Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Seven

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 be.

“What is wrong, Mercia?” Eowyn asked. “Has it been lost, or spoiled in the laundry?”

“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 the summer.

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 and affable.

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 performed.”

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 of love.

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.