1. Lament for the Unsung Dead
Aegyth’s touch on my sleeve recalls me from the far mountains I am wandering in my daydreams. My old nurse looks worried as I turn around to face the other women of the King’s household, the ones who have come to help prepare Theodred’s body for the funeral ceremony.
“Shall you manage? If you cannot, we will do it—”
I cut her off with a shake of my head. “No, custom demands his closest female kin do this thing. I will not disgrace his memory by failing to do my duty.” Nor would I deny him the mourning of the only kin left to weep for him, for his father, my uncle and King, is lost in the shadows of his own mind, while Eomer rode out at midnight with his eored, and I do not know if I shall see him again in this world.
But I must not think of any of this now. I step forward to the trestle table where Theodred lays naked before me and hold out my hands for the silver bowl of water and the linens. I place it carefully on the table, next to his head with its long blond hair, and lift his right arm with gentle tenderness. I dip a cloth in the water and slowly begin to wash his limb, anxious to purge it of every drop of blood and grain of soil. The other women gather round and begin to bathe the rest of him, cleaning out the slashes and anointing them with rich unguents.
I try not to flinch at the sight of his wounds, crusted with the vicious black poison orcs edge their weapons with. But even the ugly wounds cannot mar the physical beauty of my cousin. He was lordly even among us Eorlingas, Theodred was, with a breadth of shoulder and strength of arm that commanded respect and obedience from all. When he rode about Edoras, many were the murmurs of “There goes a true prince and Marshal of the Mark!”
He was that, no question, but to me he was the cousin and brother who welcomed me to the Golden Hall with not a whisper of jealousy or resentment. I was but seven and Eomer eleven when our mother sickened and died; Theodwyn had no wish to live without Eomund, despite us children. Theodred was twenty-four and already a warrior when we arrived, still weeping for our losses, but he wrapped us in a tight embrace and said, “Now I have my little brother and sister.” I realized later he too was lonely, for Elfhild the queen had died years before in childbirth and my uncle’s grief ran so deep as to forbid another marriage.
As I stroke Theodred’s arm, I feel the faint raised scars that my teeth inflicted long ago. As strong as my love for Eomer is, we fought constantly as children, and one day our argument turned into a brawl. Theodred strode over to separate us and picked me up, kicking and screaming; I did not realize who it was and bit his arm so he would put me down. When Theoden learned of it, he was angry and would have punished me, but Theodred shrugged my misbehavior away.
“She may be a little kitten with sharp claws, Father,” he said with a laugh, “but that means she will be a splendid cat one day, a true shieldmaiden of Rohan!”
After that it was Theodred I sought out for comfort when I suffered the hurts and fears of childhood. Busy as he was, he always found time for me. As I grew older, he taught me the songs and legends of our people, instilling a deeply rooted pride in me that we were Rohirrim, the children of the House of Eorl. He even spoke to me of his hopes that someday he could lay down his sword and take up the arts of peace instead, and make our land as rich and prosperous as Gondor to the south.
“Shall we bathe his face now?”
I nod silently. Aegyth puts her hands on either side of Theodred’s head, holding it steady. I lean over and let the cool clean water reveal his noble features. His eyes are closed; I pretend for a moment that he is only sleeping, but it is useless. I fight my tears, for I will not weaken, not when I must be strong as steel. For I cannot deny any longer that the House of Eorl is dying, what with Theoden fading into the twilight, Eomer confronting death or exile upon his return, and Theodred cut off in his prime. Who else shall truly mourn him? Shall tapestries be woven to commemorate his heroism, songs composed to celebrate his life? Will the House of Eorl survive to do these things?
“Let us shift his body, so we can wash out his hair.”
The women slide Theodred down the table, so that his head is partway clear of its edge. Two of them place a large basin underneath it, and Aegyth gives me another filled with spring water scented with fresh herbs. I tip the bowl and let the water flow over his golden locks, using my fingers to tease out all the mud. A comb is handed to me, and I begin to pull it through his strands of hair, as they glimmer faintly in the winter sunlight. His fine head of hair, so unlike Grima’s.
How he hated the Wormtongue, hated his power and influence over Theoden, hated how his father’s strength and wisdom was ruthlessly sapped even as Grima professed to serve his king. And not least, he hated Grima for making my life a misery, for haunting my every step since I first began to blossom into womanhood and lusting after me no matter how much disgust I showed.
I wonder afresh if Grima’s hand, or that of his master Saruman, somehow struck the blow by proxy that led to Theodred’s death. My cousin stood in the way of the White Wizard claiming Rohan, and between his fall and Eomer’s reckless disobedience of Theoden’s direct orders, the way is now open for Saruman to pluck the ripe apple that is the Mark and take it for his own. Such is my fear of Grima’s and Saruman’s schemes that I have begun to go to the kitchens to taste all of Theoden’s meals before they are served to him, determined that any poison poured into them shall strike me down first.
And the way is now open too for Grima to claim his prize, to force my body with his and get his heart’s desire. I have always been confident that I could protect myself, but now I am not so sure. I am assailed by a sudden vision of Grima invading my chamber one night with his henchmen, of being held down while Grima rides me like an untamed mare, slobbering over my breasts and enjoying my pain and suffering, laughing as he thrusts into my helpless body . . . I feel my mouth grow dry in horror.
“We are finished bathing him, my lady. Do you wish to come and select the clothes we will dress Lord Theodred in?”
I struggle to speak. “Yes, but first I want to be alone for a few minutes.”
All the women bow their heads respectfully. “Yes, Lady Eowyn,” they say together. They draw a sheet over him, veiling his nakedness, and then Aegyth leads them from the chamber, giving me a pitying glance as she touches my cheek with her fingertips before departing. I do not move until I hear the click of the latch, and only then do I look down into Theodred’s face.
Grima wants more than my body, more than my pain; he wants to plant his foul seed in me, so that my womb will quicken with his child. Then he can contrive both Theoden’s and Eomer’s death and make me queen of the Mark, with him as my consort and father of my heir. I will have no choice in the matter, for by the laws of our people he will be trothplighted to me as soon as I carry a babe of his. I flinch again, but I remember the tales my cousin told me, and valor is rekindled in my soul. I will not lose my courage; I am a shieldmaiden of Rohan, and I will not succumb to that snake’s evil plotting.
I caress Theodred’s cheek softly, and let my tears drip onto his flesh. I bend forward and kiss his mouth; his lips are cold, all breath fled from them. I draw away a little, but lean close still so I can whisper a blessing to him.
“Westu Theodred hal. Farewell, my captain, my cousin, my brother. May the simbelmyne bloom thickly upon thy tomb, and may the winged hooves of Felarof himself bear thee swiftly to the hall of our fathers, where thee shall sit at the right hand of Eorl and drink from the ever-flowing cup of happiness. I love you.”
I straighten up, my tears dried and my heart hardened. I am afraid no longer. I am Eowyn of Rohan, and I shall do my duty to my kin, my people, and my land, even if I must slit my own throat open to do so. No one shall overthrow the Golden Hall, or feast upon this kingdom’s harvest, not while I live.
I stride out of the chamber, my path clear before me. I will win this battle. I have no choice now.
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.