Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Five

Not only Eowyn found the world changed in that summer. She saw little of her brother or cousin, and her uncle did not desire her presence as often as before. And when they took their meals together, she was displeased to find that Grima son of Galmod was often there. Just what he did for the King she could not discern. Most of the lords and captains were out in the Mark, and there were few of the King’s old companions in Edoras, so it was perhaps natural enough that he took up with his old friend’s son.

To Eowyn Grima was ever courteous. Indeed, she thought him strangely too courteous, as if he forgot the familiar footing they had once been on. Though she had never liked him, she liked this new Grima even less. He seemed to think less of her while offering her more courtesy, and though this puzzled her, she could not get to the bottom of it and soon gave up. It was never pleasant to think of Grima for any reason, and as long as he was courteous and did not haunt her footsteps as he once had, she could ignore him.

Though she and Gudrun had so nearly quarrelled, Eowyn went on a visit to her aunt in mid-September, staying over Yule and the New Year, coming home to Edoras with the swallows in the spring. Her aunt’s large, noisy household was a cheerful place, and though Gudrun’s notions of propriety were maybe stricter than Eowyn had been used to, Gudrun was a merry-hearted woman who loved to see young people enjoying themselves. However, if Gudrun had hoped that Eowyn would find a husband in the crowd, she was disappointed.

Upon her return to Meduseld Eowyn was saddened to find that she had just missed seeing both Eomer and Theodred. War was not now only a threat, Saruman had openly declared his emnity, and her cousin and her brother were desperately needed everywhere at once.

But most grievous of all was the change in her uncle. She suspected he had suffered a palsy-stroke, so altered was he. His once strong hands trembled, and his legs did not seem to bear him up as they ought. Yet far, far worse was the change in his manner. Where he had been hale and hearty, open-handed and open-hearted, he was now often confused and fearful. The strong light of day seemed to trouble his eyes, for he seemed ever to wish to be in the dimly lit Hall, unless it was to be in his own chamber before the hearth. And he was often led where he went upon the arm of Grima, son of Galmod.

Eowyn sought out the her uncle’s personal groom, Folcwine son of Brytta. He, like so many of Theoden’s household, had ridden out with the King in his young days, and he loved the King dearly.

“I do not know what to say, my lady,” Folcwine said. “The King thy uncle is a younger man than I by a half-score summers, and yet he is become old much quicker than I! It is a sad thing, and truth be told, he does not so much need a groom now as a nursemaid. These palsy-strokes come upon a man unawares, my lady! I have seen it before, that a man hale and strong as the King seems to take it harder than another who has never been much of a man.”

“My uncle has been a mighty man, certainly,” Eowyn said. “And thus his failing is so much the greater. And now I learn that Master Goldwine is dead! This was a hard winter upon the folk of Edoras, I deem, that such a physician could not keep himself alive.” These last words were spoken in some bitterness, for it was another sad shock to learn that the King’s physician and horse-leech had taken a tumble from his own horse while out hunting and was dragged to his death, his horse running itself maddened to the very gates of the city.

“Aye, my lady,” Folcwine said. “But he had seen thy uncle and said what all say, that he feared it must be a palsy-stroke, although unlike any he had ever before seen. He came here to my lord’s chambers and spoke to me himself, desiring to know if I had seen aught to worry me about my lord, symptoms, so to speak. Thou must remember what he was like, my lady, a cleverer man never stepped. Why, I mind so well how he cured my old bay gelding….”

Here Eowyn lifted her finger, stopping his reminiscence in mid-flow. “I know, Folcwine. But my uncle is not a horse! Still, if Master Goldwine spoke so, I daresay there is no use for me to send for another doctor. And where should I send?”

Folcwine shook his head. “Master Goldwine said that very thing, my lady. Where to send? Now that the magician at Orthanc is turned against the Mark, there is no hope of curing thy uncle. And it may be that the wizard could do naught, any road.”

After she left Folcwine, Eowyn returned to her own chamber. She sat long in thought, and wished there was someone she could consult. She knew nothing of illness, and thought herself badly suited to be a nurse. But who else was there? If she did not take upon herself some care of her uncle he would be left entirely to Grima’s ministrations. The servants would attend to his body, it was true, but though they loved their master, it was not their duty to take a kinswoman’s place.

The bitterness of her situation was nearly unbearable. Only months before she had been free and happy, in the midst of her hale menfolk, all unthinking. And now Eomer and Theodred were out on the marches and she was left to care for the beloved uncle who had once cared for her. She stood in her window, staring out over the city. To the West, the sun was setting in scarlet glory, great massed clouds shot with red and gold towered high up into the cobalt sky. Somewhere the Riders of Rohan galloped over the Mark, spears at rest, their bright helms catching the last rays of the setting sun. She pressed her face to the cold stone of the window surround and allowed herself to weep, that she was not with them.

