16. Dram of Evil
"Dysig, Éowyn. Thu fultumist nic thínum brothore."
"Bysmere mé nic, runwita!"
"Freche giedde, mín lytling!" Gríma chuckled as they emerged into the south-east hall once more. Incomprehensible as the speech of the Dwarves was that latest exchange to Legolas, but as they had ascended and the barbs had grown more caustic, he had felt his wrath well up in response. The patronizing, sneering tone of that last comment evoked outrage in the elven prince: an outrage exacerbated by the humiliated fury that Éowyn's posture radiated.
But there was also a touch of fear that showed in the slight hunching of her shoulders, as if she recoiled from the councilor's breath on the nape of her neck. Her face white as marble and as hard, she came to a sudden halt and whirled to face her tormentor, who followed her so closely that they stood now nose to nose. Or they would, were he taller or Éowyn shorter, the Elf thought. But though Éowyn might look down in all senses of the word upon her uncle's councilor, she stood clearly at a disadvantage in this encounter, even without the presence of the guards. Still, child of warriors, she refused to surrender without a fight.
"Ic gelonge éow nic! Nic nu and nic æfre, ful nædre!" Wormtongue raised a hand, and Éowyn seemed to steel herself. The councilor's mouth opened and some cutting retort hung clearly on the tip of his tongue, but no sound passed his lips. Indeed, it was not only his tongue that was arrested, and he wrenched his gaze from Éowyn to stare at Legolas. Or rather, to stare at the hand that gripped his wrist firmly and held it suspended there, a bare few inches from Éowyn's face. For the Elf, watching, had waited until he was certain of the other's intent ere he moved, quick as a cat, to intercept the blow ere even the guards could blink. Even now, they stood still, shocked, seeming uncertain whether they ought to intervene. Dragging his eyes up to the Legolas' face, the councilor's lips twisted in a grimace of rage, and the Prince of Mirkwood bared just the tips of his teeth in a gesture that the charitable might have called a smile.
"Forgive me, councilor, for I am a stranger to this land and know naught of your ways. But some customs stand regardless of place, and no one strikes a woman in my presence." Elf and Man stared at each other, and though Gríma quickly looked down, the air throbbed with his wrath, and Legolas felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise in response as his vision seemed to cloud with shade…
"Enough!" Éowyn intervened, laying a hand on the Elf's wrist and batting irritably at Gríma's raised arm. The two fell back a bit, rather startled by her resurgence, and Legolas released his grip. Éowyn stood now between them, shooting a warning look at the Elf ere she turned her attention once more to Wormtongue. "You would speak to us, councilor, so be swift and do so in a tongue that our guest is able to understand."
Into the poisonous silence that had fallen, Wormtongue drew a breath as if to calm himself, and said in a low voice, "I am to bring Legolas before the king. As for you, Éowyn, I would speak with you later. For the moment, you are dismissed to your chambers, for the day has been long and you have been so very… diligent… in the carrying out of your duties." At which Éowyn stiffened, but after a few fulminating moments, she nodded.
"Good evening to you, my lord Legolas. I shall see you on the morrow," she said with deliberate emphasis on the pronoun, excluding Gríma from her consideration. She made him a curtsey, which Legolas acknowledged with a slight bow, and then Éomund's daughter whirled and stalked tensely away into the dim-lit halls.
"As for you, Prince of Mirkwood, follow me, for you are wanted," Gríma ordered, drawing Legolas's attention from the retreating figure of Éowyn. The Elf stared impassively at the other, attempting to gauge the danger into which he had been invited to walk. There was an aura of secret and malicious pleasure about the other, and the elven prince wondered at that. What has he persuaded King Théoden to say or do? For surely he would not bring me before the king for any good reason: he will have prepared the way, of that I am certain! Nevertheless, he could not see a way of avoiding the interview, for it would hardly be wise to refuse such a command. I must be cautious: if the Shadow should overwhelm me, I would be an easy mark even for one unarmed.
With such considerations firmly in mind, he replied coolly, "Lead on then, Lord Wormtongue!" Smiling to himself as the councilor hissed slightly at the name, the Elf trailed in the other's wake. They walked now north along a side passage that seemed to run parallel to the great hall and throne room. Where the king's quarters lay, the Elf knew not, but he would remember the way they took. Meduseld might have many corridors and hidden spaces, but he had hunted on paths that no Man could possibly follow nor dream of finding again. Up a spiraling, torch-lit staircase they went, and though he hardened his heart against them, Legolas felt the tendrils of darkness reaching out to touch him once more. Is it only I who feels it? Who smells it? Can it be that Men are insensible to this stench of decay, of evil festering in their midst? he wondered, narrowing his eyes as he stared daggers at Gríma's back.
