11. Standing In the Shadows
March 2, 3019
How had it come to this?
Éowyn stood almost immobile, the struggle to keep her composure the only thing left to keep her from screaming the words into the dark room. A tomb for the living, she thought, the dark humour complementing her mood as she stood behind the gilded throne that cradled her once great uncle, now frail despite all that she and her brother had done to keep him from listening to that… that…
Wormtongue. The word rolled around in her head, slithering like he who bore the name. I should take my knife, she mused, and while he is lurking outside my room, I will… wait, I will need a handmaid to be in my room in my stead, and then I will come up behind him and slowly slit his throat…No, he may cry out, I will have to cover his mouth and do the deed quickly before those whom he has corrupted come and find him...
These were not new thoughts, but still they captivated her with a morbid fascination, and it did keep her mind from pursuing far darker paths, like those that led her to...
No. She stopped herself. The yawning abyss of loss and hatred threatened to overwhelm her, and so, consciously, ever so deliberately, she slowed her breathing, which had picked up speed. Self-control was the most powerful weapon she wielded in these dark days, and she tested it to the limits as the vision of only a few days prior arose unbidden before her. For who else was worthy...? Worthy! - the word seemed to spit from her mind… Who else was cold enough in heart to bear the agonizing process of bathing the flesh of Théodred, her dear cousin, preparing him for a barrow in which his fair, strong form should not have lain for at least a generation to come? She had been schooled enough in healing to know which herbs to mix for his funeral cleansing, a bitter bowl in which the water grew redder with each rinsing of her cloth.
She had wept while alone with him. Though the galling task of administering the last loving touches on him should never have been hers, it did enable her for a brief time to bear at least a different burden than that of being left behind, seemingly useless. Ah Théodred, why is your father not here, to raise the mourning cry that should be heard across the plains? With her sleeves upturned to facilitate her movements, she caught a glimpse of the pale inked horsehead inside her left arm. Even we have been silenced, she thought. We who have trained with sword and bow next to our brothers have no skill against such devilry as this man whose words have defiled our halls.
Théoden King only recently, and with astounding swiftness under Gríma’s omnipresent consultations, had seemed to turn in on himself, as an apple forgotten on a table shrivels up to half its size. Shaking her head imperceptibly, Éowyn brought herself back to the present. As long as she had breath, she would remain a barrier between her beloved uncle and this interloper from a distant homestead in northern Rohan.
Seeing now that there were four strangers approaching, she subtly flexed her right calf, re-establishing for herself that her knife was still belted there, should things go wrong. Or simply more suddenly wrong. She couldn’t imagine who would be visiting them during these terrible days, and acting as though she herself were simply a shadow of the throne, she let her eyes rove over the four figures now standing in front of her uncle.
Odd. A wizened man, leaning on a staff, was speaking. "Hail, Théoden son of Thengel! I have returned..."
As a self-imposed shadow, she was only half listening to the actual words. They had disturbed Gríma, which brought her a perverse joy, and she almost smiled. The words, however, had also addled her king, which made her distressed, especially since he had stood in rebuttal, but then sank slowly back into his throne after she heard him finish, "...Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow? Tell me that."
Gandalf? She longed to rush forward, to beg on her knees for him to stop time if he could, or turn it back to when she had first met him, before the horrors had begun. Take me away, take me with you- do not stay here. Do you not see me? Have I truly become invisible to all except Gríma? The oppressive weight of the inevitable kept her chained to the King’s chair, and she didn’t move. As though through a dense fog she heard coming from that monster’s mouth in reply, "You speak justly lord. It is not yet five days since the bitter tidings came that Théodred your son was slain upon the West Marches…”
Again, the incomprehensible vision rose before her. True, he had been seventeen years her senior, but no father figure was he. Who else had spoiled her with unexpected fruit preserves in summer? Who had taken her on forays to the hidden swimming pools of the Snowbourn after she and Éomer had been taken under the wing of Théoden during those dark days of her childhood? And as the years came on and she had said that she wanted to learn above and beyond the skills of sword-wielding that were being taught to her, he did not scoff, but agreed to share his knowledge. How could it be that such an intuitive warrior, a man who could not be taken by surprise the morning after he had enjoyed large amounts of the fine wine shared at wintergamen, be the same figure with whose form she had recently become so intimate in such unrelenting quiet? She had rinsed the grime and blood from his wide ribs and abdomen, the Orc-arrow wounds gaping up at her, commanding her to disturb recent memories of another slain who was dear to her heart. This lone red-haired figure in the Eorlingas had been too persistent, too fond. She had allowed him into the tender recesses that she usually kept hidden away even from herself, and now he was
Her uncle. Though his body was still present, her surrogate father was no longer there.
