Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

by Vison

Part Eight

Often in the years to come Eowyn would remember the summer of the year 3018, and the lovely month of September when despite all that happened the skies were clear and the sun shone upon the grasslands and upon the distant mountain peaks, turning them to gold and purple. Never had their homeland seemed so fair, yet all in the Mark knew that both there and beyond their borders great events were unfolding, that it was their fortune for good or ill to live in times troubled beyond any for an age past. There were at this time many doom-sayers in many parts of the land, fear rode the Mark sitting behind every rider.

Just past the middle of September the wizard Gandalf Greyhame came in haste from afar, and demanded to see the King. He, for some reason known only to himself, came first in the guise of a beggarman. This was a thing out an old tale, for sure, thus did heroes of old test the chivalry of the land, it was said, thus were evil-doers oft exposed. But what he hoped to accomplish with this ruse, Eowyn never knew.

Gandalf came then and warned us that sudden war was preparing in Isengard. He said that he himself had been a prisoner in Orthanc and had hardly escaped, and he begged for help. But Theoden would not listen to him, and he went away.” The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of The Ring, Book III, Chapter 2, The Riders of Rohan.

When Gandalf came into the Hall, Theoden did not stand to greet him. He sat, his hands on his knees, and said naught while the wizard strode the length of the room and stood before him.

“Westu Theoden hal!” Gandalf said. He went on to tell Theoden of his captivity in Orthanc, and that he had but narrowly escaped.

“I am here, Theoden king, to beg thy help, and to warn thee of evil to come!” he said.

Eowyn, standing by, saw that Grima leaned near and said somewhat to Theoden.

“Thou hast come far, Gandalf,” Theoden said at last, “yet thou hast come for naught. I will not be drawn into the quarrel between thee and Saruman!”

Gandalf said naught for some space of time. He looked at the king’s face and at Grima Wormtongue, and Eowyn could see that he struggled to remain calm. “My lord Theoden,” he said. “This is not a quarrel between Saruman and me! This is the great war of thy time, come to thy very doorstep! Hear me!”

Theoden shook his head. “War! I wished only to live at peace in my own land, and with my neighbours. All hope of that is now gone for we live betwixt the hammer and the anvil of thy schemes and his! And so I will hear naught!”

He rose to his feet. “It is the custom of my house to offer any guest food and drink. Such I offer to thee, and no more.”

Eowyn could plainly see now that Gandalf was angry. His blue eyes seemed full of fire, and she felt suddenly breathless, as if she stood on the edge of a high cliff.

“Theoden!” Gandalf thundered. “You must hear me!”

“I am yet King of the Mark, Gandalf Greyhame, and will suffer no one to command me!” Theoden’s voice was strong, and most like his voice of old.

Suddenly Gandalf’s shoulders sagged. “I do not wish to command thee, old friend,” he said. “But to warn thee, and to aid thee to do what must needs be done to protect thy realm. Hear me, I beg of thee.”

Now did Grima speak. “Thou hast gone from ordering my king about like a serving man to begging alms from him. Here in the Mark we are accustomed to plain speaking, so I say to thee, Gandalf Stormcrow, that thou hast mistaken thy man. Theoden needs naught from thee, neither thy advice nor thy company.”

“So I see,” Gandalf replied. “Since he chooses to hear thy words and not mine, it remains only for me to tell thy lord that he will rue this day!”

Grima laughed. “So says the trickster Gandalf!”

“I go now to my meat,” Theoden said. “There is a seat for thee at my table, Gandalf. Wilt thou come?”

“I will not, Theoden,” Gandalf said. He pulled a leathern bag from within his cloak. “I wilt not trouble thee nor thy household any further. I have here coin, king of the Mark. What price a horse from thy stable?”

“I do not sell my horses,” Theoden answered, angrily.

It is told in the chronicle: Theoden said: “Take any horse, only be gone ere tomorrow is old!” September 21: Gandalf meets Shadowfax, but the horse will not allow him to come near. He follows Shadowfax far over the fields………….September 22: Gandalf overtakes Shadowfax……September 23: Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan. (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B)

It was many days before Theoden left off speaking of Gandalf’s insolence. The loss of the horse Shadowfax was a terrible blow to him, but truth to tell it was not the loss of the horse so much as the knowledge that Gandalf had tamed the beast. All the Rohirrim prided themselves on their horsemanship, and it was hard to bear the certainty that some intruding sorcerer had beaten the Riders at their own game.