If anyone could smell the reek of this spiritual rot, he doubted not that the councilor could, and more, that the wretch savored it. It was an unsettling thought, and as he walked, Legolas held close memories of the sun upon the trees of his homeland; of the freedom of branching pathways; of Aragorn's voice as he spoke Sindarin, imbuing an immortal tongue with a mortal tone and timbre all its own; and last but not least in his thoughts, that particular gleam in Gimli's eyes that meant an elven prince was about to learn the measure of wit. And whatever it may be that Gríma Wormtongue would show me, best that he not stand too close, else he shall learn the measure of an Elf's wrath! So he vowed, and hoped it was no hollow promise.
At length, they came to an upper hallway, laid with a thick carpet so that sound seemed to fall dead in that space. At the end of the hall there was a door, and through it Gríma led him. Legolas entered slowly, disliking the feeling that he walked now into a tomb. Or a trap! The antechamber, however, held nothing unexpected, unless it was the feeling of disuse and mustiness that pricked at the Elf's instinct for trouble. "I thought you said that you would take me to the king!" Legolas said suspiciously.
"And I would. This way, Master Elf," Gríma replied, in a tone that suggested he spoke to an impatient child. If he intended to insult the other, however, then for once he missed his mark, for Legolas found the very idea so utterly absurd that he nearly laughed aloud in spite of the chill that ran through him. Through a second set of doors they went, and as Legolas stepped over the threshold, Gríma moved sideways, allowing the Elf an unimpeded view of the chamber. It also put his back to a wall, and Legolas, well-versed in the intricate dance of battle, moved easily and automatically to the other side, putting space between them.
Not that I believe that this stooped creature could best me in an open fight, even injured as I am, but I must not be careless! He let his eyes wander the room, noting the deep green hangings and the rather closed and stuffy feel of the place… and then he saw the bed. Almost immediately, he cursed, moving forward for a closer look.
"King Théoden?" he murmured, frowning at the supine form. Is he dead? Nay, he breathes… but there is something wrong… Valar help me, there is something dreadfully wrong! To his eyes, the king seemed more than ancient: he seemed utterly leeched of any strength, veiled in a shroud of darkness that seemed spun of the cobwebs of Mirkwood. Turning sharply on Gríma, Legolas demanded, "What have you done?"
"His health fails, and we who have a care for Mark's future must see to it that the king sleeps undisturbed," Gríma said from his place by the door, and Legolas felt every muscle tense at the implications. "Think you that I do not see your purpose, Master Elf? You think to rekindle the guttering torch, you and Éowyn."
"Do not you speak her name to me!" Legolas snapped, turning back now to stare at the king's lined face. "I will not hear you sully it!"
"As you wish," Gríma replied, seeming quite unconcerned. "'Tis a futile project, Prince of Mirkwood, and you must be made to understand that. Are you so arrogant as to think that you could rouse this carcass to action? Look at him! What is this king but worm's food? He dies, Legolas, and that is the only gift he can possibly give us! Riddermark's strength failed long ago—indeed, it bound itself to death ere ever there was a Riddermark! By choosing Gondor and the west, it has marked itself for condemned, for the west fades. Even as do the Elves!" Legolas hissed softly, shooting a quick, venomous glance over his shoulder ere he sank to one knee to stare at eye level at Théoden. "We do but play at greatness, and ignore the truth: that there are other powers poised to fall upon us, and before them there can be no resistance, for truly they are great."
"Saruman is a puppet of Mordor, and Mordor naught but a ruined land. You are a fool, Wormtongue!" Legolas replied, lifting a hand to hesitantly touch the king's temples. The pulse seemed faint, but steady, and the elf pursed his lips thoughtfully, feeling that beat thrum softly through his blood. Is it possible… ?
"And yet the East shall triumph in the end, and with it I shall rise! Too long have I served and been overlooked! Too long have a few brash children played at politics and blithely ignored the reality that lies beyond these green fields: Mordor rebuilt, more powerful than before, and its enemies reduced to naught but husks of their former selves. Gondor is weak, Eriador is nothing, the Dwarves teeter on the brink of collapse with each threat. And the Elves? What have your kind done to aid us in a thousand years and more? Naught! You sit in your woodlands and sing pretty words, like birds in a cage of their own crafting! And when the pinch comes, you flee to the seas to drown your sorrows! You–what do you?" The tirade ended abruptly in a sharp, suspicious question.
