60. Politics and Power
Politics. Politics and power.
The most imminent thing that changed after Éomer had come to find me at Tarnost was that I was sucked into the politics and the power plays of the Gondorian and Rohirric nobility.
I had realized almost at once that my adoption by the Prince of Dol Amroth was not only an act of love and friendship, but a political effort to smooth Éomer's ascent to the throne of Rohan. It followed logically that the funeral escort of Théoden was not only an honour to the fallen hero, but a political endeavour, too.
The funeral escort would serve to cement the renewed ties between Rohan and Gondor, which were by no means favoured by all lords in either Rohan or Gondor. The funeral escort was also the first part of the royal progress through the kingdom of Gondor and Arnor. You have to realize that the way Gondor and Rohan were ruled was actually not medieval. Both kings ruled from their capitals. There was some centralized bureaucracy and an established system of government in both countries.
This is very different from the way the kings of Europe had ruled their lands during the middle ages. Since the days of Carolus Magnus, the European rulers had governed their people by incessantly travelling from city to city and from fiefdom to fiefdom. Their way of ruling had been a complicated way of coming to those who needed to be controlled and forcing the less powerful to travel to wherever the king was at any given time. This was not the case with either Rohan or Gondor, but whenever a new king ascended the throne, the first thing he did was to go on a royal progress through the kingdom. The new king would travel through all provinces and fiefdoms, to show himself to his subjects, to hold judgment and give counsel and, of course, to collect taxes. Money makes the world go round, even in Middle-earth.
Sorcha had told me that I had to start behaving like a queen. Lady Míriël seemed to share Sorcha's point of view.
On the evening before we would set out for Edoras, she sent a servant down to the white villa on the sixth circle of Minas Tirith to summon me to the king's study. When I arrived in the study, a huge room lined with bookshelves, most seats around a magnificent table of gleaming red wood were already taken. Aragorn presided this meeting. But at his side were Arwen and Elrond. Gandalf was there, Faramir, Éowyn, Éomer, Húrin of the Keyes, Prince Imrahil, Lady Míriël, Elphir, who had risen in rank to the captain of the royal guard at Minas Tirith, and Elfhelm, who was to be the second marshal of the Mark when Éomer was proclaimed king. From those present I deduced that this meeting would be a matter of Gondorian and Rohirric politics, and for a moment I wondered for what reason I should be included. Then realization struck me in a rush of hot and cold shivers running down my back.
Éomer really meant to marry me.
I would be adopted by the third family in the book of kings of Gondor to aid that purpose.
In all probability I would be queen of Rohan one of these days. And although Rohan had no tradition of ruling queens such as Gondor, the queens of Rohan were by no means powerless or idle. Éowyn had told me a lot about the history of Rohan. Just let me say this: the term "shield-maiden" is not a joke.
I inhaled deeply and sat down in a chair next to Lady Míriël. She smiled at me. Then she whispered, "Sit down, be quiet and listen well." I nodded mutely.
Aragorn looked around the table. Obviously everyone was present he expected because he rose from his chair. "Good evening, my ladies and my lords. We have come together this evening to discuss the organization of the funeral escort and the subsequent progress through Gondor and Arnor. First I want to address the matter of the funeral escort. It is inevitable that this escort will be connected with various political matters."
Éomer shifted in his chair. He was looking at Aragorn, and I thought that he did not like the thought of connecting his uncle's burial with politics. Éowyn was watching her brother with raised eyebrows. Éowyn had a much firmer footing in politics than her brother due to her care of the old king. It was not so much lack of ability on Éomer's part, but rather a marked lack of inclination until his cousin had been killed. Now here Éomer was, a young man of twenty-eight years, who would ascend a throne of a land torn by war and treason and who had no real experience with the political machinations of his realm's nobles and powers-that-be at all.
This only goes to say that Éomer did not only look tired because he spent his nights dreaming of me or grieving for his uncle. There were many urgent matters at hand of political importance that had to be dealt with, and no one in Rohan he could really turn to for advice.
In comparison Aragorn had not only a head start of sixty years of experience with men and politics, he had also three of the most powerful and influential men of all Gondor on his side – Prince Imrahil, Lord Steward Faramir and the Warden of the Keyes, Lord Húrin.
