Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Four

Thus it was that Grima son of Galmod returned to Edoras and the Golden Hall. It soon seemed that he had never been gone, somehow. He kept busy at this and at that, one never knew where one might find him. He had never been one to speak out, nor to put himself forward, being like his father in that. But what had been modesty in Galmod was something else in Grima. It was very hard to say just in what lay the difference, but it was there.

Though he was not liked, he was part of the life of Meduseld. He, like every man of Rohan, was a fine horseman, and now and again he would ride out with Eomer or Theodred. When he rode with them, Eowyn never did. She disliked being in his company, and yet could never quite say why, even to herself. He was ever courteous and gentle. Now and again she thought of what Theodred had said, teasing her, saying that Grima followed her with his eyes. It was not so! Once, she had thought it was so, but now, now that he had returned from Orthanc and taken up a man’s duties, she was sure that any notion of that sort that he might have had was gone. A boy’s fancy, surely, and no more.

By chance, Eomer and Theodred and Eowyn had all been born in May. Though Theodred was the elder of the two men by eleven years, he and Eomer were fast friends and had been since Eomer and Eowyn had come to Theoden’s house as children. Eomer was old for his age, and Theodred young for his, so they were well suited. And Theodred had ever been mighty fond of his pretty little cousin Eowyn, delighting in her quickness and boldness, and encouraging it, more, perhaps, than was wise.

It was the custom to celebrate their birthdays as one, and so it was this year of 3013, when Eowyn turned eighteen. There was to be held a feast, with a concert and then dancing to follow, but early in the day there were races and sports on the fields below the gates of the town. All the folk of the city were glad to take part, for the three scions of the house of Eorl were loved over the whole realm.

Eowyn, no less than her brother and cousin, loved the sports and races. She could run like a deer, and though her skirts hampered her somewhat, was always one of the front runners in the foot races. She had some skill with the bow, although this weapon was not much in favour in a land of men who fought on horseback. Like all her countrymen, though, Eowyn shone as a rider. She braided her hair in one long plait, and wore the plain habit she favoured, yet even so she was by far the prettiest girl on the field, though she thought naught of that. She would stand for no “mooning” as she put it, any lad or young man who tried flirting with her was soon sent away with ears burning, for she spoke out her displeasure freely.

There had been rain for nearly a week before this party, and the field was somewhat soft. Before half the afternoon had passed, it was a sea of mud. This only added to the fun, it seemed, and soon all were mud-splattered and filthy. The last event was a contest whereby a rider, galloping and bearing a lance, had to scoop a series of rings from a line hung between two poles.

Eowyn did not win, nor, for that matter, did Theodred or Eomer. Some young lordling from away East took the prize. But the three from the Golden Hall took part on an equal footing with all comers, and ended the first part of the birthday festivities by sitting down to luncheon in a great pavillion. They had no separate table apart from the crowd, but sat where they might. Never was any discourtesy offered, and the folk were proud to think their king’s son and his cousins were so willing to mingle with them.

It fell out that Eomer and Eowyn’s aunt Gudrun, their father Eomund’s sister, was visiting Edoras from her home in the uplands near Dunharrow. She came into the pavillion with the King just in time to see Eowyn enter, bedraggled and mud-spattered, her gown caught up and her riding boots showing, her golden hair coming all unplaited. In silent disapproval she saw Eowyn sit down by a fat lad who joked with her, seemingly, as he might with any lass from any where, and saw further that Eowyn laughed and joked with him in the same fashion.

Thus it was, the day after the feast, that her aunt Gudrun came to Eowyn’s chamber for what she called “a little woman to woman talk.”.

“It isn’t that thou art doing what is wrong my love,” Gudrun said. “But…”

“But what, aunt? It was a festival, and we, Eomer, Theodred, and I, we have always taken part! My uncle likes it so, he does not wish us to hold ourselves too high,” Eowyn said. She suspected what was coming, and hoped to forestall her aunt’s words by mentioning the truth that Theoden did indeed approve of her riding in races and learning the sword exercise, and joking with the townsfolk. “No one has ever offered me any discourtesy, aunt, nor said nor done aught that which was disrespectful.”

“Whatever Theoden has thought in the past, my love, he cannot think it right that a maiden of eighteen summers should romp about with all the lads in Edoras! My dear girl, when I saw thee yesterday, mud from thy heels to thy eyebrows, wearing a gown that any maidservant would scorn, I bethought me of what thy dear mother might have said, could she have seen thee.”

Anger flared in Eowyn. “Aunt, that is not fighting fair! To talk of my poor mother in that way, as if I was disgracing her memory!”

“Fighting fair? I am not fighting with thee! My dear Eowyn, thy words prove only more fully that thy hoydenish ways have gone too far! This is not a swordfight, child! I have thy best interests at heart, that thou must know.”

“Why is it,” Eowyn said, lifting her chin, “that when anyone says that, it is bound to be unpleasant? Stay, aunt. I am sorry. But, auntie Gudrun, thou knowest my uncle does not mind, indeed, he is proud of me. He tells me I am like the Shieldmaiden Gudrun for whom thou art named! And I know, aunt, that thou wert used to love to ride, and do all that I do.”

“Yes, it is so. But Eowyn, when I was eighteen, I was a year married, and was with child! There were no more thoughts of Shieldmaidens or horseraces for me. I had begun the life most suited to a woman, and so must thou now do.” She sighed. “My dear, I have already spoken to Theoden, and he and I are of one mind in this matter.”

Now was Eowyn truly angry. “Thou hast already spoken to my uncle? ? How darest thou go behind my back in that fashion?”

Gudrun rose, her face set and hard. “I will not be spoken to in that fashion, Eowyn! The matter is settled, and so thou wilt find.” Then her face softened to a smile. “My dear, thou dost not understand, indeed thou dost not. Folk are talking of thee. Thou cannot wish to be the subject of gossip?”

