1. Chapter One
A/N: I'm not really sure how
describe it, except that I have been thinking a lot lately about Éowyn
why she does what she does in ROTK, considering that she has only known
Aragorn a few days and never really gets many chances to talk to him.
may turn out to be something of an AU, I'm not sure . . . although at
present I can't really think of anything in the book that directly
contradicts my interpretation of events, but maybe I overlooked
Anyway, this is my attempt to explore Éowyn's character and motivations,
and try my hand at a romance fic. I don't think this is a pairing that's
been done before, and we'll see if it works. This has nothing to do with
other story, Healing, just so you know . . . the two aren't meant to be
So it seems all my efforts have been for naught. All that I have endured, all that I have thrown away, in the end could help no one, least of all those whom I love most. This is not the life my uncle promised me when he took Éomer and I into his house, when we were young and frightened and lost following the death of our mother. This is not the courageous and just brother who my mother loved, nor the gentle uncle who comforted me and raised us as his own children. Nor is this the proud nation that Théodred described to me, young and free in the tales he told.
The golden hall of Meduseld, where the King sits, that is the seat of honor and justice, where oaths are made and kept, where warriors gather to feast in times of peace and good fellowship, and assemble to ride in times of war. No fear is there to be found in the bright Sons of Eorl, nor faithless oaths or punishment undeserved. Such were my cousin's words to me when we rode out of Eastfold, far from my father's house, going to the house of my uncle far away who I did not know. With such words he sought to comfort me in my grief for my parents, and by the time we beheld the dome of Meduseld shining far away in the sun, I felt it was a beacon that lit my way to hope and a new life.
I was seven years old. Éomer was eleven, and we two were inseparable for the next eight years, clinging to one another in a new place, surrounded by strangers. I still remember when we approached the throne, where Théoden King sat, crown on his head and a long sword belted at his side. No shadow of age in those eyes then, only a deep pain that mirrored my own. My face showed no fear, not with Éomer at my side, but he tells me I almost crushed his hand in mine when we entered the hall.
Stern and lordly, but gentle and kind as spring coming after winter, Théoden King did not allow us to come more than a few steps toward the throne before he stood to greet us. Coming down from the high seat, he knelt before us with all his household present, holding out his arms and gathering us into his warm embrace. I knew then this man had loved his sister, my mother, as much as I did, and for the first time I let the tears fall, and clung to this kindly stranger who was to be my father, and wept.
He held us both for a long time, speaking words of reassurance and comfort, and telling us we were safe, telling us we were welcome, telling us we were loved. Telling us we had come home at last.
And so we had, for a brief time before the darkness came. Meduseld did become my home, but I can hardly bear to look upon it now. I am suffocating within these walls; I am slowly dying, and I have been for some time now. No one can see it, save only those who delight to watch.
Ever since I was seventeen I have watched this darkness grow. Duty and honor are words I heeded well, duty to the man who will no longer protect me, and to him who I would not allow to try. The hall is dim and the air is stale, for the sunlight and fresh air has not been allowed inside for many months. I stand in my accustomed place, behind the throne of Eorl, and watch as a servant with a forked tongue and lascivious eyes dictates the administration of the Mark to the once-strong man who is King in this hall now only in name. Many years I have waited for this day, when the slow death of the King I love caused everything to collapse around our ears. Five years ago I had faith yet, faith in my brother, faith in my cousin, faith in him. Even if poisoned words could sap my uncle's strength, they had no power to sway the resolve of younger warriors in Gondor and Rohan. Others could see the lengthening Shadow in the East, and were girding to face it. And I had my duty to the King, to care for him in his age and his illness as he had cared for me in my youth and my grief, even if he cared for me no more.
Even when I sent him away, and the eyes of Gríma Wormtongue grew bolder, and behind closed doors he spoke of marriage as if he already had Théoden's permission, still I held out hope. For though I might be trapped at the last, still in allowing it I might save the man I loved, and at night when I heard Gríma whisper outside my chamber I might lie back and see him riding free, into the battle that he loved, far from me and never to return, and if not happy without me, at least safe from the poison that rotted Edoras. In the darkest night, alone in my chambers with darkness all around, I had three points of light, three men whom I loved riding on the prairies to the East, where war was open and fought with swords, instead of with dishonest words in the dark. But now Théodred was slain, and Éomer imprisoned. And he was dead.
I had sent him away to save his life. I will never forget the grief and confusion in his face when I told him I had never loved him, never forget the anguish of my own heart at the pain I knew I had caused. I thought it was the only way, the only thing I could do to save his life. But now he is dead, and all I have done was deny him and me the comfort of knowing we were loved. I had only given him more pain before he died, and thrown aside one of the few things in my life that I valued.
