Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan
That day and long into the night did Theodred consult with his
father. Eowyn sat quiet beside the men, content to watch and listen,
for her uncle was eager and sensible, and Theodred full of news. Grima,
called Wormtongue, did as he usually did when Theodred or Eomer was
home---he found plenty to do elsewhere.
Eowyn slept well that night. She felt as though she could draw her
breath more easily with her cousin asleep in his old chamber across the
hall. And she woke with a smiling face the next morning, knowing she
would see Theodred at breakfast. But before she went downstairs she
spent some few minutes searching her chamber for a certain scarf. It
had been Theodred’s gift long ago, and she wished to wear it, knowing
he would see it and smile.
Her maid was sorely discomfited when Eowyn asked where this scarf might
“What is wrong, Mercia?” Eowyn asked. “Has it been lost, or spoiled in
“No, my lady,” the girl answered. “My lady, forgive me, I thought……when
I saw it in his hand…..I thought that thou had given it to him!”
“To whom?” she asked, although she knew.
“Why to Grima Worm --- I mean, Grima son of Galmod, my lady.” The
girl looked at her with tears welling up in her eyes. “He said, he
said, not to tell that I had seen it, that it was a secret…….”
“I see. Well, that will do. There is no need for tears. Stay!
Mercia, if thou wouldst serve me well, say naught of this to anyone?”
“My lady, I would not! Even had he not told me to keep it quiet, I
would not discuss thy doings with anyone, I vow.” She went on, in a
rush, “He is a sneak, my lady, always creeping about, all the maids are
afraid of him! Not in that way, you know, but he keeps count of every
thing, as if he wrote it all down in one of those books of his.”
“That is enough, Mercia. Be sure I will look into the matter, and
please remember that you will oblige me by keeping still,” Eowyn said,
calmly enough, though she was sickened with disgust and fear. She hoped
her maid could not see it on her face. “I will wear the blue scarf
instead, then. Please fetch it to me.”
How had he got it? Her first thought was that he had bribed the
maid Mercia, but the girl’s manner was open and frank, so she discarded
that notion. Had he come, without her knowing, into her own chambers,
into the rooms where she disrobed and bathed and slept? She gripped the
edge of her dressing table until her knuckles were white. When the maid
handed her the blue scarf Eowyn draped it over her own shoulders and
rose to go down to breakfast. “Mercia, please ask Master Walda to wait
upon me after the noon meal?”
“The smith, my lady? Shall I ask him to wait for thee in the porch?”
the girl asked.
“No. I wish to see him here, in my chamber,” Eowyn said. “Also,
please tell the chambermaids to scour my rooms thoroughly! It seems to
me that they have not been doing all they ought lately. I wish to have
clean linen, and curtains, as well.”
Nonetheless, she enjoyed her breakfast with the king and her
cousin, and was delighted that Theodred wished to ride with her that
afternoon. “Oh!” she said, smiling, “I will be so glad to ride with
thee, Theo! I have not been out for so long! I have only to speak to
Master Walda, and I will be ready, right after the noon meal.”
Walda was not merely a common smith nor swordmaker, although he was
master of those skills, perhaps the finest in the kingdom. He attended
to the needs of the Golden Hall, fashioning locks and hinges and
trivets, his work as delicate as lace and yet strong. He made the great
elaborate stands for the braziers that burned on the porches of the
Hall, and he made intricate hangers and hooks and brackets for ornament
as well as use.
The year before there had been a fashion in the town for caged singing
birds, these birds brought in a caravan from the far South, and Walda
had made a cage fashioned of wires near as fine as a woman’s hair. It
was ordered in secret he said, the design and the fee left on his work
table and when it was completed Walda presented it, as he had been
instructed, to Eowyn from the nameless giver. Walda would never
knowingly have caused his lady Eowyn a moment’s pain or unease, but
this gift gave her both. She could not bear to touch it, and told her
maid to take it away, to keep it in the maids’ rooms if they liked to
hear the bird sing. She did not order that the bird be freed, for she
knew it would die up here on the heights of the Mark, far from its
southern home. And she knew, or thought she knew, who had given it to
her, and that was reason enough to wish it out of her sight.