For Legolas had listened with but half an ear, continuing his gentle exploration of the aged face that lay so still before him. His hands laid now over the king's ears with his thumbs pressed gently over the closed eyelids, the Elf leaned close, ignoring both the ache in his shoulder as the cramped position strained the muscle and the risk to himself. And while Gríma had waxed eloquent, he had begun to sing very softly, seeming to blow his tune into the king's mouth. Every creature has its song was an elvish maxim, and though a mortal might take that for a figure of speech, it was meant quite literally. For we have each of us our own rhythm, set first by the heart that beats in us, and the melody of our thoughts comes of the harmony of body and soul, of cuiniant among the Elves.
Among Men, that harmony was harder for an Elf to discern, though the song was always there. Always there… always… He knew a goodly part of Aragorn's, and he was learning the infinitely complex melody that was Gimli; even Frodo's song was not wholly unknown to the Elf, though he would have needed far more time to begin to learn it in its fullness. Always there… always there… Legolas felt himself falling into Théoden's rhythm, broken though it was, and the line of his song faltered slightly ere it adapted, like an instrument that had found its tuning note. Child of wide fields and a sky even broader than the land… now shut away… shut away like Éomer… like a wing-clipped falcon in a cage… like me… It seemed to the prince a strange thing that his own wounding, which had cut so inexplicably deep and threatened him with utter dissolution, should aid him, but confronted with Théoden's pathetic state he felt now the tug of kindred suffering. Indeed, he had felt it with that first touch. I know this song…! If I can grasp it… ah Théoden, I know you…!
Something stang sharply against the side of his neck, and Legolas gasped, snarling up at Wormtongue, who replaced a needle in a vial and then slipped the vial into the folds of his robe. The drug stole through his system with marvelous swiftness, and the Elf wobbled where he crouched. It does not matter, if only I can learn this… I begged Aragorn once to teach me of his people. I would learn of mortals, I said to him. Have I learned enough? Not long ago in Lothlórien I misjudged even Aragorn… do I dare to think I might learn this one Man's song so well in a moment? The world was growing grey, but Legolas clung to the song he hummed now, even as he felt himself collapsing towards the king. Théoden king… remember…! Please remember…!
"How long do you think this'll go on?"
"How should I know? What do I know of Ents, after all?" Merry sighed softly, stretching his arms as the two of them walked, describing a circular path all about the clearing where the Entmoot went on. And on… and on… For two days now, and they don't show any sign of stopping! Merry thought. Though on second thought, the hobbit decided that he wouldn't know a 'farewell' from an elvish symphony in this case. The ponderously slow music of Entish speech, with its myriad intonations and drawn out syllables rose and fell in a rather mesmerizing manner, never stopping even during the night. The hobbits had spent the first night tossing and turning, unable to sleep until at last they had stuffed their cloaks in their ears and huddled up against each other for warmth.
Do they ever get thirsty, I wonder? Merry thought. I would, singing like that all day long! But so far as he could tell, no one had gone off to the nearby stream for a drink, unless Ents could sprout roots like trees and suck the water from the soil itself. And since everyone seemed to have forgotten about them, he and Pippin spent their time wandering about (though they never went too far from their established route) and talking quietly; or else they would sit for a time in silence. But whereas they might once have amused themselves with verbal sparring or games, neither felt the slightest inclination towards jest. There was something about the Ent-song that stilled the impulse towards humor, and though beautiful to hear, neither hobbit was insensitive to the wrath contained within that music.
"Do you think we'll see the others again?" Pippin asked suddenly, and Merry blinked, then cast a sidelong look at his companion. The other's expression was worried, yet also longing, as if the young Took wearied of lonely independence.
"I don't know, Pip," Merry replied, wishing that he had more answers for it seemed he had been saying that rather a lot of late. "I just hope they're all right."
"Me, too. At least Sam and Frodo had a chance to get away clean," Pippin replied, and heaved a sigh of his own. "And the others should be well enough. I mean, they weren't slain when we… left."
"Right." And that was the end of that conversation. Why this silence between us? Merry wondered. Surely that isn't right between hobbits! And yet all their conversations tended to fall into awkward pauses, ending in uncomfortable stretches of wordless speculation. Just then, a rustling and swishing–as of wind through a tree's branches–sounded behind them, and as the hobbits turned round, they saw Bregalad standing there behind them. The young–relatively speaking–Ent, having reached his decision ere moonrise of the first day, would periodically come to talk to them, and the hobbits had come to enjoy his company.
"Hmmm… A good day to you, young ones!" the Ent said, swaying like a tree in a strong wind, which the hobbits had decided must be the equivalent of a bow. "I trust you are not yet weary?"
"Not weary, really," Pippin answered, "But restless, if you understand me. It is hard to wait and wonder and not even know where the debate stands."
"Oh, I should not worry about that," Bregalad said with confidence. "It goes well, though I think it may be a few more days before we move on."
"On to what?"