'Will you let this insolence go unpunished, lord?' Gríma's soft words were the only response to Éomer's report of his meeting with the three strangers. Éomer did not even look at him, standing straight and proud, giving me a swift look before returning his gaze to Théoden. The King said nothing, but only looked on Éomer with a blank expression. 'Will you let your commands go unheeded, and allow a rebellious nephew to endanger the security of your kingdom to increase only his own glory? Many times have I said that he was too young for such a post as he holds.'
'I would know the King's judgement of my actions, not yours,' Éomer said calmly, but I could see he was barely restraining his wrath. I was puzzled by his tale, and confused as to what manner of man the leader of these strangers must have been, to make Éomer risk his life to let him go freely in our realm. Still I knew him and I knew that it was only a matter of a few ill-chosen words to bring death to both Gríma and my brother.
I did not know if I could forgive Théoden that. I had forgiven much, said nothing of the craven policies and the blatant injustice I had witnessed, as many trusted and honorable men were demoted or sent away in disgrace for speaking the truth. I loved him as a father, but if he killed my brother, whatever Éomer might do to deserve such a punishment, I did not know what I would do or how I would justify my service to this man.
One hand stole into the pocket of my gown, fingers wrapping the hilt of the slender dagger secreted there. Futile gesture though I knew it to be, I had carried the weapon since I first realized Wormtongue's true intentions toward myself, so many years ago. Though with each day it became clearer how truly helpless I remained, for there are some wars that cannot be won with steel, that cannot be won at all.
'Will you not speak, lord, that this young fool might have from your lips the justice he asks for? Let him know from your own words that traitors to your kingdom will be punished.'
Slowly Théoden turned to look at him, but the sound of metal against leather drew my horrified eyes as Éomer whipped his sword out of its sheath.
'Call me traitor again, Wormtongue, and you will soon be missing your head!'
Gríma recoiled, and I would have been filled with disgust at the fearful pallor of his face had I not been terrified for my brother's life. What would befall him if he slew the King's counselor I knew only too well. Gripping the back of the throne hard, I shook my head, trying to catch Éomer's eye, but he did not look in my direction.
'Lord, will you allow your faithful servant to be slain in your own hall?' Gríma yelped.
Théoden raised his head. ' I do not know what madness is this, Éomer, sister-son, that you would so defy my commands and threaten death to my counselors in my hall,' he said, and his voice was weary and sad. 'But it is clear you can no longer be trusted as Third Marshal. Or in any position among the knights of my household.'
I could see the blood slowly leave my brother's face, and I could not still the trembling of my hands, clutching the polished stone of the ancient seat until the knuckles showed yellow through my skin. I could hear, in the soft, tired words of an old man, the death knell of our country and our hopes.
A last time Éomer knelt, his eyes very bright against the sickly pallor of his face. Very slowly, reverently, he laid his naked sword at the King's feet.
He stayed thus for a long moment, on one knee with his head bowed, a last gesture of fealty to the memory of the man he had once long ago been proud to serve. Then he rose and stepped back from the throne, his hands open and empty at his sides. He looked at the same time proud and vulnerable, and I felt hot tears prickling behind my eyes. But I would not cry. Not here, in the hall. Not in front of Gríma. I would never let that worm see my tears.
'Guards!' Théoden's voice turned sharp, but it was the querulous voice of an impatient old man, and I looked away, unable to watch them take Éomer. I turned my head to stare at the great tapestry that hung behind the throne, the figure of Eorl the Young as he rode to the Field of Celebrant, his bright hair streaming in the wind and his sword upraised. Was this, then, to be the fate of the House of Eorl? I heard the footsteps of the guards as they approached the throne, heard Théoden sigh, as though very tired.
When I heard the door to the hall open, I turned around, and Éomer turned back in the same instant, and our eyes met. Then the door closed between us, and he was led away.
I took my leave of the King's presence after dinner, and made my way toward the prison levels.
I had barely made it out of the Great Hall before I knew I had been followed.
I thought about ignoring him, but decided it would probably be best to hear him out. Éomer's life might well hang on the next words I said to this man, and when I turned I saw that he knew this, and delighted in it.
I paused deliberately with my back to him, reminding him that I was a member of the royal house, while he, whatever favor he had with Théoden, was still a commoner.
'Yes?' Cool, emotionless, not that that was going to fool Wormtongue. But I knew better than any of the men of my acquaintance the perils of rash anger, and I was resolved not to fall victim to it.
