Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Three

Eomer frowned. “A poor jest, cousin. That cur and my sister?” His handsome face was grim. “Has he said aught? To thee, or to my uncle?”

Theodred was not laughing now. “No, of course he has not, Eomer! Dost thou think he would dare speak to me about Eowyn?”

“Then why didst thou say it, Theo?” Eowyn cried. Her voice shook, and angry unshed tears stung her eyes. “ ‘Twas a hateful thing to say, and ill done of thee!”

“Wynnie,” Theodred said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Wynnie, I am sorry.”

“Do not call me Wynnie,” she said, pulling away from him. “Surely thou must know how I hate it! And I hate, too, jests about marriage and cavaliers and such things! How would thou like it, if it was about thee?”

“If? Eowyn, thou must know that every mother of every marriageable maiden in the Mark thinks of naught else! If thou art weary of it, I am more so!” He hugged her again. “Come. Let us put this nonsense aside! There is a fine wind blowing down from the Ered Luin, and we have not been out of the gates for days!”

But Theodred’s words haunted Eowyn, for she had known without knowing that Grima son of Galmod had dared to think of her. He was gone, gone to Orthanc with the Wizard, and if fate was kind, he would never come back to Meduseld.

Though Eowyn had long outgrown his classroom, she often went in to see Galmod. He had ever been kind to her, and since he was now frail and lonely she knew her visits were much to him. He sat always in a pile of disordered papers, “sorting” he said, in the process of writing a history of the Mark. “’Twill be for children,” he said, “that even the little ones might be able to read of the deeds of the Riders of Rohan.”

He had grown up with Theoden son of Thengel, having been in the household of Thengel, even in Minas Tirith. Never one to put himself forward he had yet been much valued by Theoden for his honesty and clearsightedness. His wife had died in childbed, bearing Grima; they two, father and son, had no home other than by the kindness of Theoden. Grima had been given the same education as Eomer and Theodred, falling between them in age; he had been clothed as a gentleman, and mounted as befitted a Rider of Rohan, and since he seemed eager for advancement, he had been allowed to go to Orthanc with Saruman.

Yet for all the courtesy that still existed, Theoden’s friendship with Saruman was now become very uneasy. Rumour came from here and there that Saruman was not always Rohan’s friend, that his henchmen made free of the territory of the King of the Mark. It seemed no one wished for Saruman to return to Meduseld, and Theoden was heard to say that a Wizard, like a mother-in-law, was better from a distance. What Galmod thought of this, since his son was now at Orthanc, no one knew. Indeed, no one would even think to ask, for it was true that of all the court no one cared for the old man but Eowyn.

It was in the summer after Grima’s leavetaking that the Wizard Gandalf Greyhame first came to Edoras. At first the gate guards took him to be none other than Saruman, but he threw back his hood and cloak and shouted out his name quite freely, and strode forward fearlessly, demanding to be taken to the King. And now, in the Golden Hall, the name of Wizard was no longer a password to the good will of the King, so that when this Gandalf strode in bearing his staff he was met with suspicious looks and naught much else.

He did not stay long, for he was going about the lands searching for somewhat, and that he would not tell. He had a horse, a rough haired northern beast not much better than a hill pony, but it did not seem to concern him that he had brought this creature into the midst of the finest horses ever seen. He had, in fact, little of courtesy in his manner in any way, and when he had taken his brief counsel with the King his leaving was not regretted. The folk of the Golden Hall, from the King down, were only too apt to think of Wizards as much of a muchness, and up to no good besides.

He passed through again in the fall, going North. The weather being bad, he was offered a bed, which he accepted, and a seat at the King’s table for the evening meal, which he also accepted. It was now seen that his company manners were not lacking, and that he was possessed of a lofty courtesy that put some in mind of the Steward in far off Mundberg. He was seated beside Eowyn, and she took much delight in their conversation. He was very learned, and able to converse on any subject that came forward, including Eowyn’s old love of Astronomy.

“I have myself seen Saruman’s Observatory at Orthanc,” Gandalf told her. “Yet thou must know he did not make it, that it dates from Elder Days?”

“So he himself told me. But he told me also that he has much improved it,” she replied.

Gandalf sighed. “No doubt he sees his changes there as improvements, my lady. Certainly the labour has been great.”

Eowyn did not at first quite like to hear these words from Gandalf, she feared they meant only envy or jealousy, but it was soon evident to her that Gandalf was above such mean notions. Saruman was ever cool and distant whereas Gandalf seemed more approachable, he laughed readily, and his blue eyes were alight with good humour. He did not appear to think himself above the company, and when at last Eowyn rose with the other ladies to leave the menfolk to their ale and talk, he rose courteously and thanked her for a pleasant evening.

She returned to her chamber smiling, it was not often that a guest in her uncle’s hall singled her out in such a fashion. Being a young and very beautiful maiden had its disadvantages at times, especially for one such as Eowyn. It was not something that she put in words, even to herself, but she wished to be regarded as her brother Eomer and cousin Theodred were regarded, as a person whose opinions were sought and valued, whose presence was desired for more than being ornamental. Gandalf had not smiled dismissively at her, he had listened attentively to her words, and asked questions that showed her that he really heard what she said. Under the sun of his courtesy, she had spread her wings like a newly emerged butterfly. Though she lived, essentially, a life sheltered from the larger world beyond the Mark, she was fond of reading and learned much from her books. And when she told Gandalf that she hoped one day to travel to Minas Tirith and to visit the famous library there, he nodded and said, “I hope thou wilt, my child. I have been there many times, and it is a wonderful place!”

It was the winter following that saw Galmod sink into a rapid decline, and he died just after Yule. His death did not make a stir in the court, he had lived so long away from the daily doings of the King that he was scarce known, or even remembered. But off in Orthanc there was one who must remember him and grieve for him, of course, so word was sent to his son Grima.

The funeral was weeks over before Grima son of Galmod returned to Edoras. Theoden greeted Grima courteously, shaking his hand warmly and expressing genuine sorrow for his loss. Grima, as was ever his way, said little, but regarded the King from his pale eyes. “Thy father was one of my oldest friends,” Theoden said. “We were boys together.”

Grima bowed, and murmured, “Thou art very kind, sire.”

Theoden hesitated, then went on, “Thou must know, my boy, that thou art welcome to make thy home here, in my house. It would seem very odd indeed to me, if my household did not include one of thy kin.”

“I thank thee, sire,” Grima said. He looked again at the king out of his pale eyes and an expression like a smile touched his thin mouth. “Thou art very generous.”

Theodred was standing by with Eomer and Eowyn and they three exchanged glances. This was not to any of their liking, Grima had never been a favourite with the younger folk at Meduseld, but was only tolerated for the sake of his father and the King.

Eowyn, out of courtesy, stepped forward and spoke to him, saying, “I loved thy father dearly, Grima. I remember how kind he was to me when I was a little girl.”

He bowed. “He was very fond of thee, my lady. We often spoke of it, he and I.” He took Eowyn’s hand and pressed it. He pressed it for the exactly right length of time for courtesy, and not one heartbeat longer, and turned away.