"Not what! Although in truth, were this Entmoot to follow the usual course, we would move on to another matter. But this is an exceptional time, you know, and so when we move on, it shall be to a place–to Isengard–rather than to another conversation," the Ent said.
"Isengard… what of Saruman?" Merry asked, apprehensively. Not that he thought Saruman didn't deserve a clutch of angry Ents, but he was a wizard, after all.
"What of him? Ents are older than he, Master-Meriadoc-Brandybuck-of-the-Shire-of-the-Hobbits," Bregalad said, eliciting a smile from both hobbits. Most of the Ents had accepted that they were sadly lacking in properly descriptive names, and Bregalad had done so more readily than most. Given the origin of his name, Merry supposed this was only to be expected. But he more than others tended to call the hobbits by their full "Entish" names, and the idiosyncrasy amused both Merry and Pippin. "Know, o hobbits, that a wizard may be a fell enemy, but even a wizard needs many years to destroy a forest's strength, and the Ents have that in full measure. Saruman shall give us no trouble in himself. I hope only that his orcs are there when we come to Orthanc!"
"Well, forgive me if I say I'd rather they weren't!" Pippin replied with a shudder. "I have had enough of them to last me a life-time. Or even three life-times!"
"Or even an elvish life-time," Merry added for good measure and got a solid nod of agreement out of his cousin.
"I do not blame you for that, and I have had more than enough of them for an Entish life, which is long indeed. But for the trees that they have destroyed…" A shiver ran through Bregalad, shaking his leafy hair as if a cold breeze had blown. "My dear rowans, all of them lying felled and dead, their voices lost forever… ! For that, they must pay the price! And for the bruises on your delicate hides as well they must be made to answer, and shall if ever we find them."
"But there must surely be many orcs in Isengard. Orcs and evil Men, if I remember Gandalf's tale aright," Pippin mused, and turned questioning eyes up to the Ent. "Would not the Ents be terribly outnumbered? How would you fight so many?"
A most astonishing and delightful flurry of trumpet-like noises answered these questions, and the hobbits darted startled looks at each other, for it took them a moment to realize that this unexpected sound was an outburst of laughter. When, after several minutes, the Ent managed to contain himself, Bregalad bent downward and scooped them up in his long arms, raising them to eye level so that he could look straight at them, and he smiled enigmatically. "Ah, how indeed! You shall see, my hobbits. Very soon indeed you shall see!"***
Éomer turned away from the bars and his bleak contemplation of the opposite wall at the sound of movement behind him. Legolas lay with the marshal's cloak folded beneath his head as a pillow, twitching slightly as if in response to a dream, but otherwise he lay precisely as Éomer had placed him some few hours ago. How long ago precisely it had been since the guards had dumped the Elf's motionless body into the cell with him, he knew not. Long enough, perhaps, for whatever drug is in him to begin to dissipate, it seems. A cursory examination of the Prince of Mirkwood had revealed naught unexpected save for the puncture wound to his neck. It had bled little, being but a slight scratch, yet if it had felled an Elf, then clearly it was a potent potion he had been given. Éomer had raised the other in his arms, marveling at how light the elf seemed, and done what he could to make him comfortable in the rude surroundings. At least his shoulder seems intact. But when shall he wake? For a time, he had waited impatiently, thinking that the occasional motions might indicate the Elf was near to waking. But though he had called him a few times, naught had occurred, and at length, Legolas had lain quite still save for his breathing.
Now though, he has had time enough to recover, I should think. Perhaps he shall wake. And though he would be disappointed to learn otherwise, the diversion that these new spasms provided would at least break the monotony and give him something to do other than brood. At least for a few minutes, Éomer thought as he went and managed to perch sideways on the bench next to the Elf. Legolas's breathing grew quicker, and he seemed to flinch as the marshal gently shook him, hoping to elicit a response of some sort. "Legolas? Legolas, can you hear me?" he asked, pausing. The Elf hissed, and his expression twisted in a grimace. "Legolas!"
"Wormtongue!" the prince snarled as his eyes flew open. Éomer had no time to react as he was seized suddenly and the Elf, moving with incredible speed given the dead start, launched himself into the marshal.
Éomer yelped in surprise as the hard stone floor greeted his back and he winced as his head struck hard. The weight of the Elf–which seemed now far less light than it had before–landed on his chest, half-crushing the air out of him, and he choked as the prince rammed his knuckles into Éomer's throat with force just short of that needed collapse his windpipe. The pressure remained as the Elf pinned him there, and in spite of his breathless astonishment, the young man managed to gasp, "Le…'o'as!" At the same time, he grabbed at the Elf's wrist desperately, but Legolas would not be moved. The strength in that arm was the more surprising for how slender the Elf seemed, but that was not what roused Éomer's fear. The blank, unseeing look in the other's bright green eyes was terrifying, as if the Elf moved now in a dream, and knew not what he did. "…'golas!"