It was this aspect of the matter that Grima son of Galmod kept before the King’s face. Sorcery must have been involved, for in what other way could that wizard have stolen one of the Mearas? Such horses allowed no hand but the King’s and here was Shadowfax gone! Sorcery it must be. Theoden agreed, and spoke long and bitterly about sorcery and the evil of such doings.

Yet Eowyn knew, or at any rate strongly suspected, that Grima knew more of sorcery than he ought. He had been Saruman’s pupil, and so had she, as she admitted in fairness. No hint of such had Saruman ever offered to her, no spells, no potions, no secrets. But who knew what Grima might have learned during his time in Isengard, under Saruman’s tutelage? And she suspected further that Grima went in secret to Isengard when he rode from Edoras on his “business”. It was a suspicion only, and she spoke of it to no one, fearing to make the accusation and be unable to prove it. She no longer believed that the King would be sure to take her part against Grima, should it come to that.

When first he had returned from Orthanc to Edoras the King had asked Grima son of Galmod what he had seen in the Wizard’s vale. Grima said this and that, but he said little of substance. He admired Saruman, but had they not all admired Saruman in those days?

Even in her heart Eowyn was loathe to lay any charge of sorcery on Grima, it smacked of necromancy and evil things of that nature, and Grima had grown up in the same household she had, clean and open to the fresh wind off the grasslands. How should a man of the Mark go down that other road?

But as she argued this out in her own head she could not forget the change in her uncle. Whenever Grima was gone from Meduseld, her uncle rallied. When Grima returned, her uncle failed again. Yet how? How? Spells? Potions? Saruman’s very thoughts coming with the night fogs and mists? She spent yet more of her time at her uncle’s side, taking on more and more of his care. Grima smiled, and told her she was a good niece. She longed to stop his voice, to wipe the smile from his face, to shut those pale, all-seeing eyes.

There was no one to turn to. Though she did not wholly believe herself to be surrounded by traitors, she did not care to try the issue by trusting anyone who had come into her uncle’s household since Grima’s star had been in the ascendency. Dully, she thought she might, if she had to, get word to Theoden or Eomer, maybe by the hand of Hama or Sergeant Frealaf. In the meantime she did what she might.

Whether Grima had aught of evil magic about him, there was no doubt that he was a persuasive fellow. He had the knack, besides, of seeing quickly to the heart of any matter, pointing out failures of logic or reasoning, and then of putting forth his own sharp reading. He was not often wrong, although Eowyn thought him too apt to put an unpleasant gloss on what folk said or did. He gave the king much good advice, especially when it was a matter of petitioners approaching the seat of the king. Grima knew everyone’s business, and knew moreover many things that folk would as soon keep quiet. He knew of skeletons in many closets, and loved to rattle the bones.

He loved, too, to be known as a learned man, but truthfully he was not learned, he had a knack with figures, and could pen a letter well enough, but of old lore he knew little. He had once dismissed such knowledge as useless, as having no bearing on the present. Eowyn, who loved the songs and tales of her forebears, who joyed in such learning as came in her way, was of a very different mind. There was much of beauty and wisdom in old lore, and then, who could ever say for sure that it would not prove useful besides?

So it was in those days. Now and again Eowyn felt a throb of real terror, and was ever conscious of being watched. Grima was too clever to be caught spying on her, but she felt ever and ever and ever that he was just beyond her sight. She drew deeply upon herself, finding courage and will, finding that she could rise each day and walk into her duties with a firm step and calm face.

The fall faded into Winter. Yule came and went, and little merriment was there in Meduseld. Eowyn saw to the customary giving of the King’s Gift to those poor folk who came on the turn of the year, for the king himself stayed in the Hall, but she could not bring herself to smile with any true warmth upon those who bowed their thanks. She stood shivering in her cloak as the line of supplicants wound around the stairs, thankful that for one cause or another there were not so many this year as in the past. The folk had prospered somewhat, at least as far as crops and so forth went. And, sad to say, war was sometimes a prosperous business, at least in the beginning.