Master Walda listened in silence as she explained that she thought
there might be something amiss with the lock on her chamber door, and
on the doors of her wardrobe.
“It is often wise to have locks changed. I will see to it myself,”
Walda said. He looked at the locks and frowned. “How many keys shall I
make for each lock, lady Eowyn?”
“Two, please,” she answered. “When can the work be done?”
“Oh, I will do it this afternoon, my lady,” he answered. “And when
thou hast returned from riding out with my lord Theodred, I will give
thee the keys myself.”
When they were out, galloping over the brown-gold fields before the
gates, Eowyn was reluctant to spoil the afternoon of freedom by talking
of Grima to her cousin. With the wind in her hair and the sound of the
horses’ hooves and the high blue sky of autumn, she gave herself over
to the first pleasant day she had had in many months. And what could
she tell him but suspicions? She knew his dislike of Grima from of old
and feared to rouse his quick anger. She kept still. What had been done
could not be undone, and she would take more care in future. And
surely, surely, Grima would one day step too far, say too much, and
she, Eowyn, would be on the watch. The mouse would turn on the cat.
Thinking so, she touched the hilt of the long sharp knife she wore on
her girdle. It was not a girl’s trinket, but a deadly blade. Eowyn knew
of herself that she could use that knife, should the need arise.
Theodred rode out the next morning, and Eowyn stood at the top of
the stairs and watched him leave. She was in better spirits than she
had been, from the ride with her cousin, and from the news that Grima
Wormtongue had ridden out that day, too, bound no one knew where on
some private business. It was nearly a month before he returned, from
whence he did not say. Theoden greeted him warmly enough, but not too
warmly. Eowyn was now quite hopeful that her uncle had really improved,
that his innate health and strength were asserting themselves.
Certainly he was better than he had been in the winter before, or even
Still, the business with the scarf had sparked anger so powerful it
seemed it would choke her. She knew of old that the best cure for such
strong feelings was hard exercise, so she went to the arena where the
troopers were taught to wield the longsword and spear. Old Sergeant
Frealaf stared hard at her when she asked if she might not disguise
herself as a lad, and take up again the training that her uncle had
desired her to leave off.
“I am kept so close indoors these days,” she explained, “and cannot get
the exercise my health requires.”
“My lady,” Sergeant Frealaf said, his grizzled eyebrows drawing
down in a frown. “I would do anything for thee, surely thou must know
that! But what thou art asking is that I disobey my king.”
“It is not,” she said, taking his hand between hers and looking
into his face. “Thou wert not ordered to stop training me, Sergeant, I
was bid to stop training with thee!”
He grinned sourly at her. “My child, thou wert ever able to wind me
about thy little fingers! It will be as thou asks. And be sure no man
here will betray thee, should any eye pierce thy disguise! I think the
best way will be for thee to enter by my own chamber. My old servant
will do aught I ask, and say naught.”
So it was. She could not go often, nor stay long, but the strenuous
exercise did her good and she was able partly to recover her spirits in
this fashion. Whether her disguise was suspected or known, she did not
care, for the young men who trained in the arena with Sergeant Frealaf
would never betray her. Not one there was a creature of Wormtongue,
though he had tried many times to insinuate some favourite of his into
the household cavalry.
Eowyn’s conscience did not trouble her overmuch in this matter. She
was a child of the Mark, no less than was her brother or her cousin,
the blood of Eorl the Young flowed in her veins, and her hand, too, was
formed to bear a sword. Strictly speaking she was disobeying her uncle.
But she was clear in her mind that her uncle was
the Mark, that he and her people were entitled to her all her young
strength should need arise. And given the ill news that now came daily
to the Golden Hall, she feared it might one day be necessary in truth
for her to don her mail jerkin and sword in defense of her home. Women
had done so in the past, most notably Gudrun of North Wold, for whom
Eowyn’s aunt was named. That Shieldmaiden of old, though past her
middle years and not a maiden but a widowed wife, had ridden with Eorl
the Young to the field of Celebrant, in fulfillment of her dead
husband’s vow. What she and other long-gone women could do, Eowyn could
do. Steel was not harder than her resolve.
