

And was it pain she sought? Pain coming from without, to overpower the pain in her heart? Was it death she sought? Oh, not death only! For did she not bear a bright, sharp sword?

What was left for Eowyn?

She rode in the last ranks from Dunharrow to Edoras, sitting still as a stone on the tall horse. It seemed she had no thoughts in her mind, but only a black nothingness.

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning rode the Rohirrim, and they drew rein in Edoras as the unseen Sun paused at noon.

Eowyn drew near enough to see and hear what went forth with Theoden and the Hobbit Meriadoc. Her lip curled in contempt to hear the King bid this warrior remain while the Men of the Mark rode to war. How sure her uncle was! And how unseeing his eye, bent only on his own thoughts and plans.

Never had Eowyn thought, before, that there could be aught amiss with her uncle’s rule. Bold and hardy he was, even in these last days of his long life. His folk looked up to him as a fit king, true heir of Eorl the Young. And yet she saw, with a sudden burst of this new fury, that Theoden was riding out of the Past and into the Future and he did not know it. He saw Death or Glory before him, maybe both, and sought to come to such an end that songs would afterwards be made.

He did not disregard his folk, even in the midst of her anger Eowyn knew that. No, Theoden truly embodied the nature of a King of the Mark, and he believed that was sufficient. Though he was brave and noble, a great man in his way, Eowyn saw that maybe that would no longer be enough.

Formerly, it had been. Would it still be so, when this War was done?

Never had Eowyn been fey, yet something now stirred in her. The End of Days approached, the world as she had ever known it was about to end.

It seemed that she knew then why she wished to ride with the Rohirrim: destiny called her, and she could not deny the call. She shook her head, as if to toss this notion aside. But it settled itself more firmly in her heart, and she sighed, and gave way. Her anger subsided somewhat, and she became calm.

Meriadoc Brandybuck stood and watched the King and his household ride out. His fair young face was set and drawn, and he gripped the hilts of his sword.

Eowyn drew near, yet did not face him straight, turning her head half away. She leaned close and spoke to him, and then, quick and secret, he was before her on the saddle. She did not speak to him, but felt the warmth of his sturdy body. Not a child, no, not a child. As he had pulled himself up on Windfola, as her hand had touched his, Eowyn felt another of those compelling certainties: he was meant to be with her.