Her Frithlíc. Her joy. He could intuit her moods, which, while it irritated her to no end, also meant that she didn’t have to bother with clumsy words, which were never her strength. My strength. It all came down to sinews on bone now, with her brother so preoccupied. Imprisoned, she corrected herself. You have always had only yourself in whom to trust, she was reminded, so keep your tears for another day, they are an unaffordable luxury in this moment.
Wait... what was this? Gandalf had raised his staff. The room was suddenly dark, and she heard thunder off in the distance. Éowyn gripped the chair and put a protective hand on Théoden's shoulder. Point that wizarding stick at the Wormtongue. Kill him, and put us all out of this misery. Let this, please, be the end.
She closed her eyes, then heard a commanding voice in the quiet. "Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark..."
A rustle of movement beneath her hand caused her eyes to snap open. Her uncle was standing! No, more than stand, he was trying to leave the dais and go down the stairs. She hurried around the throne to assist him, as he had become so frail in recent months. She looked up from Théoden to the man who had commanded him to leave his royal throne. She stared at him, but he was focused on the King. Gandalf! Why do you say nothing to me?
See me. She willed the words, but no sound came out, and he walked toward the large carved doors.
Allowing her gaze to sweep the room, she noticed a heap of clothes on the floor. No, it was the Wormtongue. He was sprawling on the ground, a grimace on his face reflecting the knowledge that he could not escape. There was a grim satisfaction in her gaze as she beheld Gríma facedown on the floor of the Golden Hall. That pose suits you well, she smirked, savouring the image before her. Crawling on the ground, as well you should be.
Just then Gandalf rapped on the doors with his staff and he cried, "Open! The Lord of the Mark comes forth!"
The doors flew open and a wind rushed in. The scent of grass, and horses, and smoke from the nearby houses whistled through the room. It filled the room with life, like a shirt billowing on a clothesline in a strong breeze. Éowyn felt the bindings around her heart loosen, filled with pride seeing her uncle silhouetted in the doors of the Great Hall. Doubtless the guards were stammering in their greetings to this unexpected, yet most looked-for visage at the entranceway. Gandalf spoke, and she heard thus: "Send your guards down to the stairs' foot. And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him."
Fully attentive now, Éowyn stared incredulously at Gandalf, who had just dared to ask her to forsake her uncle who had just been brought back to her, and did not even call her by name. Théoden then turned to her and said, "Go, Éowyn sister-daughter! The time for fear is past."
A fiery rage sparked within her, and she saw the room through a haze of anger and loss. How dare he? How dare they? She clenched her left fist until she thought surely she would draw blood. After all I have done, and suffered, watching our people killed needlessly, performing the dutiful role of surrogate daughter... how can they simply say the words and send me away, like a dog that has bothered his master's feet for too long? The thoughts reeled in her mind as she tried to regain her composure. The moment passed, and resignation again took her. The time for fear is past, he says. Éowyn turned to leave. Well I, for one, am not ready to sheathe my sword, even if I am sent away.
She paused, feeling a keen gaze on her. The sensation was not that of a predator's on prey that she felt when the Wormtongue was around, but it was still discomfiting. She turned, and her eyes fell on a tall, dark-haired man now standing in the middle of the room. His clothes were not rags, exactly, but they and the wearer had obviously travelled many leagues and even more days to arrive at Meduseld. No sword or knife hung at his side, which was odd if not dangerous for a journeyman.
Ah, she mused, the guards would have seen to the disarming of our 'guests.'
She glanced at the face of this man who had so boldly fixed her in his gaze and she suddenly caught her breath. The sensation she had felt was sudden and shocking, not unlike that of being doused with a bucket of cold water without warning. The face that she saw was stern, yet beneath the surface she could sense the kindness and hope that lay there.
She had not known that an expression could cut her to the quick, and she found herself shaking. Who was this man? Another magician, able to see into her soul and return to her unbidden that which she had lost?
"There is hope."
It was as though he had said the words, as they leapt unbidden to her mind. Her mind racing, she turned away, and fled to the familiar confines of her room.
As this story began to take shape, I wanted the chapters that directly quote LotR to be completely book canon. It was kindly pointed out to me by a faithful Beta reader that the parts in this chapter that refer to Théodred are movie canon, so I'm using writer's artistic license.
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.