10. On Wings of Eagles
My sword! Reflexively my hand is on its hilt. I pull it out of its sheath, and point the blade outward. I do not know what devilry is afoot, but I will not be caught unawares.
Noise… there are others!
I look left and right, trying desperately to see in this soup of blackest night. Or is it day? Where am I?
I am in familiar territory, but I cannot place the exact location. My kin are in trouble; I hear the clashes of spear on shield, and guttural cries.
Orcs! Damn these foul creatures. What siren call is it that you heed when you cross our borders? Do you want more slaves? Is that it, you mud-beings, plague on this fair land?
I smell the stench of battle; blood and sweat of horse’s fear and smoke. The scene before me is frustratingly dim. Where is the sun? The skirmish is to my left, so I run to join in their defence. But it is as though I am running through honey, my movements are slow, so slow…
Ai! It is Éomer, and Frithlíc, and others… the orcs do not stop, their thick arms hitting the helms of our guards, knocking them to the ground. Why am I hindered so? Let me loose my rage upon them! Accursed beings who slew my father- I will have my revenge!
I run, and run, and finally I am able to swing my sword at the closest orc, an ugly gash now running across his upper arm, forcing him to drop his blade. I need to find a weak spot in his armour, to thrust into his heart…die, you damnable creature…
The anguished cry turns my blood to ice. Everything is too slow… I pull my sword from the chest of the orc and turn my head in the direction of the voice.
No… this is not possible…
My dear Frithlíc is lying on his back, his precious blood seeping into the ground. His torso bristles with several black arrows as he writhes in agony. An orc stands above him, about to take off his head with his sword, when Éomer turns and thrusts a knife up under the creature’s chin. The orc staggers, then thuds to the earth, his foul form near that of this lone red-haired rider of the Mark. I drop my sword… all that matters is getting to him, taking care of his wounds, carrying him back to Edoras; I will do that, I will heal you…
I kneel beside him, my fair one, he alone whose music charms my heart. How could this happen?
I curse the arrows, it will make his travels back to the city more complicated, more painful. I will just go get the horse…
“Éowyn.” It is almost a whisper, but I hear it through the din.
“Yes, my love. You are wounded; I will take you far from this place back home, back to the city, and your limbs will be cleansed of this terrible scourge…”
I await his reply, and then look into his eyes. They do not blink.
His beautiful eyes no longer see me. I do not know what they see, but they do not see me.
“Where are you??!”
The sound comes from me, and yet, no one hears. I look at my dear one, dead at my side. I scream at the sky. There is nothing left. I lift up the head of my beloved, and stroke his face, then put my body on his and clutch at him. How dare you leave this earth without me? I hear the sound of oncoming battle, but I care no more...
Éowyn’s eyes snapped open, and for several moments, she was unsure of where she was. Her hands clenched her bed covering, and without realizing it on a conscious level, she knew that she had been crying.
Slowly she took notice of sounds around her. Her bird, Máthmæht, unhappily awakened by the sounds that she must have uttered, was making displeased noises in his cage. It was a cloudy night, and only dim light shone in from her window. She closed her eyes again.
How many times must I have this nightmare? Finger by finger she loosened her hands on the blanket, and willed herself back into her room. I was not there. Had I been, there would have been dozens of others of those foul creatures left to smoulder in the pyres. She pulled the blanket over her head, trembling. Damn them. Damn every orc back to the black pit from where they should never have come! She tried to control her breathing, forcing the panic back to a more distant place in herself, further away. Far away…
She sat up. Oh those who shine on us from the skies, please give me rest. I cannot continue to bear this. Standing, she straightened her sleeping garment and went over to her golden finch, murmuring to him under his covering. “I am sorry, my little Máthmæht. I did not mean to wake you. But you can go back to sleep now, little one.” She inserted her finger through the bars of the cage and stroked the bird’s ruffled head feathers, and he appeared to be consoled. “I will just be off to find some water, or wine, and then I will be back to sleep myself.”
Éowyn opened her door, and out of habit, looked both up and down the corridor before leaving. She went to the left toward the eating hall, planning to liberate a cup of something that she could take back to her room, wine, preferably, as she knew it would help her sleep. Several paces down the hallway, she took another left, and found herself in the kitchen, a high window letting in what little light there was. On a counter was a bottle of white wine from a seaside town of Gondor, half empty, from the evening’s dinner. She made her way to it, but didn’t see a cup, so she began to look through the nearby dishes that had been washed after the meal.