'I merely wished to express my concern for your welfare in this difficult time, my lady,' he said gently, and the snake oil that dripped from his voice fairly made me gag. 'The treason of our Third Marshal is an unfortunate matter for our kingdom, but few at court seem to consider the fact that it is your brother and the last of your family who is imprisoned. If this is hard for us all, it must be hardest for you.'
Ah, Master Worm, the sincerity of your concern overwhelms me! But I am not about to sob hysterically at your ability to state the obvious. But I know well you do not expect me to lean on the shoulder of him who would murder my kin. Still, Éomer is all I have left now, and if you wish to play with me before you strike I cannot prevent you.
'I am grateful for your concern,' I said coolly. Days ago I would have left it at that, and escaped before he had time to state his purpose. But I no longer had that option, and so I did not pretend that I thought him finished. I met his eyes levelly, waiting.
'You, unlike your brother, have devoted your life to loyal service to our lord, and it grieves me such service is recognized by so few,' he went on.
'I do not desire recognition for what I do out of love and duty,' I replied.
He smiled, and I knew he was enjoying this. Oh, for a sword! and I would finish what my brother had failed to do! But no, I would not give in to anger and so doom us all. 'Still you should know that there are those . . . such as myself . . . who see and appreciate your efforts and your loyalty, and would have pity for you in this difficult hour.'
I stiffened at this, forcing myself slowly to relax, one muscle at a time, before allowing myself to reply. My voice was cold. 'I desire no man's pity.' And yours I desire even less, for in your mouth pity means naught but blackmail!
'Éowyn, Éowyn!' And his voice was now that of a man humoring an angry child. 'You are distraught. But you have my pity whether you desire it or not.' He smiled again, and his cold eyes surveyed me slowly, glittering, as if I were an object put on display for his amusement. Ah, but there was a man once who would have killed you for such a glance!
Time to cut to the chase, I decided, before all my resolve went for naught and I gave in to the urge to wring his scrawny neck. 'And would your pity extend to interceding with the King for my brother's life?'
He shook his head slowly, his smile fading. 'Ah, my lady! You must understand, this is a serious matter. Please believe me when I say that I would do anything I could to spare you pain. But decisions in this are the King's, not mine, and he is resolved that your brother has betrayed our trust.'
Valar grant me patience! 'Do not seek to confuse me with words, as if I were a child,' I warned him. 'I know well your power in this court; think you that I am blind? Théoden will save Éomer at your command, just as he is now prepared to slay him for you.'
'At my command, my lady? You know I am but a servant, and I only advise, I do not command. But this time my advice has been in accordance with the law. The King's own law states that strangers must present themselves at Edoras, and Éomer knew this.'
'The law has been set aside at your suggestion before,' I reminded him. 'Why not in this instance, if your pity for me is so great?'
He only shook his head. 'I am sorry, my lady,' he said. 'There is nothing I can do.' But he stood there still, as if waiting. So he was not content to trap me, but would make me beg for it? There are limits, I thought furiously, to what the House of Eorl will submit to thus!
'Then why did you seek me out? If you will kill my brother, I would spend his last hours with him, and not in idle talk with you.' I turned away.
I had taken maybe three steps down the hall before I stopped, and as I stood there in agony I could feel his black eyes on my back. Watching me, waiting for me to turn, knowing he held me a prisoner already. But I would not go. He knew I would not. Whatever it cost me, I would not let Éomer be killed.
Words could not express my loathing for the man in that moment. Still, I reminded myself, I had done things out of love that were far harder than this.
It was not until I heard the scrape of boots on stone that I turned around. Gríma had turned and was walking in the other direction.
He ignored me. So, in punishment for my hesitation, he would make me run after him? He would get more than he bargained for, maybe. Three long strides brought me to his side, and seizing his shoulder I spun him around. He was so surprised that I would stop him by force that I was able to slam him up against the wall. For an instant the mask was gone, and he blinked up at me in confusion and no little fear.
Only for an instant though, then he straightened and stepped back, straightening his robes with an air of offended dignity. 'My lady, I can understand you are distraught, but I can see no reason for such an assault! If you will excuse me, I am needed elsewhere. There is nothing I can do for you or your brother.'
When he tried to turn I moved in front of him, thanking any gods there ever were that I at least was taller than him. Another woman, I supposed, would have persuaded him by seduction or subtle wordplay, but neither had ever come easily to me. 'Do not think to play games with me!' I said. 'Think you I do not know what you want? I am prepared to give it to you, but I will not be played with!'
He raised an eyebrow. 'What is it that you think I want, that I would let my own desires override the security of the Mark?'