The next morning she sent for Grima to attend upon her in the Hall. She sat in the gilded chair that Theoden had caused to be made for her, and she did not offer Grima a seat. She watched as he entered, as he walked toward her past the cold hearth. She was dressed more richly than was her wont, and had asked her maid to bind her hair up in a sedate fashion. Such weapons as she had she would use, and she had smiled ruefully to herself to think that she had come to this.

Still, he was not easily overawed. He was quiet, he was courteous, and he did not raise his eyes to hers, yet there was naught truly submissive in his manner. He stood with his hands in the sleeves of his long dark robe, and he wore a cap over his thinning hair.

“I thank thee for waiting upon me,” she began. “I hope I have not taken thee from thy duties.”

“Though I dislike to leave my lord the King, I could do naught else but obey thy summons, lady Eowyn. How may I serve thee?”

Eowyn took a fold of her gown between her fingers and then smoothed it out again. “Thou hast served my uncle most faithfully, Grima, and be sure that we, his family, see that thou hast done so. Yet, now I am here and will take upon myself the care of my uncle. Thus wilt thou be able to attend more closely to thy other duties, whatever they may be.”

“My duties are whatever the King my lord requires of me, lady Eowyn,” Grima replied. “He has come to depend much upon me. Still, as one who was brought up to love the house of Eorl, it is gratifying to see that the family cares so much for the King.”

Eowyn understood perfectly well that he meant the exact opposite of what he said, and she felt in her own heart that the rebuke, for such it was, was maybe deserved. She ought not to have left her uncle alone all winter! “He is my uncle, Grima, as well as my king. It is my duty to care for him, and I shall do so.”

“It may be that thou shalt find, my lady, that it is heavy duty indeed,” Grima answered. “Is it not oft seen that our elders dislike change?”

“Dost thou imagine that he will object to my care?” Eowyn asked sharply. As soon as the words left her mouth she was sorry, she intended not to enter into any dispute with Grima, but only to inform him of what would now happen. Before he could reply she went on, “I deem that I may be trusted to understand my uncle. Doubtless it will not be easy, but I shall do my duty.”

Grima bowed. “Thy uncle’s health can only improve, my lady, now that thou hast returned.” He raised his head and his eyes met hers for a heartbeat’s time. “Yet it is my desire, my lady, to serve my king and master, and all who belong to him.”

“I thank thee, Grima,” she said. She did not say what she wished to say, that she wanted nothing from him but the sight of his back.

Grima bowed again, and said naught.

The silence dragged on. Eowyn knew that there had been a contest, and that she had, in some fashion, lost. At last she rose to her feet. “Thou may leave me now, Grima. I have many matters to attend to.”

“And the King? Shall I take the midday meal with him?” Grima asked, very softly. “It will soon be noon, and he will be expecting me. There are certain questions that must be settled, things that he has entrusted to me.”

Eowyn sighed. “Perhaps it will be best if thou wert to do so, if he indeed is expecting thee. However, thy presence will not be required at dinner. The embassy from Gondor is arrived, and Lord Firion will dine with my uncle.”

That was the first day that Eowyn did battle with Grima, but it was not the last. The embassy from Gondor had arrived indeed, but because Grima had withdrawn at her desire, much was left undone that ought to have been done, and the King was fractious and tired. He roused himself to something of his old ways over the meal, but the evening wore on too long and Eowyn had to leave the table with the other women although she could see she ought to stay. She went to her chamber and sat alone, staring dully into the fire. How could she endure this? Yet she must endure. Whatever lessons she had been taught, one lesson for sure she had learned, that as one of the House of Eorl she must do her duty.

Months passed, and Eowyn learned what endurance was required of her. There were nights when she pressed her face into her pillow and sobbed into the feathers, but her daytime face was calm and composed. She learned that there were those in the Hall who preferred to take orders from Grima, and since she would not lower herself to argue the point, he maintained much influence. The King delighted in her presence when in good spirits, but when he was fearful and cross it was Grima who could best smooth him down. It was not that the King preferred Grima to Eowyn, but that Grima had some touch, some method, of reaching the king’s fogged thoughts. Eowyn found that she had no choice but to accede graciously to Grima’s presence. She thought, now and again, that there were those in the court who would deal with Grima if she asked, but that far she could not go, not yet. Not yet, if ever.