Despite the strangled sound of his voice, the prince blinked, shaking his head sharply as he drew a deep breath. After another agonizing moment, during which Éomer tried to keep his vision from tunneling, the Elf gazed down at him, staring, and at last recognition lit his face. "Éomer?"
"Uhn… !" He could not nod without hurting himself, and the desperate exhalation was all he could manage, but chagrin quickly spread over Legolas's fair face. Immediately, the hand on his throat jerked back, and Éomer gasped, gulping air like a landed fish as he reached up to clutch his throat automatically.
"What is this?" the Elf murmured confusedly, glancing about at his surroundings ere he turned back to his suffering companion.
"I … know not!" Éomer gasped, feeling at the new bruising below his adam's apple. Closing his eyes tightly, he concentrated only on breathing, on the simple act of pulling air into his starved lungs. "A good… strike…" the Third Marshal allowed at length, pushing up onto his elbows with a grimace for the headache that resulted from that movement. Gingerly, he felt at the lump forming on the back of his head and sighed. I suppose I was fortunate I sat alongside him, else, given the shallowness of the cell, I might have struck the bars at a bad angle! And given the strength and speed of Legolas' reaction, such an impact could easily have snapped his neck. Looking up at the Elf, he offered a slight smile to show no real harm had been done. "A very good strike!"
"I am sorry, my friend," Legolas said now, his face concerned. "I thought… my dreams have unsettled me of late. Such a thing should not be!"
"My own dreams are none too sunny, either," Éomer dismissed the apology as Legolas stood and reached down to help him to rise. The marshal clambered to his feet, and then watched as the Elf sank down onto the cell's wooden shelf, seeming rather unsteady.
"You do not understand," the prince murmured softly, and an edge of desperation entered his tone.
"He drugged you. I saw the mark," Éomer replied in what he hoped was a calming tone. He shrugged slightly. "You should not judge yourself so harshly!"
"Nay, Éomer, 'tis worse than it seems, for I am not the only one to fall to his needle!" Legolas said darkly, and glanced at his new cellmate. "Wormtongue drugs Théoden at night, and I know not what he uses. That may explain some of the king's pliancy, but there is more–"
"Wait! You saw this?" Éomer asked, interrupting in his astonishment. "How did this come to pass? Surely you did nothing so foolish as to follow Wormtongue…"
"Gríma said he would bring me to the king, and so he did. But it was no summons of Théoden's, but the councilor's invention, as I now perceive. He had but one purpose: to convince me that Éorl's House is laid low at last, and shall not rise again to trouble those who would take its place! And to prove that an Elf has little hope against him!"
"Many have tried to break Wormtongue's hold, Legolas, and none have succeeded. Do not let it trouble you so much that even your dreams are not free of that serpent!" Éomer replied, though he grimaced as he spoke. So, the good councilor drips poison in his lord's veins, does he? It does not surprise me, yet I wonder that I never thought of that before. Béma, but men can be blind! With a disgusted shake of his head, and a wince for the pain that that hasty movement elicited, the marshal sank down onto the bench beside his companion. "I should not have thought Wormtongue would be so rash. It needs little wit as it is to recognize his hand in all of this. That he should tell you so much bodes ill indeed."
"Éomer, hear me. Your peril… our peril… is greater than you think," Legolas said urgently, and the Third Marshal raised a brow in skeptical question. The Elf's green eyes captured his, and for an unnerving instant, Éomer felt as though Legolas sought to turn him inside out, so deeply did that gaze pierce and probe, seeking he knew not what. Just ere Éomer would have looked away, though, the other released him with a slight grimace of concern. "Hear me," he repeated, "I am not as you are, for I am not a Man. Since Boromir's death, I have struggled under a shadow that has troubled my heart incessantly, and wounded as I was, I thought that darkness my own. But as I have begun to heal, I have become aware that not all shadows are of my own casting: some come from another source that dwells here, in the heart of Rohan. Saruman's will it is, I doubt it not, but even a wizard may find it no small task to affect the court of Rohan so noticeably at a distance."
"Wormtongue is his agent, of that I am certain. Thus do the wizard's ill designs become reality in our land," Éomer replied, with a touch of impatient puzzlement, for in truth he was not certain that he knew whereof the Elf spoke, nor for what end he aimed.
