Shieldmaiden's Fate, A: 1. Elfwine Speaks

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1. Elfwine Speaks

As I stand in the hall of Meduseld, I cannot help but admire the new tapestry Father has hung on the west wall. He commissioned it as a birthday present for my aunt, his beloved sister Éowyn. Done in the old style of Rohan, it is beautiful even as it depicts an ugly scene. The black Witch-King looms over a tiny Éowyn, prepared to crush her with his mace, as she drives her sword into him with the last of her strength. The weaving is excellently done—although the Witch-King is the largest figure, Éowyn is clearly the center of the picture. Valiant and lovely, she seems almost to radiate a white light, and her sword is cunningly embroidered in spun silver.

No doubt the tapestry will only make her legend grow. No doubt children will gaze on it centuries from now, and beg their parents to recount the tale of the Lady of the Shield-Arm. I smile—as much as I love my aunt, the feeling of being related to a legend is certainly a strange one. I have had much the same feeling about Father, but I have never looked on his figure as I look on Éowyn's in this tapestry. She has deliberately been made larger than life, and I feel more keenly that I look upon the portrait of a stranger.

I remember my aunt blushing as she gazed on the tapestry at the natality feast, and I wonder what she truly thought of it. Looking into her eyes, I could see that she did not remember the scene with so much glory. I saw her old pain resurface even as she smiled. Why could Father not see that, as much as he loves her? At any rate, she pronounced it beautiful, and quickly moved on to admire the other new tapestry, which depicted King Théoden on Snowmane. She had many words of praise for that one, and Father in his triumph did not notice that she never looked again at the other. I, on the other hand, am drawn to it over and over again, for reasons I do not fully understand.

I remember a question I asked Éowyn once, many years ago now. I was a daring lad of sixteen, and I was studying the histories of Rohan and Gondor at the time. Mother was a good teacher, but I was curious to know how things had really been. I was surrounded by the heroes of the Ring War—why should I not avail myself of their stories? Father could always be counted on to tell a good war tale, but Aunt Éowyn did not speak much of the battles she had seen. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by her. I knew her only as a wife and mother, not as a shieldmaiden. Her life was so quiet in my youth that the thought of her as a sword-swinging warrior was completely alien to my mind. She still kept up with her riding and her swordcraft, but I witnessed her only as teacher, never as warrior. I never knew her at the height of her glory, never saw her splendid in armor and bearing vengeance. I saw only the dear aunt I loved, and who loved me as one of her own sons.

At any rate, she and her family visited Edoras one summer, and I often went riding with her over the fields. One time in particular, I remember telling her at length of my swordcraft and my studies. I also remember her smile of approval, so sweet to a praise-loving lad. "You will make a good king, Elfwine," she had told me. "You are learning not only how to make war, but why our people make war. These are good things for a king to think upon, if he would lead his people wisely."

Warmed by my aunt's honest compliments, I made bold to ask her a question. "Aunt, I have been thinking on your deeds during the war. I wanted to ask you—what of the folk of Dunharrow?" I could see by her confused face that she did not know what I meant, and I elaborated on my question. "Remember when Théoden gave them into your charge? Who guarded them when you rode in secret to the fields of the Pelennor?" I am ashamed to admit that I felt a small, mean pleasure when I saw a shadow of pain cross her fair face. I have already said that I was a hasty lad, and in my naïve mind, I had named my aunt deserter of her people. Had Eówyn not left the people defenseless at Dunharrow to seek her own glory? Where was the honor in that?

When she finally replied, she spoke words that I will not forget to the end of my days. "I see the ways of your mind, Elfwine. You who are so young think yourself so wise, and perhaps you are. Perhaps I did desert my charge out of selfish pride." Her eyes, misty with deep thought, were fixed on the horizon, and I was struck dumb with shame. How dare I put her to such a question, my aunt who had shown me nothing but love and kindness? But I could not apologize now. It was too late to take back words spoken in careless haste. Her lovely voice rolled on, and I had to wait for her to finish answering me.

"It is a strange thing, brother-son, how the chances of this world fall to mankind. I cannot lie to you. I was young and heedless, and my desire to seek glory was greater than my desire to obey my lord. Yet—did I not kill the Witch-King? Did I not avenge my liege, my beloved uncle? Did I not meet Faramir my husband in the Houses of Healing?" A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she continued speaking. "Who can say how it would have turned out, had I not left Dunharrow?" Éowyn gazed at me, and I could not look away, so trapped was I by her beautiful and terrible look. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of the shieldmaiden she must have been in those days: shining and lovely and terrible as steel, at once frightening and fascinating.

"You see, Elfwine, I know now that our fate is immutable no matter which course of action we choose. My fate was to be at the Pelennor at that moment in time. Even though I was brought there through dishonor, I do not curse that fate. Even though I stumbled to my heroism, I cannot fully condemn the foolishness of my youth. Did it not come about for great good in the end? That is how I answer the question you truly asked of me, brother-son." And with that, Éowyn brought her horse's head around and rode back to Meduseld, as noble as ever. I could only gaze at her straight back, motionless for a moment before I followed her.

Even now, ten years later, the memory still brings a flush of shame to my cheeks. But now I know what Éowyn was trying to tell me. Now, I value my aunt not for her long-ago heroism, but for the bitterly earned wisdom she shared with me that day. Fate brings us to strange passes, but all we can do is tighten our armor and meet our chances bravely. The choices we make always have consequences we must live with, whether those choices come to good or ill in the end. As I take a last look at that tapestry of Éowyn's deed, I pray to all the Powers that I might choose wisely—whether I do so deliberately or not. A king needs such fortune at times. I am hoping that it runs in the blood.

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.

Story Information

Author: Tindomiel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/10/03

Original Post: 01/03/03

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