“Why is our fair princess of Rohan up at such an hour?”
Éowyn choked, hearing the sound of Gríma’s voice so near to her. With her warrior’s sense, she quickly took in the utensils on the counter, but there was nary a knife to be seen. As of this moment, she promised herself, I will always bear an arm, even if it is simply my knife bound to my leg. Even in sleep. She wheeled around, and saw the man in the doorway of the room, a slight smirk evident even in the dim light.
Baring her teeth in forced smile, Éowyn replied, “Why is our fair counsellor up at such an hour? Are there more men of the Mark who need to be sent to their doom, and you cannot yet figure out how?” She almost spat as she said the words, looking straight into his pale blue eyes.
An odd expression came over his face and he said, “My dear Éowyn, I too am a man of the Mark. Not a warrior, it is true.” At this he looked out the window to the horizon of mountains, shrouded in grey clouds. “But I am a man of Rohan.” Now he fixed his eyes on hers, then moved them slowly down, taking in her figure covered only by her nightshift of lightweight linen.
Éowyn tried to regain his gaze, thinking, This is no man… he is a wolf who thinks he beholds a hare. But this hare has sharp teeth.
She picked up the bottle of wine, and retorted, “And I am a woman of Rohan. I am awake due to a troubling dream. I should be asleep. A small cup of wine should help me in that pursuit.” She was unwilling to turn her back to him, but she needed to find a clean chalice, and did not want his assistance. She looked up and down the counter, and saw an uncommon glass chalice at the end of the sideboard. Before she could reach it, however, he had quickly stepped over and picked it up.
“You seem to have the wine, she of the golden hair,” he said, and twirled the cup in his fingers, his eyes never leaving hers. “But surely you are not so savage as to drink it from the bottle?”
Using more restraint than she knew she possessed, Éowyn calmly put the bottle on the board.
“Indeed,” she replied. “Though it seems that perhaps you think us less refined than your official voice belies.”
Despite the obvious contempt in her voice, Gríma's expression softened. "Why do you despise me so, maid of Rohan? I have done nothing to harm you, and I wish only for your well being." The Wormtongue softly approached her, continuing to cradle the chalice in his long fingers. The skin of his pale hand gleamed despite the dimness of the cloudy night visible through the window.
Éowyn’s face bore a look of incredulity. "My well being? Do you not linger here to serve as advisor to Théoden King, and therefore all of Rohan and her citizenry?"
Gríma took up the bottle of wine and poured most of a glassful, then handed it to Éowyn. His fingers brushed hers as she took the cup, causing an almost imperceptible shudder to run through her. He ignored her previous question, and said, "I am sorry about your disturbing dream. Do you here in Edoras share a saying common in the north, 'You have travelled with the eagles'?"
Éowyn continued to look him in the eye, and replied curtly, "No, that phrase is unknown to me."
Gríma tilted his head, running his hand through his shoulder-length dark hair. "It is said that when you have a dream as vivid and memorable as you must have had, that your spirit is travelling with the eagles."
"That is a disturbing notion," Éowyn spoke. "I do not think that I would ever care to be that far above the earth, whether awake or asleep."
The counsellor continued to look kindly at her, his gaze currently absent the leering look often seen in his eyes, and Éowyn found herself feeling empathy for him. He too is one of our people after all, and even he may have suffered. She picked up the chalice and took a long swallow, keeping her eyes fixed on his. What a unique colour they are! she mused. Almost the color of robin’s eggs. Aloud she said, “We are not made to fly.”
Gríma’s mouth turned up in a smile. “No, daughter of kings. But I almost think that if you willed it so, you would find a way.”
With a slight snort, Éowyn took another mouthful of wine, grateful for the tart liquid on her dry throat.
“The day would surely never come when I would rule in Rohan.” Gríma looked at her, his eyes soft and his voice husky. “And yet, were that to come to pass, lovely Éowyn, mistress of the sword, would no longer need to feel caged in this city on the hill. I would let you roam free.” He raised his hand to stroke her hair, having moved closer to her as he spoke. “You could ride with the Mark, your armour shining like a river in sunlight. Never again would you be held back, left behind, toasting the warriors and yet unable to taste yourself the battle whose lack seems to my eyes to consume you from inside.”
