Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Twenty-one

………..the Grey Company passed swiftly over the plain, and on the next day in the afternoon they came to Edoras; and there they halted only briefly, ere they passed up the valley, and so came to Dunharrow as the darkness fell. The Lady Eowyn greeted them and was glad of their coming; for no mightier men had she seen than the Dundedain and the fair sons of Elrond; but on Aragorn most of all her eyes rested…..

“Lord,” she said, “ if you must go, then let me ride in your following.”……..

“Your duty is with your people,” he answered……… “Therefore I say to you, lady: Stay! For you have no errand to the South.”

“Neither have those others who go with thee. They go only because they would not be parted from thee----because they love thee.”………

Then she fell on her knees, saying, “I beg thee!”………

The Return of the King, Chapter 2, The Passing of the Grey Company.

Much had Eowyn endured in her life. Strong as the sharp steel blade she bore at her waist, she stood slender and tall, her shoulders square and her head held high. Still, the finest steel will break, if it is bent often enough. Forth and back, forth and back, and at last the shining metal begins to heat and crumble where it is bent.

As the angler plays the fish tempted to the fly, so Eowyn was played by fate. Let run, then jerked back to be let run again. Swiftly the fish slices away in the quick water, seeking the deep pool where it will be safe. Then the line is pulled sharp and tight and the hook bites cruelly and the fish is pulled fighting back. Again, and again. At last it has no more fight left in it, and the triumphant angler pulls it up, the silver body shining in the sun. Shining but dead.

She went into her lodging and did off her her mail coat and her sword. She could scarcely bear to touch them. What had such as she to do with those things? Was she not a woman, and bound therefore to wither and fade in the shadows? Not even in her own house, for she had no house of her own.

Long time she sat, her hands clenched in her lap. Bitter tears she shed, the bitterest of all that had ever spilled from her eyes. Before, in the worst of her misery, she had always had that tiny spark of hope in some corner of her heart. She had not known until now how strong that spark had been, she did not know how bright that light was until it was snuffed out!

Bitterest of all was the knowledge, that she could not keep from herself, that the worst pain of this parting to her was that it was a parting. Not that Aragorn was taking the Paths of the Dead. Not that. For it might well be that he would be allowed to pass through, he was surely born to great things, surely his life was a life that would be remembered in song. Fey he seemed, as a man might be who was certain of his destiny though that certainty was shared by no other. Still, they followed him, his friends, and she would have followed, too.

But it fell out that she was to have no part in that, for he refused her.

And he was lost to her, living or dead.

Of all the cruel strokes that could have befallen her, this was the hardest. For she had come from the shadows into the light, she had let herself imagine that her time had come at last, that her long apprenticeship in sadness had entitled her to joy.

The folk came to her lodging seeking this and that and she told Mercia to send them all away. The girl cast a quick, frightened glance at Eowyn and withdrew, saying what she was bid.

The day wore on to twilight and word came that Theoden King was riding hither.
From some deep well of her being Eowyn found the power to rise yet once again and she girded on her sword and dressed herself as a warrior and rode out to meet Theoden.

Duty she would do, though she be a dead woman walking.

”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, still 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. “Sister-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.

Chapter 14:

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 between 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. …………….

Chapter 15:

Riding from Edoras they rode in the gloom of a strange day. No sun seemed to rise, it felt airless and close. Sound was muffled, the ring of iron-shod hoof on stone was dull, the voices of men sank away unheard.

Eowyn kept herself back, although she knew it unlikely that Theoden or Eomer would see her. Would any of the Riders betray her? She looked furtively about and saw no one she knew. No one seemed to take note of her, even with Meriadoc riding before her. That state of affairs would not last, she knew. It was a long way to Mundberg, and she could not bear him before her for the whole way.

“I must tell thee, I am no man,” she said into Merry’s ear, her voice low. “I am Eowyn.”

He answered calmly, “I guessed you were no man, my lady. And what other lady could you be?”

He went on, “My lady, I cannot ride before you the whole way to Minas Tirith.” His voice was flat with despair. “I should have done as the King bid me and stayed behind.”

Eowyn spoke softly. “We have not yet come so far after all, Master Halfling. Shall I set thee down here, that thou mayst return to Edoras?”

He laughed grimly. “No. No. I wish to go on. But my Lady, how are we to manage?”

“I have a plan,” she said, and that was nearly true, for her thoughts seemed to fall into place without any effort. “For now, sit thee quiet.”