"Gríma son of Gálmód is no mere spy, Third Marshal!" Legolas spoke urgently against his doubtful tone, and those green eyes caught his again. This time, the Elf did not let him go, and it was Éomer who, at length, looked away, feeling oddly disturbed by the other's evident concern. Legolas sighed softly, perhaps with disappointment, and then continued on in a low voice, "Creatures there are that serve the Dark Lord that are little more than his malice wrought in living form. They bear the mark of his hatred as a brand, for they are work of his foul hands. Gríma bears also the mark of his master… and his maker. Saruman has not Sauron's power, perhaps, and he has not made of Gríma anything other than a Man, but where Wormtongue stands, there lies a deeper darkness. Through him, the will of Saruman is felt strongly, for that will is in Gríma. Even as Sauron pours his will into his creatures, driving them to fulfill his commands, the councilor has been… filled… infused with Saruman's will and he gains thereby a portion of his master's strength and even his gifts. Working through his creature, eating away at what was once a free man, Saruman spreads his evil throughout Edoras to consume others."
What is Gríma then? The question arose in Éomer's mind, but he instantly dismissed it. For his purposes, it mattered not what he was, but what he did, and whether he could be stopped. Saruman's creature, filled with a wizard's power… That touched something, and for a while, the Third Marshal sought to recapture the memory and bring it to conscious recollection. Gríma son of Gálmód, who ever served without distinction. And suddenly he gained a voice… a voice and a tongue not to be challenged. I wonder! Could that be it? And why are some immune, while others bow before it? But such speculation in the end did not help him, and so he set it aside, fixing instead upon another of Legolas's comments. "'Consume,' you say. How?"
"As Men are ever corrupted and consumed: through their fears and their weaknesses. Sometimes even through strength suborned, turned inward against he who possesses it," Legolas added, and cast a significant look at him even as Éomer felt his stomach clench. Béma's blood, my sister! Éowyn was alone out there with this… creature… loose and unfettered by any. Elfhelm is gone, and I am imprisoned, and Théodred is… dead. That loss still cut hard, but now it was secondary as the fear that he realized he had suppressed ever since Legolas had been thrown in with him broke free at last with shattering clarity.
King of the Winds, he thought, she has stood for too long alone. By choice at first, but now… now she has no one, not even Legolas! I had not thought Wormtongue would be able to separate them so swiftly! What might she do? I fear to learn how Wormtongue's malice shall subvert that strength, as Legolas says. Blue eyes narrowed in grim contemplation as Éomer's mouth became a taut line of tight-lipped anger and fear, and his jaw was clenched.
Beside him, Legolas gazed worriedly at him, and he felt the other's eyes searching him. "There is naught we can do now," the Elf said at length. "And yet, however dark, there may be some hope left: Saruman's dominance is not so complete as the Dark Lord's, after all." Legolas seemed to chide him gently. "Gríma remains a mortal man, though one bent now and bound to his master. Destroy the master, and the councilor shall fall with him!"
"But how does one destroy a wizard? And what of Théoden?" Éomer demanded, only barely reining in his temper that was born of fear too terrible to show. "If he, too, is bound–"
"I know not that he is completely bound, nor do I think that it is the same sort of bondage. Gríma's service is willing, whereas Théoden still fights, or why else should Wormtongue continue to drug him? And in any case, is he not your kin? He has the strength in him–he must!–to break free. If he can be brought back to himself, made to remember himself, then perhaps it shall be enough. Alas, I have done what I can in spite of Wormtongue's intervention. What shall happen now, I cannot hazard a guess but our peril waxes with the hours. For Wormtongue, in folly or overconfidence, has revealed himself plainly to me, and so stands now in peril himself."
"Then doubtless he shall seek the earliest moment to be rid of us both," Éomer said grimly. "I know not why Wormtongue should put us together, but you may be certain that it is for no good reason. He thinks to use the two of us in his schemes, and I fear what part Éowyn may be given against her will!" He squeezed his eyes shut against despair. "Béma," he murmured, scarcely aware that he spoke aloud, "if I could have but one wish–"
"Say it not!" Legolas interjected sharply. "I hear it in your voice, and I urge you: be cautious! Do not abandon your duty to your passion, my lord."
"I shall not. But when the two are conjoined… well then!" Éomer replied in a low voice, and even he was surprised by the dark lust in his tone: a lust for vengeance, for it seemed to him that it was already too late, and that he could hope for little else.
"Gríma is not one man's affair, but a nation's," Legolas said, clearly warning him. "This matter touches you too closely."
"Any who fall under this shadow are too close to it!" Éomer sighed. Then, shooting a quick glance at the Elf out of the corners of his eyes, the marshal suggested, "Sleep, if you need it. I know you have had a hard journey, and it may be some while ere the drug leaves you entirely. I shall wake you should aught of import occur."
