Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan
It seemed to Eowyn thatTheoden was being eaten up by despair, as if
some great carrion beast sat upon his spirit and tore from his breast
all his strength and manhood. He, like many of the Rohirrim, had ever
taken the view that a man must endure stoically, without complaint,
whatever fate sent. What made a man was this power to stand up under
the misfortunes of life, stand up and shout defiance back to the
blackness whence came sorrow and evil. But why this despair had come
upon her uncle Eowyn could not say, for it seemed to her that his
being, his heart and spirit, were become a bleak wasteland of fear and
defeat, and that she could not understand.
There were many days, besides, when Theoden seemed much like his
old self. Though his body seemed sometimes frail, he could rouse
himself to meet his captains when they returned to Meduseld, and he
followed the comings and goings of his riders on a map spread on the
table in his chamber. Those were the days, too, when Eowyn was most
welcome, when his face would light with a smile for her, and he would
tell her to draw up a chair and listen, for she might learn something.
Yet, the next morning she would go into breakfast and he would be
slumped in his chair and would frown at her and complain that his
posset was cold. “Little enough dost thou have to do, child,” he would
say harshly. “It seems to me that thou ought take more care of
household matters!” Worse yet were the days when he would not leave his
chamber, given over to the black mood that bowed his shoulders and
darkened his mind.
Theodred came seldom to Edoras in these days. And when he did, he
was weary and war worn, and looked only to rest for a day or two before
he was out on the marches again. Theodred was never much given to
introspection, and anything like weakness or illness made him itch to
be away from all things he regarded as women’s matters. Eowyn could not
bring herself to complain to her cousin, and it was true, too, that
Theoden was most like his old self when his son was with him, or when
Eomer was home. The two young men saw only that the King was older,
which was according to nature. They also saw little of Grima, for he
kept himself apart from the King when they were there.
Eowyn was waiting for something, although she could not say what it
was. She longed for a change, scarcely caring now whether the change
was for good or ill. And when one day it was the 12th day of May in the
year 3016, her twenty-first birthday, she stared at her own face in her
looking glass and could not even weep. The maiden who stared back at
her was pale and cold as a frost flower, her soft mouth held closed in
a hard line. No roses warmed her cheeks. Eowyn dressed as custom
required of her, she had ear-rings in her ears and ribbons bound her
hair, yet less than the poorest maiden in the realm did she care about
That was a cold, wet summer, the second in a row. Crops were poor
and folk spoke in fear of the coming winter, for stores were low. It
was necessary that some thought be taken, some preparations made to
save the people of the Mark from hunger. From this hamlet and that they
came to Edoras, desiring that the King deal with these matters. And who
should he put forth but Grima son of Galmod? Eowyn’s heart sank, and
she feared for the worst. But to her surprise and the surprise of many
others, Grima managed very well. He saw to the purchase of corn from
Gondor, and saw that all was done fairly and openly. He was often gone
from Meduseld on this mission, and while he was gone Eowyn felt as
though some weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
But a thing happened during this time that left a mark on the
king’s heart, and Eowyn’s. His old groom, Folcwine, was accused of a
black crime by a young maid, a girl but newly come from some remote
corner of the Mark. Eowyn spoke to the girl and tried to get to the
bottom of the matter and found that she had no choice but to tell her
uncle that Folcwine must go. Though she did not herself believe him to
be guilty, so many did that to allow him to stay would be seen as an
affront to all the women in the land, and so he was dismissed.
He came to Eowyn on the last day. She would have given much to be
excused from seeing him, but she never shirked any duty, no matter how
Folcwine’s old face was grim and set, his eyes red with weeping. He
would not sit when Eowyn gestured to a chair.
“I have come to bid thee farewell, my lady,” he said. “Thou hast ever
been my friend and I know that thou dost not believe this evil of me.”
“Folcwine, I am sorry,” Eowyn began, but stopped when he raised his
“It is better so, my lady,” he said. “This is no place for me any
more, nor for any of the king’s old friends. Our time is done. The king
my master has given himself over to that Wormtongue, and both my king
and the Mark will suffer for it.”
There was nothing Eowyn could say. Several days later came news that
Folcwine was dead by his own hand. Those who believed him guilty saw it
as guilt, and those like Eowyn who did not believe him guilty knew it
Though Eowyn was glad for the sake of the Mark that Grima had done
so well fending off famine and trouble, she was sorry for his return
far beyond only the sight of him. For he was now become arrogant, but
in a sneaking and cunning manner, always speaking and acting with
greater servility than before. And she felt his eyes upon her as once
she had long ago. He was not less in courtesy to her, but he spoke with
a kind of assumed intimacy that sickened her, coupling her name with
his when he spoke to the king and others, saying, “My lady Eowyn and
I”, as if she consulted with him, or sought his advice.