Lulled somewhat by the wine and dull light, Éowyn continued to listen as Gríma walked behind her, lightly brushing her hair back over one shoulder as he moved. How can he know so much? she wondered, and drained her glass. It is as though my thoughts hang around me like figs on trees, there for the plucking.
“You feel like your little songbird, do you not?” His voice was low and silky, his mouth close to her ear. “I would never clip your wings. All of the plains of Rohan would be yours, and you could go on every patrol should that be your will.”
Éowyn could see it. She was bounding away on Léoma, her polished sword at her side, a spear in her hand. She was wearing her armour, gazing off into the far reaches of the rolling grassy lands that were so dear to her, unfettered at last and free to hunt down and kill the filthy orcs that she knew were there...
He took some of her hair in his hand, caressing it, then dropped it as he ran a finger down the length of her back, saying, "Your realm would be as boundless as the wind…as long as you returned to me.”
At that, the fog that had crept through her as she listened to his sugared words vanished. Return to Gríma? He must be mad to think that I would ever seek his company. She felt the heat of his breath on her neck, and stood quietly for interminable seconds, only then realizing how completely alone she was, and without a weapon. And yet, the vision still remained. What is here for me to rule? I should indeed be their warrior Queen, standing proud on the steps of Meduseld, my mail shirt shining in the sun, leading the Eorlingas to their glories.
“So…” Gríma’s voice was next to her ear. “It is not so terrible a thing, you wild creature, to think of being raised above the rabble of this dirty city, to lead when you know that the people devoted to Théoden and his heirs will exalt you.” After a shuddered breath, he continued. “You are due nothing less. You are like a butterfly kept in a cruel box, not allowed to spread your beautiful wings. How can you bear it?” He ran his fingers through her hair once more. “Will you not allow me to set you free?”
Éowyn closed her eyes, feeling his cold fingers run through her dishevelled hair, and considered surrendering to what must surely be the end. He will send Éomer away, and Théodred, and Théoden is but his puppet. Perhaps I could stand by him, if he truly would allow me to be free…A sudden thought of walking up the steps of the Golden Hall, being greeted and escorted to Gríma’s bedchamber, pale blue eyes demanding more than she ever wished to give, assaulted her, and she came to her senses.
Quietly and through gritted teeth, she said, “You are rather incapable of setting me free.” Éowyn wheeled around, backing up a couple of steps. “You paint a very vivid picture, one that I am sure you have thought about for time uncounted.” She stared at him as though for the first time. “Why I have caught your fancy I do not know, nor do I care to, but I have felt the ever-increasing weight of your glances for some time now. But Gríma, son of Gálmód, you shall never have me.”
Gríma gave her a grim smile in the dim light.
Éowyn continued, “I sense that you had a good heart not long ago, but it has shrunken within you. I would prefer death to a so-called ‘free’ life with you.”
Gríma looked as though he were a whipped dog. He nodded his head, and gave a perfunctory bow, then turned and walked toward the corridor. Stepping away into the dark, he said in a whisper that managed to carry down the stone corridor, “If not me, who else shall release the wild princess from her cage, now that her red-haired peasant boy is gone?”
Éowyn stood still, slowly absorbing what the Wormtongue had said. As nausea started to make its way from far inside her, she bit down on her lower lip until she drew blood.
How dare he? The thoughts tumbled through her like boulders down a mountain. HOW DARE HE?
As her knees began to buckle, she put the glass on the wooden counter, then steadied herself with her hands. She breathed in deeply for a few moments, then out of habit pulled her fingers through her hair a few times, then made her way back to her room.
After latching her door, Éowyn crossed the room and opened a wooden chest under her window. From it she withdrew a thin-bladed knife and clutched it to her chest. She turned and walked softly back across the sheepskin rug to her pallet. Once safely there, she curled up under the bed covering, anxious for sleep but dreading it equally. She closed her eyes, willing her tensed muscles to relax. As she eased into the increased warmth of her covering, phrases of her conversation with the Wormtongue drifted in and out of her mind, like wisps of clouds across the sky. In a brief vision, she saw herself far above the plains of Rohan, mountains in her sight far off in the distance. Should I ever find myself on the wings of eagles, she thought darkly before falling into slumber, I hope that they either take me to their eyrie...
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.