Éomer's mainstay was his sister, and his fellow warriors, the other two marshals of the Mark, Elfhelm and Erkenbrand. But warriors and heroes are not necessarily good politicians.
"The first thing to discuss is the matter of the Druadan Forest and the Wild Men of the Woods. I will enfeoff them with the forest in return for their services during the war,"
"How much land are you thinking of, sire?" Faramir asked. "There is the matter of fire-wood. I would think it most unwise to give them all of the woods in the area."
Aragorn sighed. "You are right, of course. But it will have to be all of Druadan Forest. Anything else would make a mockery of their service."
"Then leave out the Grey Wood, my lord," suggested Húrin. "It is not connected to Druadan Forest, and the people of the area of Minas Tirith much prefer going there, anyway. They say Druadan Forest is uncanny. They are afraid of the Woses."
Aragorn turned to Gandalf. "What do you think?"
Gandalf nodded to Húrin. "I agree with the Warden of the Keys. Granting them Druadan Forest is a more than generous remuneration of their service, Aragorn. No king in the history of Gondor has ever acknowledged them as a people. They will be grateful to you and your heirs to the end of time."
Aragorn made a note on the piece of parchment he had lying on the table in front of him.
"Good. Now to the matter of the funeral. Everything should go smoothly there, I think. Or does anyone see any problems?"
All around the table heads were shaken.
"After the funeral Éomer will be made king. Is there anything we should know about the political situation in Rohan, my friend?" Aragorn turned to Éomer.
Éomer pressed his lips together and shrugged. I narrowed my eyes. There was something.
Éowyn was frowning at her brother. When it was obvious that Éomer would not speak, Éowyn cleared her throat. "Yes, there are a number of things I hope my brother told you about. Namely the matter of Lord Grimsir of the Westfold of Adornond."
Éomer glared at his sister.
I had never heard of the Lord Grimsir before. Somehow the name had an ominous sound.
A vague feeling of apprehension grew in my heart. Don't be silly, Lothíriel.
"What about Lord Grimsir?" Aragorn asked.
Éomer sighed. "Lord Grimsir is Gríma Wormtongue's older brother and he does not like me. That's all."
Éowyn shook her head. In a very business-like voice she explained the political situation in Rohan. "That is not all, and you well know it. Lord Grimsir is the oldest of the Lords of the five provinces and his voice is the deciding factor in the council. Elfhelm and Erkenbrand will only succeed to the lordship of the Eastfold and West Emnet when Éomer is proclaimed king. That leaves the lords of East Emnet and the Wold. Lord Berig of the Wold will hold with Éomer, but Lord Eutharich of West Emnet is volatile by nature and spiteful by character. Elfhelm and Erkenbrand may not vote because their succession is bound to the king's ascension to the throne. Therefore it comes down to the votes of Grimsir, Berig and Eutharich. I think it is very possible that Lord Grimsir might call for trial by ordeal to ascertain Éomer's competence as king of Rohan. And by our laws of old that is his right, because the line of kings was broken, and Grimsir can trace his ancestry back to King Grim of Rohan."
At Éowyn's words a sick weight formed in the pit of my stomach. Trial by ordeal?
"Éomer is one of the best fighters I have ever seen," Faramir said. "Would there be a problem? Apart from the political implications?"
Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "Apart from any political implications? I did mention that Lord Grimsir is the older brother of Gríma Wormtongue, didn't I? I know, he condemned his brother's treason in a very public way and at the first opportunity, but the Westfold and especially Adornond could have increased its size and wealth enormously had Gríma succeeded in his plans. I am not saying that Lord Grimsir is or was in league with Saruman or Gríma. I am only saying that he could have gained much, had the treason not been discovered or had the battle at Helm's Deep ended differently."
"But what would he gain in trying to prevent Éomer's ascent to the throne or cause difficulties for him? Théoden made him his heir according to ancient Rohirric custom," Aragorn asked, looking at Éomer. Éomer stared back at Aragorn. His eyes were almost black, his jaw set.
"Power. He could ask for trial by ordeal and then call it off. Then I would be king by his grace. Did he not call it off, it would still leave a mark of missing trust in my ascension to the throne. I don't think he really believes that he could claim the throne. But there's no love lost between us, and he will do anything to reduce the influence of Edoras on the way he rules the Westfold." Éomer's voice was calm and even, with only a hint of bitterness. I remembered what he had told me, weeks ago. I would have been content with my horses and leading my company… Instead I will be thrown into a pit of vipers now. And I will get to be there with him.
