A Song of Silence
1. Edoras - 2 March 3019
'...[Your] people that are left, the women and the children and the old, should fly to the refuges that you have in the mountains. Were they not prepared against just such an evil day as this? Let them take provision, but delay not, nor burden themselves with treasures, great or small...'~*~
~LotR: TTT: Book Three: Chapter VI - The King of the Golden Hall
War-horns were being sounded from the heights above, even as the heralds spread the word throughout the town. Théoden King – What joy! Our king, hale and vigorous once more – would lead the host of Edoras to the aid of Erkenbrand at the Fords of Isen.
And the city was to be emptied. Old and young, women and children, indeed, all those who were not set to ride with the king, were ordered to flee to the refuge of Dunharrow.
Already there were the sounds of hurrying feet, the clash of armour, voices calling out their farewells, the soft weeping of women.
My own farewells had been spoken more than a se'nnight past when my husband had departed, riding west with Elfhelm in answer to Théodred’s summons. Then word had come, not five days ago, that the King’s Heir had been slain in battle at the Fords of Isen. With all of Edoras I had wept at his loss. But of my beloved Léod there was no word, and I had vowed that I would weep no more while he yet might live.
Above the din the voices of the heralds carried, clear and strong. “Do not burden yourselves with treasures,” they declared. “Take only what provisions you need.”
I turned back into the stillness of the house. There would be little time to prepare for the road ahead. My son stood there, just inside the door, and by his expression I knew that he too had heard the heralds’ call.
“Éohere, bring the horses from the stable, saddled and ready for our journey.” He was no stranger to the task before him, for he had often served as his father’s squire. Though he was but fourteen, already he stood nearly head-high to his father, and in the practice yard not long ago the marshal of Edoras himself had been heard to compliment Éohere’s skill with the sword. Now I watched him with a mother's pride, as without question he hastened to do my bidding.
Now to tell Déorwyn....
Following the pungent smell of wet wool, I found her in the courtyard, with Willa at her side. My daughter’s flaxen braids blended with her grandmother’s silver as together they bent over the dye vats. All about the courtyard were lines hung with the drying yarns that Déorwyn would use in her tapestries. She possessed a talent for creating vivid images on her loom – a talent which, it was already apparent, Willa had inherited from her grandmother.
“Willa.” I spoke softly, not wanting to startle her. But even before I spoke, Déorwyn seemed to sense my presence. She turned, a smile lighting her aged features. But the smile faded quickly as she read my troubled expression.
“What is wrong, Mother?” Willa too sensed that something was amiss.
“We are ordered to Dunharrow. We must pack: food, clothing, blankets. Only what we can bear. That will be little enough, even with the horses.”
Déorwyn was watching my face as I spoke to Willa, and as my daughter hurried off the old woman began to gesture, her movements reflecting her concern and confusion.
Would that Léod were here. My husband’s skill with the sign language that had been devised to communicate with Déorwyn was much greater than my own, for he had learned it as a child, even as he had learned the songs of the Eorlings at his father’s knee. But Léod was gone, and I would have to explain as best I could on my own.
To my relief, Déorwyn understood my halting communication. Moving quickly, she began dousing the fires. The wools she had been dying would have to be removed from the vats and hung on the lines with the rest lest they be ruined.
Content that she understood, I left her to her work. I had work of my own to do. Of a certainty, we would find provisions enow in the Hold at Dunharrow, stored there in anticipation of a time such as this. Even so, we would have need of bread and meat to sustain us on the journey there.
Soft footsteps sounded behind me, and I turned to see Déorwyn. I gestured toward the courtyard, knowing she could not have finished her task so quickly.
She shook her head, and began to gather foodstuffs from the larder, ignoring my attempts to communicate further.
Bemused, I continued with the needed preparations. I would not have faulted Déorwyn for first seeing to her wools. Her craft was an important part of her life, and if fate allowed she would return to Edoras to work more wondrous images on her loom.
It was not mere skill that she possessed. When I had first met the woman who was to become my mother-in-law, I was quickly moved to awe at the artistry that was evidenced in her creations. I still remembered how one of the women of the king’s household had described it.
“Déorwyn’s loom is her voice,” the woman had said, “and her tapestries are her songs.”
Her songs. That too amazed me. While he was still alive, Léod’s father, Folca, had often spoken with me of his wife, and how it had been Théoden’s mother who first recognized Déorwyn’s talent. It was Morwen who had nurtured the orphaned child whose parents, herdfolk who tended the king’s herds, had died from the fever – the same fever that had robbed Déorwyn of her hearing.
It was Morwen who had also helped devise a signed language with which to communicate with her ward. It had been that language that had enabled Folca to court the shy young woman, not caring that she would never hear his voice.
I cannot imagine never having heard Léod’s voice. Or Éohere’s, or Willa’s. Sometimes I wondered if Déorwyn could remember the sounds of her childhood, before the fever had silenced her world. Though she was far away, my own mother’s voice lived in my memory. There were times when I could still hear the songs she would sing to us, to my brother and sister and me, when we were children. Did Déorwyn remember her mother’s voice?