“I do not care what idle tongues say!” She wished to say, but did not, that she was above gossip. As the King’s niece, she ought to be able to do as she wished. Yet she knew that was exactly what her uncle would frown at, he always held that those of the House of Eorl must ever be an example for the people of the Mark.

“It is not only old fogeys like me, if thou must know. Even that young Grima, old Galmod’s son, even he agrees,” her aunt went on.

“Grima? Thou hast spoken of me to Grima?” She clenched her hands into fists, so angry now that she caught her bottom lip between her teeth, to keep from saying to her aunt what could not be smoothed over afterward.

“Not exactly. He happened to be by, when I spoke to Theoden.”

“Happened to be by!” Eowyn said scornfully. “He clings to my uncle like a burr on a dog’s backside!” She strode about her chamber, trying to collect herself.

“Eowyn! What kind of language is that, for the daughter of my brother Eomund, and the niece of Theoden son of Thengel?”

Eowyn saw that her aunt was truly shocked and angry, but she was so angry herself that she did not care. “It is bad enough that thou went behind my back, aunt, but to allow that sneak Grima to even hear what was said to my uncle! How could thou do so?”

“For that, I am sorry, Eowyn. I did not consider, indeed. But if thy uncle did not send him away….” She put out her hand. “Come, come, my love. This will not do. We must not fall out. Thou hast no other woman close to thee, no other woman who cares for thee.”

“I do not need any woman to care for me, aunt. My uncle the King cares for me, and who other could I need?” Yet it was not in her to really quarrel with her aunt, and she put out her hand in turn. “I am sorry for my hasty words, aunt Gudrun. But I wish, oh how I wish, that thou had not spoken to my uncle about these matters! We go along so well here, I wish for no change.”

“Change will come nonetheless, Eowyn. One day, for instance, thou wilt be wed. Meduseld will not always be thy home.” She hesitated, looking embarrassed. “There are those, however, who imagine….my dear, I must speak. It is my duty. Now, do not look at me like that!”

“Why is it that I know thou art going to say something truly unpleasant, aunt? Whenever someone speaks of their duty, I know I am not going to hear that I am perfect!” She smiled, and went on. “If it is so dreadful, aunt, maybe thou had better not say it.”

“I must. Eowyn, to put the matter with no bark upon it, there are those who fancy that thy intention is to marry thy cousin Theodred. Now, do not poker up! I know it is not so, indeed, nothing makes me happier than to see the brother and sister love between cousins, for such a marriage would never do. It is entirely against our custom, we folk of the Mark. But nonetheless, there is such talk. And the best way to put a stop to it, will be for thee to be betrothed to someone else.”

“Why can not Theodred get betrothed? Why must it be me?” Eowyn said mulishly. “Thou art not about to tell me, aunt, that thou hast chosen a husband for me already?”

“I have not. And, yes, should Theodred betroth himself, it would serve the same purpose, that is true.” Gudrun sighed. “I confess, I will be glad when the next few years are over, my love. It is a weighty matter, the marriage of royal kin.”

“There are many weighty matters in the Mark, aunt. War is brewing, my uncle says, although none can say who it was lit the fire under that pot. This is no time for thinking of suitors or courtships.”

“Men and women are always men and women, my love. War or no war, folk wed, children are born. It has ever been the way. Think on it, Eowyn! If war put a stop to such matters, the race of men would have died out long ago.” Gudrun’s smile was somewhat bitter. “I have not the ordering of the world, child. If I did, or if any woman did, things might be different. Eowyn, I do remember, I do! as if it was yesterday, the freedom I had as a girl. I was not without skill wielding a sword, and I still take care to ride a good horse, not some slug best suited to an old woman like me. But my duties as a wife and mother are my true joy now, this is not just making the best of things, I assure thee!”

So it was that a day or two later when the King sent to Eowyn to ask if she cared to ride out with him, she understood what was to come.

The King had much to occupy his thoughts and days now. War was brewing indeed, as the saying went. Eomer and Theodred both were preparing to ride out, one going East and one going West, ill news came from every corner of the Mark.

The streets of Edoras rang with the blows of hammer upon anvil. The herds of the East Emnet were counted, and every day saw freshly trained men and horses flow out of the city.

Theoden rode his new horse, the white charger Snowmane. His old mount Felarof had been retired to stud, and this young stallion given to him by Erkenbrand of Westfold. It was in the bright sunshine of the stableyard that Eowyn saw, as if seeing it for the first time, that her uncle’s hair was now as white as the horse. Yet he mounted with all the quickness and ease of a young man, and settled himself lightly into the saddle. The young horse sidled and pranced beneath him, and for few minutes he was much occupied in calming the beast. Soon Snowmane went as sweetly as might be desired, and they rode out of the stableyard and on to the long cobbled road that led down to the gates. Folk stopped in their way to watch the King and Eowyn ride by, calling out greetings. The King did not stop, it was not his custom, but he nodded and smiled, first to one side and then to the other.

Once beyond the gates Theoden turned in the saddle and said to Eowyn, “What say you, my child, that we let these horses shake out their fidgets? Shall we say, first to the third milestone?”

And they were off. Their escort came behind, but not so quick. The escort was a custom and a courtesy, no one imagined that there could be any threat to the King or his niece, so near to the Golden Hall.

That was the last light-hearted race for Eowyn. Her long-legged mare easily bested Snowmane, but she cared little for the result, seeing by the set of her uncle’s face that he had something of import to say to her.

So it proved. She rode out a carefree maiden and returned a dutiful young woman. It was that day that she put away her sword and armour, and never again did she ride out freely with Eomer or Theodred alone, or with a troop. She said naught, for there was naught to be said.