Legolas regarded the other for a long moment, and Éomer knew that the other was not deceived–that the Elf heard all too clearly the dark thoughts that lay behind his words. After a long pause, the prince said softly but firmly, "Éowyn went to her chambers and that was the last that I saw of her. Wormtongue let her go, Éomer! Take that for a comfort and hope for a change of the tides."
Éomer said naught to that, only cocked a pale brow at the Elf, and though he sensed Legolas's worried disappointment, there was also a resigned acceptance in the way that the other turned away with a sigh. Clearly, the prince knew intransigence when he saw it.
For his part, Legolas closed his eyes once more against the distraction of his surroundings, and he shrugged carefully, feeling the pull of healing muscles. I have done my best, and though it may not be enough, for the moment I can do no more, for Éomer or for any other. And I have need of rest… not sleep, but a time to order all that is within me against this threat, for if it goes ill–or worse, rather!–I would not meet death unprepared!***
Éowyn knelt in the middle of her room with a small box laid across her knees. Be thou brave, daughter mine, and go now to thy brother, for he shall need thee, and thou shalt need him! Her mother's last words to her, all those years ago, and the child she had been had wanted to please her mother so badly.
But I was too afraid to move. I knew she would leave us, and I could not understand why! She smiled slightly. At the time, I knew not that it was not her choice, that death comes to us all in time. Théodwyn had understood, she thought, for her mother had made an effort to smile, and then held out a hand to her daughter. Éowyn would have clung to it, but that Théodwyn had said painfully, "See child! See this ring? Take it, and keep it safe for me… until I should need it again, when I see thy father once more."
Éowyn had managed to take the gold band, set with an emerald and a ruby cut to seem as though they twined about each other, from her mother's hand, and Théodwyn had pressed it into her own before she had sent her away for the last time. In all the years since her mother's untimely death, Éowyn had kept the ring with her, though she had never worn it. For it was hers, and I took it to keep it for her, not to wear it myself. But whenever she felt in need of comfort, she would take it out to look at, and to remember her mother's face more clearly.
Tonight, though, she felt in need of comfort as never before, for Wormtongue's double-barbed words still rang in her ears: I would speak with you later. Éowyn felt her cheeks flush hotly, remembering the imperious, disdainful tone; Wormtongue had seemed almost as a parent ordering a disobedient child about. But I doubt not that what he wants of me is hardly paternal in nature! Indeed, she knew well that he pursued her, hunted her like some beast of the field. And when he caught her… That scarcely bore thinking on, but Éowyn knew she could afford no illusions tonight.
For years she had schemed and plotted, seeking some way to drive the serpent from Edoras. Her resistance was built about little things, for a woman had not a man's prestige, but she had grown adept at making the most of small opportunities: a word here or there sufficed to spread rumors throughout the court, and though men might at first dismiss the tales of wives or servants, eventually they would begin to wonder. And if the rumors persisted long enough, and were consistent with others and with their own fears, then even the great would begin to believe until the rumors became fact. As in truth, they were, for Éowyn never spread lies. Her own network of spies—lower placed, naturally, than she might wish—brought her pieces of information which to one accustomed to the rhythm of the household meant much more than they might seem to one whose concerns lay mainly with affairs of state or the field of battle.
But there were some few among the latter who honored her judgment, and to them she would pass her warnings. Rarely could she forestall completely Wormtongue's plans, but given warning and due consideration, she could usually at least insure that they were public knowledge. And occasionally she could, through the influence she exerted upon the court's atmosphere, unsettle his plots enough to turn aside their worst effects. Wormtongue knew all of this, of course, and she had ever to work to conceal her sources and to replace them whenever he discovered her informants, but thus far the contest between them was at a stalemate.
But that might well end tonight, Éowyn thought, feeling a flutter of fear in her breast. For she had never been caught before—not with her shirt red as the saying went. Nothing she did went unnoticed, and eventually all her efforts came to light, but events discovered after the fact were far less dangerous to her than a half-achieved plot. I was too careless tonight! But I had no choice, for Elfhelm is gone, and Háma too closely watched! And now I may have doomed Legolas along with me, for I fear Wormtongue's intentions. Has he already convinced the king that he is a conspirator even as Éomer? What nonsense, and yet I have just given him proof! What made him go to the dungeons tonight? Or did he learn of the warden's 'food poisoning'?
In the end, she gave up speculating, for it mattered not how Wormtongue had tumbled to them. He may have come only to gloat over Éomer, I know not. We are caught in the snare at last. At least I sent my messengers out before I was caught. If only one arrives at Helm's Deep ere Saruman's army does! Not that it shall help us, but at least Elfhelm and Erkenbrand, if they survive the rout, would know the truth. They might then muster enough resistance to salvage something out of the ruins, even if the Mark falls. And if only others are freer than they, perhaps we might still prevent our demise...
