"Then you shall go with me," said the Rider. "I will bear you before me…"
"Thank you indeed!" said Merry. "Thank you, although I do not know your name."
"Do you not?" said the Rider softly. "Then call me Dernhelm."
--The Return of the King, Chapter 3
A stranger walking in the fields of Rohan many years ago on a clear, chilly winter day might have spied the young boys playing in the meadow before the hall of Meduseld. Yet their play was no simple child's game. They were all the children of lords of Rohan, and their play was that of swords and shields, a training for battle. Mounted on stout little ponies, the lads came at each other with wooden swords, and their shouts and laughter were a joy to hear.
A closer observer would have made special note of Eomer, sister-son of King Theoden. The boy was like a son to the king, and his play-armor was brighter and fairer than that of his fellows. His white pony was also nimbler and swifter, and it gladdened the hearts of men and women of Rohan to see the boy rout his companions in play.
Yet there was another lad there, clad in like armor, who was the equal and more of the prince. He was small and slight, and the other boys seemed to harass him more fiercely than the others. He held his own in the play battle, however, until he was knocked from his pony and his helmet fell off.
The lad lay stunned on the ground, not realizing that "his" helmet was gone and a spill of golden braids had tumbled out. It was no lad after all, but a lass as pretty as any in Rohan: Eowyn, Eomer's sister. One of the lads called out to her:
"So we have beaten you after all, Eowyn, and you are not to join our play anymore, but go with the other girls!"
Eowyn recovered herself and got to her feet. "That is unjust! You did not say that I had to leave if I was beaten!"
The boy made his pony gallop up to the girl and startle her with its thundering hooves. "I say it now, Eowyn. Why are you not a proper girl?"
Eowyn glared as her brother called out from across the field. "Let her join in, Farmark, it does no harm! Do not be envious because she fights as well—or better, even, than you."
Farmark sneered at the girl, poking her with his wooden sword. "Look at her torn tunic, her cut face. Really, she's no better than little Eamen who falls from his horse every time!"
"Am not!" Eowyn reddened with anger. "I will show myself your better, you arrogant toad!" Moving quickly, she knocked Farmark from his saddle, and the two tumbled about on the grassy turf. Eowyn was small, but she was quick, and she was soon pummeling the other child as he lay on the ground.
"Enough, Eowyn!" Eomer rode up on his pony. "Farmark may be ill- mannered, but he is right. You should not play with us anymore."
Eowyn looked up defiantly. "I am a Princess of Rohan, the same as you are a Prince, and true women of Rohan do not sit inside palaces doing embroidery. When I am grown, I will be a shieldmaiden like the women of long ago."
Eomer shook his head. "Did not our mother-brother Theoden say himself that you should be more proper? Go inside before I send for your nurse."
Reluctantly, Eowyn mounted her pony and rode back to the hall, her mood sullen and dark. She did not like being told what to do by her brother, and she certainly did not like being told that she could not join in the boy's games. What did it matter if she were a girl? She could ride and fight as well as any of the boys. It just wasn't fair!
Back in the palace, Eowyn sat sulkily in her chamber, staring out the window at the boys playing in the field. Her nurse came in, waddling across the stone floors, for she was a woman of great girth. "Princess, King Theoden requests your presence in his throne room." The nurse squinted at the girl. "Look at you! Hair as messy as a beggar girl's, tunic and trousers like a boy's. Let me put something proper on you."
The fat woman reached for a comb and approached the girl, but Eowyn kicked her hard in the shins. The nurse squealed in pain and grabbed her injured leg as Eowyn ran out the door past her. "Demon girl!" screamed the nurse. "I shan't punish you. You'll be punished enough when you appear before the Lord of the Mark in that condition!" Eowyn paid no heed, but went on to the throne room.
When Eowyn reached her uncle's throne room, however, she began to feel a little nervous. Theoden was always kind to her and her brother, but he could be stern with those who aroused his wrath. And she had never dared to appear before him in untidy clothes, with her hair all undone. What would he think?
The captain of the guard opened the great door of the throne room, and Eowyn walked forward on trembling legs. Theoden sat on his gilded chair on its dais, and when he caught sight of his sister-daughter, he smiled, and then changed his expression to a mock-stern frown. "Eowyn, you forget your manners!"
The little girl curtsied shakily, painfully aware that she was not wearing skirts. "I beg your pardon, Lord of the Mark…"
Theoden laughed. "I am not angry with you, sister-daughter. Come and sit on my lap." Forgetting her fear, the girl ran eagerly forward and sat on her uncle's knee. The king stroked Eowyn's tangled hair tenderly. "Have you been playing with your brother and the other boys of the hall again."
Eowyn nodded. "But they sent me away, uncle. They will not let me play with them, and they tell me to be a proper girl. I don't want to be proper. I want to be a shieldmaiden!"
The king laughed again, his voice kind and merry. "That is a noble wish, sister-daughter. Since the time of Eorl the Young, our women have been valiant in combat. But it has been otherwise in these times of long peace. Still, who knows when the women of Rohan will need to aid their men in battle?"
Eowyn looked up hopefully. "You will tell the boys to let me play with them?"
"No, Eowyn, I shall not tell them what to do." Theoden shook his head. "I shall let you prove yourself their equal, and your little sword shall do all the speaking." Seeing his niece hang her head in disappointment, he reached behind his chair and pulled out a small leather-bound book, its parchment leaves yellowed with age. "The finest weapon is a sharp mind, and I have something for you which will amuse you during the hours of study."
Eowyn looked at the little book, turning it over and over in her hands. "What is it, mother-brother?"
"It is a little book of tales, a legend of our people." He opened the book, pointing to the title page. "You see? The Tale of Dernhelm, it says so right here." Kissing the girl's forehead, he put her down from his lap. "Now give me a kiss, and do not give your nurse any trouble. I will see you again at the evening meal."
Obediently, Eowyn kissed the King's sun-weathered cheek. "Thank you, my lord!" She curtsied politely and hurried back to her chamber, eager to begin reading the little book.
As she read the story, Eowyn discovered that Dernhelm had been a mighty warrior in the time of the great King Helm, and had helped defend Helm's Deep from the Dunlending marauders. Fascinated by the tale of high adventure, Eowyn read voraciously. Dernhelm was slender but strong, as tough as a young birch. His only love was for the sword, and his only loyalty was to King Helm. He was a mysterious man, and none knew of his family or whence he had come. Finally, he was slain by the Dunlendings, and as he died, he revealed his great secret to his faithful squire. Eowyn gasped as she read that Dernhelm had actually been a woman, a lady of the court skilled in battle and willing to die to defend her land.
The night Eowyn finally finished reading the tale of Dernhelm, her nurse came in to put out the lamp just as the girl closed her storybook. For long minutes, the little princess lay in the dark, imagining herself a warrior in shining armor. No matter what the boys might think, she knew she could do great things, and she knew King Theoden believed in her. She had no knowledge then of what her future held, but she was certain that she would be a great defender of her land, a brave warrior woman—just like Dernhelm.
Eowyn closed her eyes and fell asleep, and soon the even sound of her breathing filled the quiet room. The nurse cracked the door to peek in at the princess, and wiped a tear from her misty eye. "That little girl, she's going to be some woman!"
King Theoden, standing behind the nurse, smiled. "You speak the truth, nurse. Some woman, indeed!"
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.