The baggage train came last, as always, and as the day wore on Eowyn drifted farther back in the ranks until at nightfall she was riding beside the pack mules. The Riders were to make no real camp, but they had to be fed and so did their horses, and in the bustle and busyness of the moment Eowyn sought out a man a little known to her, the Rider who had the office of Quartermaster.

She kept her eyes downcast somewhat as she spoke to the man sitting on his saddle and drinking from a pewter mug.

He glanced up. “What do you want?” he said gruffly. “Lost something?” Then he saw Meriadoc still up on the horse, looking miserably at the lady Eowyn. “Oho,” the Quartermaster said. “What have we here?”

“Baggage,” Eowyn said. Drawing a deep breath, she let her hood fall.

The man leapt to his feet, and his mug went flying. “My lady!” he said.

“Hush,” she said softly. “I see that you know me.” She drew her hood up again and said, “Do not betray me, I beg thee!”

He answered, his voice low. “What madness is this? And is that not the Halfing that my lord brought in his train from the Hornburg?”

“It is,” she said. “Quartermaster, do you wish to serve me?”

“My lady,” he said cautiously, “I serve the house of Eorl.”

She smiled ruefully. “So do I,” she said. She met his eyes frankly. “I know that I am asking a great deal of thee, Quartermaster. But both this Halfling and I wish to come to Mundberg and how we are to do it without thy help I do not know!”

He sighed, and looked out into the lowering gloom. “My lady, I would do anything for thee! But if my lord the King, or thy brother the lord Eomer were to learn of it…..besides, I cannot think it right, my lady.” He shook his head. “All know thy bright courage and spirit, my lady, but this is no place for thee. And the coming battle, my lady, it will be a dreadful affair. It will hinder me, and all who ride with thee, to have thee with us! I know that it is not thy wish to put the Riders in any greater peril.”

He could not have spoken more surely to dissuade her. Yet she would not be dissuaded. “I give thee my word, Quartermaster, that I will not seek to be in the forefront of the fray. Yet I must go! There is that that calls me, and the call will not be denied.” This was partly true, but Eowyn knew in her heart that it was also partly a lie, for what she sought in this riding was not only to answer this call of fate. She saw Mundberg as an end, and could see no farther. In her heart she believed that meant her own death, and with the stern aspect of the Rohirrim, she looked at that unflinchingly. There could be naught else for her, there or anywhere. To go on breathing would not be life, but a walking death, and she wished otherwise.

Eowyn’s words worked powerfully on the Quartermaster. He was a thoughtful man, long experienced in war; he had pondered often on mysteries and the meaning that a man might give to his life. He had been ever a Rider, devoted to arms, strong and full of the purpose he had chosen: to serve the house of Eorl and the Mark. Yet there was that in him that understood this call, this certainty that something was speaking to Eowyn. On this ride to Mundberg he heard that call himself, knowing it was to be the great battle of his time, and that he MUST go, regardless. The end might be death for himself, it might be oblivion for the house of Eorl and ruin for the Mark. So be it. His duty was clear and his heart was steady.

He saw her before him. At home were no womenfolk of his own. He knew that other men kept silent about the fear of what might happen behind them, should this war end badly. Duty drove them on, and so they closed their thoughts against worry. Were they hard? Yes, they were hard men, steeled against fear, steeled against what might be. For themselves they feared naught. Death was as common an end as any other, and all had seen comrades meet that end without a whimper. But the chinks in their armour were the ones at home, so they put the ones at home aside, and rode on.

A young man, seemingly, not as tall as some, nor as wide in the shoulders, but straight and of good bearing nonetheless. “What name shall I say ?” he asked, “For I cannot go on saying, my Lady.”

“I am Dernhelm,” she said. So, he would help her. She turned to Meriadoc. “Come down, Master Meriadoc,” she said.

“There must be a way that Master Meriadoc can travel with thee, Quartermaster. Surely?” she said, as Merry slid off the tall horse.

He considered, taking the measure of Meriadoc standing before him. “I see that he is girded and armed, my lady. Those are the tokens of the House of Eorl.” He spoke to Merry. “Art thou a warrior in thine own land, Master Halfling? “

Merry shook his head. “I was not trained up for war,” he said. “But it has come upon me, and I wish to do what I might for the King of the Mark.” Then he went on, “And I wish to do what I might for my home the Shire, although no one there will ever know. Probably.”

The Quartermaster nodded. “Well spoken, Halfling.” He looked at Eowyn. “I will aid thee and thy friend, Dernhelm. Go thee now to thy meat, and I will see to this one.”

Leading her horse, Eowyn glided away into the shadows. Fires flickered here and there about the camp. She was hungry, she realized, and so too was her mount.....