A knock sounded, and Éowyn quickly shut the box's lid and hid it away in her trunk. The knock was repeated, and she crossed quickly to the door, steeling herself. I am Éowyn, daughter of Théodwyn of the House of Éorl. My father was Éomund, Marshal of the Mark. I bear the shield of the Mark, and I shall not fear a snake! It had been her litany since she had taken up the ancient office of shieldmaiden, and usually it helped to calm her. Tonight, it served only to mask her fear, but so long as Wormtongue did not see it, she would be content. Think of Éomer! Think of Legolas, and do not flinch, lass, for their straits are worse than yours! With that reminder, she pulled the door open and greeted Wormtongue with a frosty silence.
"Good evening once again, fair maid," the odious man offered.
"Speak your piece here and then be gone, for I have no mind for games," Éowyn responded shortly.
"Then we shall play none. Your brother and the Elf share a cell tonight, and soon the court shall be arrayed against them. I fear that even now, word spreads of the treachery of the Third Marshal. And as for the Elf? Well, we all know that an Elf is not to be trusted, particularly not the sorcerers among them. Some there are who shall want vengeance… perhaps you know them, even, for they let you into the dungeons tonight, and their horror of that error goes deep!" Éowyn stiffened, aghast at what she heard though she supposed she ought to have expected no less. "I fear, Éowyn, that even duty may not restrain their anger, for Legolas attempted to ensorcel the king when he came before him. I know: I have seen it, and Théoden shall remember it in the morning."
"Liar! You arranged that it would seem so! You must have enchanted him yourself, for the Elf is no sorcerer!" Éowyn spat.
"Ah, but who shall know better? No one in Edoras, surely." Which specific qualification made her uneasy. Had he discovered her messengers? And if so, then he must be very confident indeed if he cared not who knew outside of the court. "The love of the Éorlingas for their king is deep and abiding, Éowyn, and woe to him who rouses it against him! I fear that something may happen in the night… and would that not be a pity? For however treacherous, I would not have so unusual a guest murdered in his sleep, nor your brother indicted for assisting the enemy…"
"You would not dare!" Éowyn hissed, though her heart sank, for she knew well that he would. And so he comes now to me… Béma help me, he comes now for me…! The councilor had an arm braced against the door so that she could not close it and shut him out, and there was a disgusting leer on his face.
"I dare nothing, Éowyn. I do. I act. And I tell you now that without a very convincing witness on their behalf, something unfortunate shall happen to your brother."
"And what of Legolas?"
"The Elf? I care little. He may survive the night or he may not. I may yet be generous with him. But your brother… he is long in his rebellion. He deserves to die for his crimes, this all men know. Elfhelm is not here, who might defend him. There is but one witness left. Oh yes, I know how she plots on his behalf, but politics smoothes over such discrepancies quite nicely—or might, did she but convince me of her sincerity. Then perhaps I might be able to shield both her and her brother."
There fell a silence, and Éowyn struggled against herself. So we come now to the point. Can I even think what I must say and do? The words seemed to catch in her throat, held there by her pride that would not yield to any. But Éomer! The vision of her brother's lifeless body hung clearly before her eyes, and she wanted to keen her agony to the night as once the women of the Mark had done in the days long gone and almost forgotten. We were a wilder people then. Now we are too civilized, and we compromise all! "What do you want?" she finally managed in a low, sick tone.
Wormtongue raised his heavy-lidded eyes to her own for a brief moment, studying her face ere he let them wander her tall form, and she felt a shiver. His hand lay heavily upon her shoulder of a sudden, and she felt herself frozen in place by a horror that was the worse for having been long-wrought. Éomer…
"Let us discuss that more privately, Éowyn," he murmured. "Will you not let me in?" This must not be! Alas, despair, however deep, could but witness reality, not change it. Éowyn's decision was made–by her or for her, it mattered no longer.***
A chance guard on his round frowned as he noted the light spilling from one of the doors far up the corridor, and he quickened his pace, wondering who was abroad. But ere he came close enough to see aught, the door shut again, and for all that he looked, there was no one in the hall.
Gríma: "Foolish, Éowyn. You do not help your brother.
Éowyn: "Do not mock me, councilor!"
Gríma: "Bold words, my child!"
Éowyn: "I do not belong to you! Not now and not ever, foul adder!"
Lot of liberty taken here: I have the words from a word list, basic (really basic) grammar from an online course, and I have a smattering of German syntax. All three ingredients mixed well and shaken, resulting in the above (very) faux-Old-English-cum-Rohirric conversation.
Sites used: http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/eduweb (grammar)http://www.mun.ca/Ansaxdat/vocab/wordlist.html (word list)