Eomer sent messages, but did not return that winter. Yule came and
went, and the winter wore into spring. War and rumour of war was all
the news every day.
In about April Theoden was taken ill again, yet he would see no
physician. He asked, as had been his wont in the bad times before, that
Grima son of Galmod be always near him. Eowyn’s heart sank, her hopes
for her uncle’s recovery dashed again. Yet some troubles were spared,
for the season and the crops were better than common that spring and
summer, and at least the fear of hunger and sickness could be pushed to
the back of folks’ minds.
Eowyn kept her chamber locked, trusting her maid Mercia with a key.
And somehow, Eowyn knew not how, Mercia recovered the lost scarf. Eowyn
burned it, though it cost her a pang; Theodred had brought it to her
from Minas Tirith for her fifteenth birthday. If he ever asked, she
would say she had lost it, and beg him to get her another.
There was great excitement in Meduseld in mid-August. The Lord
Boromir, son of Lord Denethor Steward of Gondor, arrived in the midst
of the worst thunderstorm seen in the Mark for a generation. Eowyn
stood at Theoden’s side to welcome this stranger.
The Lord Boromir was tall and well-made, very fine-looking in the
high-nosed way of his people. For Theoden it was a red-letter day, he
greeted the visitor most warmly, speaking gladly the tongue he had
learned as a boy in Minas Tirith. For his part, Boromir was gracious
He was bound for the North, he said, but would say little beyond that.
He was travelling fast and light, with only three companions, men of
his household, all lordly in their bearing. Those men were quiet and
somewhat remote in their manner, seated well down the table from their
lord and from Theoden.
Eowyn conversed at dinner with the Lord Boromir, glad of a new face
beside her. He had a manner that grated somewhat on her, however,
evidently he was of the mind that a maiden, a young and lovely maiden
especially, had nothing between her ears but hair. And he seemed
careworn, too, for such a great lord. He talked much of the Enemy’s
doings, and of the valour of his own folk, which was natural enough
since Mundberg, as Minas Tirith was commonly called in the Mark, was
ever in the front of the fighting.
“My father Denethor would have me remind thee, my lord Theoden,
that there is alliance of old between the sons of Eorl and the folk of
Gondor. It may be that the time is coming when these old vows must be
Theoden, at his best in such company, bowed his head and responded
firmly in a clear voice, “We of the Mark have sworn to Gondor vows that
will not be broken,” he said.
It had fallen out that the Lord Boromir was in need of a horse, for
his had been lost in the thunderstorm and subsequent flood and he had,
in fact, ridden into Edoras on the back of a pack horse. Theoden
delighted in presenting Boromir with a new mount, a fine black stallion
from his own stud. Boromir was horseman enough to know he was honoured
by such a gift, and his smile of gratitude lightened his stern face,
and Eowyn saw at that moment how beautiful he was, highborn and noble
of bearing, kingly, a lord of men.
Yet there was nothing personal in her recognition of his beauty, it was
rather the same as if she saw the distant mountains, their snowy peaks
gleaming in the sun, or the grasslands of the Mark newly green in the
Spring. There was naught in her drawn to him as a maiden is to a man,
she believed she had no capacity within her for such a response. This
troubled her somewhat now and again, but truth to tell she was so worn
with care and fear that there was no space in her thoughts for matters
Then, Boromir and his men were gone, riding out to the North and
their unnamed destination. The North was a place of rumour and mystery
to all those who dwelt in the Mark. And nowadays, besides, the road
North led first to the West, and the Gap of Rohan.
Saruman was proving to be a fell enemy, more of a trouble to the
Mark than the far-off Great Enemy. Truth to tell, to most folk of the
Mark, the Dark Lord Sauron and the land of Mordor were little more than
myth, while Saruman in Orthanc was dreadful reality.