She could scarcely bear to be in the same room with him, but if she
gave in to her loathing, Grima had no check upon his influence over the
king. His presence was like an evil fog, pervading every corner of
Meduseld. And like fog, he was impossible to grasp; there was no way to
get a hold upon him and his doings, he was as slippery as a fish, as
cunning as a stoat.
Grima spoke to her of the matter of Folcwine. “This was a shocking
thing, my lady!’ he said, winding his hands together in the new habit
he had. “The poor maiden has begged me that she might be allowed to go
to her home for a space, to restore herself.”
“Why would she speak to thee?” Eowyn said sharply. “As for her going
home, I wish she might, and that she might stay there.”
Something flickered in his eyes, and he said no more.
The next day Eowyn learned that the girl had gone, leaving Edoras
with some traders bound for the south. She knew, with horrified
certainty, that Grima in some way arranged the whole affair. He had
killed Folcwine as surely as if with a knife. And something else she
learned then, too, of the death of Master Goldwine, her uncle’s
physician. The day more than two years earlier that he was dragged to
his death, he had been seen riding out of the gates with Grima
Wormtongue. Hearing this, she felt cold and afraid.
Scarce any of his old henchmen now lived with the King, or even in the
town itself. Some were dead, some had quarrelled with Theoden (or
rather with Wormtongue). He was surrounded now by nithings, men who
scarce deserved the name warrior, men who owed their position to Grima
son of Galmod, who had no proper loyalty to the Mark or its folk.
Courtesy they gave to Eowyn, indeed, she believed it was so ordered by
Grima. She understood, her skin crawling with disgust, that these
creatures believed her to be in league with Wormtongue! She paced her
chamber, twisting her hands together in an agony of fear and hatred.
She thought longingly of sending to the stable for her mare, of calling
upon Hama the door warden and the loyal household troop, and riding out
of Edoras, to ……whence?
She sat long that night, writing to Theodred and to Eomer. Yet when she
had finished, she read her own words and tore up the paper and put it
in the fire. Such suspicions and accusations should not be put on
paper. Who could say that they would come only to the hands intended?
Twice in that year or so did Gandalf Greyhame visit the Mark. Both
times there came to be sharp words between the wizard and King Theoden,
and both times Eowyn was ashamed and heartsick to see it. Her uncle
obstinately refused to hear the wizard’s advice.
It was when Gandalf was leaving in the fall of the year 3017 Eowyn
sought him out and begged him to forgive Theoden, citing his ill-health
and the manifold cares of the kingdom. “We are constantly beset by
troubles,” she explained. “Saruman’s betrayal alone overset my uncle,
and the news is bad from all corners of the Mark.”
“For myself, I take no insult, my child,” Gandalf answered. “My
hide is thick. But this Wormtongue, lady Eowyn! How came thy uncle to
lean so heavily upon such a weak staff?”
“I do not know,” she confessed. “I cannot myself understand it!
Those men who my uncle ought more properly to consult do not come to
him any more, for they must first get past Grima. Some come to me, or
complain to my cousin or to my brother, but this breeds disharmony and
resentment. Things go awry, and it is hard to see…..” she broke off,
and looked away.
Gandalf sighed. “I would do much to help thee, my child, but I cannot
stay here. I am needed elsewhere, indeed, I ought not to have stopped
here at all. I must hasten South to Minas Tirith! Thy cousin Theodred
should be here, he should leave the field to his captains and come to
“He will not, Gandalf. And how should he? Wherever he goes, he gives
heart to our folk.”
She went out with Gandalf, walking down the broad steps of Meduseld
in the bright October sunshine to where his horse and hers waited. She
had decided to ride to the outer road with him and take her leave of
him there, and perhaps have more of private talk with him than she was
sure of in the Hall. The door wardens smiled, seldom did Eowyn
Eomundsdattir leave the hall in these days and all loved to see her.
Hama, door warden and captain of the King’s guards, held his cupped
hands that she might mount her mare.
Gandalf was astride his rough-coated northern horse and Eowyn
jested with him that he ought to have a better mount. “That Saruman, he
would never put his leg over such a beast! His folk are stealing ours,
since he can buy them no longer.”
At this Gandalf laughed bitterly. “If that were his only crime! I
fear he is deeper stepped into evil than…..no, I will say no more. But
be wary, my child. His arm is long, and he can do much evil to thee and
thine beyond stealing horses, or even raiding into the Mark.”
Gandalf would have gone on speaking, but just then they caught sight of
a troop of horsemen and Eowyn saw, to her delight, that in the
forefront was her cousin Theodred.
So Gandalf rode off to the South and Minas Tirith and Eowyn rode
back up the hill with her cousin. Joyous was their meeting, and joyous,
too, was the meeting with King Theoden. This was one of his better
days, oddly enough, as if disputing with the wizard Gandalf had given
him fresh energy. Indeed, he said as much himself, taking pride in
having defended, as he said, both himself and the Mark from