Politics. Politics and power plays. And I had thought with the war and the end of the enemy all would be well. All's well that ends well, a stray thought popped up in my mind. But this play has only just begun…
Then the morning of our departure had arrived. The golden summer days of healing and companionship at Minas Tirith had flown by, and as I slowly rode down to the Great gates, I wondered where the time had gone. It was but an hour after dawn, and although the day promised to be bright and hot, for the moment shimmering mists drifted up from the Anduin and down from Mindolluin.
The company was assembled at the Great Gates. On the road just outside the gates a wain was waiting for the casket of Théoden King. Merry was already up on the wain at the front, being charged with the honour of carrying the king's weapons. Frohwein would drive the carriage.
Behind the wain the company of the Riders of Rohan waited that had accompanied us to Minas Tirith. It was the Royal Guard, the elite troop of the kingdom, riders of horses with the blood of Mearas. Proud and fierce they looked in their armour of leather and gold, the banner of Rohan flying in the soft summer wind above their heads. Éowyn and Éomer would lead the Rohirrim back home, and because I rode on a Meara, it had been decided that I would be riding with them. It would be a long and impressive train of riders, carriages and marchers on foot, clothed in silks or armour of silver, gold or leather.
The drums began to roll and the deep bells of the gate towers began to toll, waking me from my musings. Aragorn and Éomer, together with Húrin and Faramir acted as pallbearers. They had gone to the Hallows and the tombs of Rath Dínen alone without guards or company. They had carried an empty golden bier.
Now they were returning from that silent street, and the bier was no longer empty. They had carried the black and gold casket down from Rath Dínen through the empty and quiet streets of Minas Tirith. They looked grim as the came through the gates, grim and pale, and their eyes were dark. When they had passed the gates, the drums fell silent and the bells were stilled.
They placed the casket on the funeral wain.
For a moment they stood and looked at the casket and the vehicle that would carry Théoden home to Edoras.
The white walls of Minas Tirith gleamed behind the black wood of the carriage and the sun shone golden on the bier and the golden fittings of the casket, making them glint and glitter in the light. But the Fields of the Pelennor around us were still brown and dead. This summer nothing was growing here.
Aragorn turned away from the casket first. He mounted his horse, Roheryn, and rode to the front of the train and Faramir rode with him. Húrin of the Keyes, who would stay in Minas Tirith, slowly walked back to the shadows of the Great Gates. In Aragorn's absence the governing of Gondor and Minas Tirith would fall to Húrin, as Faramir was riding with us to Edoras to be betrothed to Éowyn when Théoden was buried and Éomer crowned according to the laws and customs of Rohan.
At last Éomer also turned from the wain and mounted his stallion. When he took up his position between Éowyn and me, he seemed withdrawn, and his eyes were dull with pain.
He had loved his uncle very much. Since Éomer's father had died seventeen years ago, Théoden had been like a father to him, through all the years of his youth and early adulthood. Théoden had been Éomer's shining example of how a rider of the Rohirrim and a noble lord should be, before he had succumbed to Saruman's evil spells. His guardianship had made Éomer the man he was today. Théoden's guardianship, and his failing under the malignant influences of Gríma Wormtongue. No wonder that there was no love lost between Gríma's brother and Éomer.
We did not get far that day. Our company consisted of too many people, and the speed of marchers and carriages had to be accommodated. But we did arrive at Druadan Forest at nightfall, and Aragorn sent out his heralds and let them blow their trumpets. When the sounds of the trumpets died away, it seemed to me that the wooded hills were reverberating with deep, deep drums rolling down from the heights. But the sound was so low and so deep and seemed to come from every side that you could not be sure if you had heard anything at all.
Aragorn motioned to his personal herald, a blond man named Gelimer. Gelimer took out a roll of parchment. In a ringing voice he read out the grant of Drúadan. "Behold the King Elessar is come! The Forest of Drúadan he gives to Ghân-buri-ghân and to his folk, to be their own forever; and hereafter let no man enter it without their leave!"
