The two figures sat on the edge of the river, watching the waters rush over their tan feet and toes, the result of a summer of going barefoot when at all possible. Upstream their horses were busy drinking, their tails swishing in tandem at the ever-present flies disturbing their mission of refreshment.
“Goodness, Léoma and Salupád are thirsty!”
Fréalas tried to ignite another conversation, but her blonde companion remained silent. Shielding her eyes from the sunlight, Fréalas looked to the east, where they had gone out earlier that day to join some of the other children of Edoras for their almost-daily swordfighting and archery lessons. There was a dark cloud heading toward them, she noted, and she hoped that it would bring much needed rain and a temporary respite from the dry winds of late summer.
In the two years since Éomund and his ill-fated group of riders had been so untimely killed by Orcs, the people of Rohan, those in Edoras in particular, had increased night-time security and encouraged all in the Mark to keep a wary eye to their borders. A side effect of this included more rigorous instruction in self-defense and fighting skills among the youth of the Rohirrim, much to their annoyance during the heat of summer.
“Éowyn?” Fréalas looked over at her young friend, for friend she was, even if she was of the royal family and this made her different, somehow.
“Yes?” The blonde girl turned her head to speak. “Sorry- just thinking of all the mistakes I made today. I really need to get more control over how I hold my bow. The arrows never seem to land where I have aimed them!”
Fréalas chuckled ruefully. It had been a trying road for her as well, the skills of fighting not coming naturally to her, not like learning to decipher runes and scripts that were available, or how to read the patterns of the stars that shone so brightly above the plains. But I am coming along, she thought, now that I’m getting some height. Swinging a sword is a little easier when one isn’t so close to the ground.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” she said aloud. “You’re only nine yet, and even the twins Staenwine and Staentwylas can barely keep from hitting each other with their arrows. It is especially a challenge when there is sweat in your eyes, and sweat on your hands,”
“Yes, I know,” Éowyn interrupted. “But I need to learn. I feel that I must be prepared for… for the worst.”
She hung her head, and wriggled her toes, disturbing a small school of tiny bluefish that had clustered around the two girls’ feet.
Fréalas stared at her own feet, almost shocked by how brown they were, since the rest of her seemed only to be covered in freckles. She didn’t know what to say. How did you console somebody who had lost not one, which would be terrible enough, but both parents? In the same year at that? Fréalas had known her for several years, as Éowyn and her mother Théodwyn had spent many summers at the Eastfold homestead. Éowyn's father, Éomund, was from the same part of Rohan as Fréalas, so when he and others in the Mark went out on extended patrols of the land, the elegant sister of King Théoden and her two tow-headed children would stay in the homestead near the Firien Woods for weeks on end. Upon the safe return of the Marshal of the Mark, the skilled defender of Rohan would pack up his family and return to their home in Edoras.
Until that fateful day. It had taken several hours for the tragic news to travel from the royal city down southeast to the Rohirrim who lived by the Mering Stream. The messenger had blown a horn to call everyone in the settlement together before announcing the sombre news. He encouraged everyone on behalf of Théoden King to be even more vigilant, if that were possible. Nobody knew why, but the Orcs were becoming more numerous, and brazen. That was enough to convince Fréawyn, Fréalas’ mother, to move her family to Edoras, though her strong-willed daughter had hated every step her horse made away from their homestead on the edge of the forest.
Fréalas looked up from the river again at the sky. “Éowyn,” she said, looking at the approaching storm clouds, “even if you had been there, there was nothing you could have done.”
She immediately wished she hadn’t said anything. Stupid! she thought. Why can’t you just keep your mouth shut, unless you have something helpful to say?
“I know!” Éowyn replied, angrily. “But I won’t be killed by Orcs. Never!” Her granite grey eyes blazed with hatred. “Nobody will take something away from me that I love, ever again. I will protect myself. And Éomer.”
Fréalas quickly suppressed the darkly humorous thought of little Éowyn, so earnest, and yet still just a child, defending her older brother, who at age thirteen was already a good head taller than most other children his age. It’s not funny, she thought. You would have said the same thing if someone was attacking Frithlíc, even though he is ungrateful, irritating, slovenly… She forced herself not to continue down that path. It was already too well-trodden in her mind.
She reached over and took Éowyn’s hand in hers, prying open the fingers that had balled up in a fist during her explosion of heated words. “I will protect you, if you will allow me.” Fréalas intertwined their fingers, and held them in her lap. “I am by no means the greatest warrior in all of Rohan, it is true, but I promise you that I will learn all that I can to be by your side.”
Éowyn looked keenly at her face, her expression a curious mixture of defiance and desperation.
“My mother has told me tales of long ago, when women fought side by side with men, and the women all looked out for each other. Sometimes if a girl lost her parents, someone would pledge to look out for her especially, even if they didn’t take her into their house. That person who did the protecting was called a sycldesweoster, a 'shield-sister.'"
“A sycldesweoster.” Éowyn repeated the old unfamiliar Rohirric word, then smiled. “You want to do that for me?”
“Yes, I’d like that. But I will get better at archery so that I can protect myself!” Éowyn said stubbornly. She looked down again at her feet, now getting somewhat wrinkled from their extended time in the river. In a quiet voice she continued, “I always did want an older sister.”
As the two girls looked at the waters, they became aware of occasional tiny dots that quickly turned into outwardly circling rings.
“Ai!” Fréalas started out of the quiet moment, releasing the grubby but endearing hand she had been holding. “Rain!”