“Mother…” I could hear my son’s voice calling, and the steady clop of horses’ hooves, which halted before our door. Éohere burst in, his young face flushed with excitement.
“Háma says I am to ride with the king.” The pride that mingled with the excitement in his voice was unmistakable. “Háma says that all the strong lads who have horses and can bear arms are to go.”
My own pride in him was unchanged, yet the sharp pang of fear that pierces the hearts of all mothers who must watch their sons ride off to battle could not be denied. He was my treasure, he and Willa, and I had thought to take them both with me to the safe refuge of Dunharrow. But that was not to be; now Éohere would ride to I knew not what fate.
I watched as he raced off to gather his sword, and the arms that Léod had fashioned for him – was it only this past winter? I will not weep – I must not. My son was strong, like his father, and I would wait in hope that we would see one another again.
As quickly as he came, Éohere was gone, leading Lightfoot, his horse, down toward the gates of Edoras. Standing in the open doorway, I could see below the glint of sunlight on many hundreds of spear-points, and the restless movement in the ash-forest that now stood before the gates of the city.
Déorwyn’s arms came around me, holding me as a mother would a child in need of comfort. I turned, wrapping my arms around her. Her hand gently wiped away the traitorous tear that slid down my cheek. And then she lifted my chin so that I was looking directly at her as she signed: “I understand.”
How foolish I am. And selfish. Had not she too seen a son ride to battle? And did she not wait, and hope, that he would return to her? Léod was her only son – her only child. She had chosen his name, inspired no doubt by the tapestry that had earned her the greatest fame, the one that she had completed only days before her son’s birth.
Déorwyn’s Song. That was how it was known among those who knew the story of its creation. It was not an entirely original song, but she had imbued it with new life.
As we stood now, holding one another, I could feel the fragile bones of her body, and I realized anew what I had long known. Déorwyn had never been strong. It seemed that the fever had done more than rob her of her hearing. She was shorter than most of our women, her frame delicate, and I had noticed in recent years how twisted her hands had begun to look, the knuckles swollen from long hours spent working at her craft.
Folca had told me how it had taken Déorwyn more than a year’s time to weave that tapestry, working to re-create as faithfully as possible the one that had been so abused, long years past, in the days when Edoras had fallen to the black-hearted Wulf. Others had tried to repair the rents and tears, to cleanse from it the foul stains that were spattered across its surface, but the years had further dimmed the colours, and the many repairs could be seen clearly when the sunlight fell upon it.
Morwen had lamented its sad state, angered that Fengel had done nothing during his reign to preserve it. She had sought a weaver who might undertake its restoration, but all who examined the tapestry declared it to be beyond repair. And none had dared attempt to recreate it.
None until Déorwyn. Taking her gnarled hands in mine, I knew that she would never again be able to accomplish such a feat. Her tapestries still sang, but none could compare with the one people still called Déorwyn’s Song.
Seeking out my daughter, I told her what I intended. “Help your grandmother finish packing what is needed. I will return shortly.”
I made my way upward along the paved pathways that were quickly becoming crowded with carts and horses as the townsfolk sought to save whate'er they could. A few wore dark looks, and there were some murmurings of discontent, for it had been many years since war had last driven our people from their homes. It was that remembrance which drove me now.
I paused by the wide basin at the foot of the terrace to wash my hands and splash cool water on my face before ascending the broad stairway. No guard stood before the doors of Meduseld now; all had gone with the king's company.
The great doors stood slightly ajar, and as I pushed inward on one, it slowly opened wider, groaning on its hinges as it moved. A rush of warm air assailed me – and a silence deeper than I had ever known.
The Lady Éowyn was there, her face stern and pale as she oversaw the preparations of the king's household. Almost it made me loathe to present her with my request. So much had already been laid upon her slender shoulders.
My eyes were drawn irresistibly to the place where the tapestry hung. It was in shadow now, but I could still see clearly the image of a young man upon a white horse. He was blowing a great horn, and his yellow hair was flying in the wind. The horse's head was lifted, and its nostrils were wide and red as it neighed, smelling battle afar. Foaming water, green and white, rushed and curled about its knees.
Éowyn chanced to look up then, and saw me standing there, gazing up at the image of the one whose name our people proudly bore. She spoke quietly to the old man who stood beside her, and he turned to cross the great hall, calling for a couple of the women who were in the hall to assist him.
Éowyn motioned me closer. “I know what you would ask of me,' she said. “Do not fear. Déorwyn's Song will live on. My grandmother would not have it otherwise.” A sad smile lit her face briefly before the shadows fell once more.
Then in silence we watched as the great tapestry was carefully removed from the wall, and rolled in a protective canvas for its journey to Dunharrow.
Un-named OFC narrator
Déorwyn - a deaf woman, mother-in-law of the narrator
Éohere - the son of the narrator
Willa - the daughter of the narrator
Léod - husband of the narrator
Folca - narrator's father-in-law (deceased)
A note - and an apology of sorts:
There is one passage I have lifted almost whole from the original, and that is Tolkien's evocative description of the woven cloth depicting the Ride of Eorl the Young from the North (LotR: TTT: Book Three: Chapter VI - The King of the Golden Hall). For that description I have deferred to the master himself, JRRT.
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.