When he had finished, he nailed the parchment and a map that outlined the boundaries of Drúadan Forest at an ancient oak tree that grew beside a fallen stone. As he stepped back, the drums rolled once more around us and went silent. Of Ghân-buri-ghân or his people we saw nothing at all.
But when we moved on in the morning, travelling on the Great West Road, following the boundaries of Drúadan Forest, the tiny hairs at the nape of my neck were prickling all the time as if unseen eyes were watching our every step.
Thus we passed into Sunlending or Anórien, the sun-lands of Gondor. I realized that the term sun-lands had to refer not only to the way the sun seemed to favour these fertile fields, but also the way the ripe grains shone golden on their stems as if they had been dipped into molten gold. Sun-lands, sun-fields were all around us, and if it was not golden wheat and barley or oats, there were fields of sunflowers just on the brink of losing their bloom.
We moved very slowly, because all the time we were stopped by farmers, villagers or other inhabitants of Anórien who wanted to do homage on to the king and swear fealty. There were also a number of complaints, minor conflicts about taxes or the ownership of land, which had to be sorted out and judged by Aragorn. But for the most part, people wanted simply to see their king and queen and cheer them along.
When the funeral wain passed them, the men bowed deeply, and the women sank into curtsies, all of them showing their respect to the dead king of Rohan.
We picked up speed when we crossed Mering Stream and entered Rohan. Although people were curious about the King of Gondor, their fealty belonged to their own king, so there were fewer holdups after we reached Rohan.
However, from the moment we had set foot on Rohirric ground, the road was lined with mourners waiting for the casket of Théoden King to pass them by. As the villages and farms of Rohan are scattered over wide stretches of country, people had to have travelled very far to make their last goodbye to the old king. But they were there. They lined every step of the road, on both sides of the road, and when the wain with the golden and black casket went by, they threw small white flowers at the casket, they bowed and curtsied, and many of them cried.
King Théoden Ednew had been well loved and admired by all his people.
Finally, on the seventh of August in 3019 of the Third Age, on the very brink of the Fourth Age, we reached Edoras.
Once again the town and the palaces were decked out with banners and garlands. Before Théoden could be laid to rest, he had to be welcomed home. This was done in a high feast that lasted three days. As long as the men of his personal guard laboured to prepare a funeral mound for the dead king.
I loved being back at Edoras.
But I kept away from the festivities. I had never met the old king, and somehow I felt strange about this custom to welcome a dead king with a huge celebration and then turn from feasting and frolicking to grieving and mourning as soon as the grave was ready.
As it had been decided that I should not be seen in public with Éomer yet, this was just as well. I stayed with Lady Míriël and Arwen who – as women and foreigners – did not participate in many of the festivities either, which centred on honouring the king as a warrior and a hero.
On the evening of the third day of celebrations, I stood with Éowyn on the terrace before the Golden Hall. As shield-maiden of Rohan, Éowyn had been deeply involved in the celebrations. Now she was pale and looked exhausted.
She followed my gaze beyond the walls of Edoras to the Barrowfield. The new mound was clearly visible. "Tomorrow morning my uncle will be interred. Tomorrow evening the names of the kings since Eorl the Young will be recited in the Golden Hall, with two new lines added to them for my uncle. And afterwards Éomer will be made king. He will swear blood-oath to his land and his people. Then he will be acclaimed by the lords of the Mark as their king," Éowyn told me, her voice tinged with fatigue.
I pressed my lips together. Nothing more had been said about the Lord Grimsir and his plans.
"What about this Lord Grimsir? Do you know if he will interfere at the coronation?"
Éowyn rubbed at her temples. For a long moment she did not answer. "I have no idea. The feast and the funeral are not the place for politics. We will have to wait and see. But whatever he will do, Lothíriel, you have to be wary of him. He is more cunning than his younger brother ever was." Éowyn clenched her teeth and shuddered. The memory of Gríma Wormtongue was still the cause of nightmares for my friend.
Politics and power plays. I stared out to the Barrowfield across the thatched roofs of the town houses and prayed that everything would be alright, and that Lord Grimsir of Adornond would not become the source of my nightmares.
Grimsir = an austere, stern, morose, or overbearing person; first used in 1450, last recorded use of the word 1621 (The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 3rd edition, Book Club Associates by arrangement with Oxford University Press, London 1983)
To be continued...
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