Standing, she turned and leaned down toward her friend, arms held out. Éowyn’s formerly tightly-braided hair was now a mess, sprigs of grass intertwined with the plaits, a reminder of the occasional tumbles she had taken during the day’s exercises.
“Well, get up then!” Fréalas said, hands ready to assist her comrade up from the riverside and back to the horses.
Éowyn looked up, and a grin as radiant as the sun in the dark of winter unexpectedly bloomed across her face.
“Rain!” she exclaimed, as though she personally had asked the sky for such a thing and, without question, it had complied. “Come… let us have a rain dance!”
Even as she spoke the words, the clouds appeared to oblige, and sheets of rain came pouring down to accompany the bass booms of thunder that now echoed across the plain. Their horses were silent, but in the repeated tossing of their heads, their uncomfortable displeasure was more than apparent. Éowyn turned her face upward, mouth wide open, tongue up, catching as many stray drops that happened to land on her upturned lips as possible, the picture of contentment despite the storm.
“Éowyn, the lightning! We shouldn’t stay here! The horses!” Fréalas guided her companion up and away from the riverbank, pulling her toward the city. At least the horses agree with me! she thought sullenly, wondering just how much like a drowned mouse she must look, until Éowyn took her insistently by the hand.
“Come now, the storm still has a ways to get to us!” said the sodden child, her muslin dress stuck to her like honey on bread. With a look of rapture in her eyes, she continued, “So you like the stars- I like the fights of cloud and rain.” Éowyn sashayed through the wet grass, Fréalas reluctantly in tow. “You can’t say that it doesn’t feel good, the wet ground beneath your feet?”
Fréalas hated to admit it at that moment, but truly it was pleasant. Éowyn ran ahead a few paces, then slowly began spinning, her left side leading, then faster and faster, spiralling in her own vortex of sudden joy. The resignation in Fréalas dissipated, and she began to circle as well, but to her right, a larger circle of outspread freckled arms, her skirt tending outwards despite being made heavier by the rain soaking her through. By the river there were now two outwardly turning circles of girls, self-contained whirlpools in a great grassy sea.
Their pace grew faster, dizzying almost, spinning and spinning until the inevitable. Fréalas, quite disoriented in all of the turning,lurched sideways into the increasing mud, stopping the fall with her hands. Once she caught her breath, she called to Éowyn, “We had better go back now, honestly! Where are the horses? We are lucky not to be struck by lightning, or worse.” She tried to look serious as she patted the mud off of her hands on her shirt and skirt, wringing out the hem as she did.
She looked at Éowyn, still circling, now in a slower pattern, unheeding this entreaty to safety. Fréalas was moved to pity at seeing the unfettered joy on the younger girl’s face. It was an expression she had worn far more often during her visits to the Eastfold, back before many tracks of tears had transformed her pale visage into its more common stoic expression. Memories assaulted Fréalas: A face shining with happiness, sticky fig preserves around her mouth, Éowyn’s first exposure to the sweet fruit. The little blonde child, standing still as a statue in a frock of scarlet, surrounded by colourful butterflies alighting on her hair and shoulders amid flowers in the garden. Unbidden, such memories jumped to the forefront of Fréalas’ mind, her mood turning to a bittersweet melancholy.
Fréalas stepped the few paces to reach her spinning friend, and slowed her to a stop, placing her hands on the girl’s shoulders. The two horses, which had been quiet during the first thunder rumblings, were now making anxious, sharp whinnies, a sure sign that it was time to go back over the Snowbourne to Edoras.
“I know you love storms," Fréalas said, pleadingly. “But couldn’t we watch the jousting of the clouds from inside, where it is drier?”
Resigned, Éowyn shrugged, and turning, walked upstream toward their horses. Fréalas followed, noting how delicate the younger girl seemed, her dress stuck to her arms and legs with the weight of the rain. It isn’t fair, she thought, that somebody that young should carry so heavy a burden as being without her parents, the only girl in that big stone house. They got on their horses in silence, and crossing the river, made their way past the barrow-mounds to the gate of the city. But she isn’t really alone, Fréalas chided herself. She has Éomer to watch over her, and the King himself has taken her under his wing. And did you not just pledge yourself to be her protector as well?
The horses knew their way and trotted resolutely back in the direction of their warm and dry stables. They made muffled clip-clops as they traversed the main road, side by side, until Fréalas turned to go to her house, down the west side from the Golden Hall.
“You will be sure to dry Leóma off properly?” Fréalas asked, knowing full well that her friend would hand the horse over to someone in the royal stables so she could rush to her room and watch the summer skies play out their battles of lightning and rain.
“I will,” Éowyn smiled, pausing to wipe the rain off of her face and pull her braids back over her shoulders. “Thank you for the rain dance, my scyldesweoster.” Then she hastened her speed and continued up the road to Meduseld.
Fréalas turned Salupád down the muddy road, hanging her head in advance of the lecture she would soon receive from her mother about being out on the plains in a thunderstorm. And Frithlíc… she was sure that he would have no shortage of commentary on how she needed to handle her sword. He now appeared to be the apple of the eye of Guthig, the swordmaster who was leading instruction on the intricacies of fighting. She sighed, and patted Salupád’s neck. “Almost home,” she murmured, trying to counter the horse’s nervousness as they walked past the many thatched-roof homes, smiling as she saw the occasional infant playing in the mud, enjoying the summer shower.
Staenwine= stone-friend, builder
Staentwylas= stone-two (twin)
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.