I had to pause and take a deep breath, clenching my hands behind my back, before I could speak calmly. Remember, I told myself sternly, he needs you as much as you need him. He cannot make you beg him if you will not. 'You wish to have me as your wife, and the throne of Rohan when my uncle is gone,' I said. 'And if you think Théoden will force me into marriage with anyone, regardless of how strong is your control over him, you are a fool.' I let my voice sink to a whisper. 'You have done your work well, perhaps too well. My uncle will not live much longer, and if you do not act quickly you will not outlive him long! Éomer you may kill without soiling your own hands, and perhaps even Théodred, but my death you will find harder to bring about without endangering yourself. Still you must find a way to put an end to all three of us before Théoden dies'or the first act of the new ruler, whoever he or she may be, will be to order your death!'
'Éomer you have marked for death already. Théodred is a warrior, so his death will not be hard to contrive, for one such as you. But my death would be noticed, and avenged. And if I am unmarried and all my male relatives dead, I will take the throne of Rohan and all will owe allegiance to me'unless you are my husband.'
'Your beauty is beyond compare, lady,' he said, 'and any man would be proud to be your husband, myself no less than any other. But I know not where how you came by these accusations! I realize you are distressed, but you must not give way to foolish anger. I trust you will not be so rash as your brother was.'
'You trust I will not be so rash?' I murmured softly, taking a step closer to him and striking out with my left hand, grasping the collar of his robe and throwing my whole weight against him, pushing him off balance so that I held him against the wall. At the same time I drew the knife from its hidden pocket, bringing it up to press against his throat faster than even I had believed was possible. 'Would you stake your life on that trust?' I asked, my voice still quiet but hard as steel. 'For that is what you do. And if I were to give in to anger you would not live to see me regret it.'
He brought one arm up as if to push me away, but I pressed the knife down harder, and he froze abruptly. For a long moment we stood thus, as a drop of blood welled around the edge of the blade.
'I could have you executed for this!' he hissed furiously.
I laughed. 'You could never prove it,' I said.
Gríma's face was still, but his eyes glittered with a malice that was palpable. I could see he knew I was right. He would accept my bargain, I knew, because he had no choice.
And neither did I.
I drew back, seeing acceptance in his eyes.
'We have a bargain, then, you and I,' he said, and his voice had regained its familiar oily quality.
I held the knife up, wiping the blood from the blade with my fingers, watching the crimson droplets run down my hand before I put it back in my pocket. Clasping my hands behind me with his blood on my palm, I imagined that gave me some sense of power, but it was only an illusion.
I wondered if my love could see me now. They say the men of Númenor can see far away, read the thoughts of others many leagues away. If you see me now, love, forgive me! I do only what I must, to save one who is dear to me, as I have done too many times before. You told me once that to rule a nation one must know the meaning of sacrifice, but little did I know then just what that would mean.
But I was not of Númenor, and whatever glory might have shone from the long- dead White Tree, my ancestors had never seen it. No light shone on the Rohirrim but the silver flash of swords, and the sun on the hair of the warriors at Celebrant. No learning or far-seeing had we, only sword and song, and honor. Such are a dim light and a cold comfort in these days, but they were all I had left.
'I will wed thee, Gríma son of Gálmód,' I said, and the words tasted like ash in my mouth. There, I told myself. I had done it. That wasn't so hard, was it? I knew he was smiling, but I did not see him anymore. Another face was in his place, the strong face of a warrior, the nobility of Numenor and the fire that belongs to Rohan. A proud face, shining with a fierce love of his home, his people . . . and me. Once upon a time, seven years ago. So long ago, but I can still remember every angle of that face, and the roughness of his beard against my fingers, and the softness of his lips.
I had seen him only once, in all those years. He passed through the court, only here for a day, riding away north on a borrowed horse and a mysterious errand of which he would tell no one. There were new lines in his face I did not remember, and a stony, closed look when he saw me. I know not what kept me silent then, what power gave me strength in that moment, for no one knows how I longed to rush to him, to take him in my arms, to cradle his head against me and tell him I loved him, that I had always loved him. To beg for his forgiveness. To comfort him, when I knew I never could. But he said no word to me and left, and I did not think I would ever see him again.
I gave him up so I would not have to watch him die. But why must it always be thus? Why must the choices always be so hard?
Gríma was saying something but I did not hear it. I turned around while he was still talking, turning once again toward the stone stairway that led down to the prison levels. There was much I had to discuss with Éomer. I had to hear my brother's voice, know that he was safe yet, and somehow make him see that this was not a foe he could defeat with a sword. And I had to somehow conceal from him the despair that ate away my heart from the inside, so that he would not see the pain and guess its source, and in his fury seal his own fate.
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.