18. The Siblings
The Third Marshal
Éomer tells Éowyn all that has happened, and she says, Oh. Well, that explains several things.
Éomer stares at her. That is your reaction? 'That explains several things'?
Éowyn gives Éomer the cool, appraising look which always drives him mad. What should my reaction be? I cannot say that I am surprised.
What do you mean, you are not surprised? Are you trying to say that you suspected something like this was happening? Why did you not --
No, Éomer, I did not --and do not -- think that Eledher was working with Gríma, as you seem to. Although I admit, I should have suspected that he was using her in some way. It is exactly the kind of vile behaviour at which he excels, and she is easily led. She would not question his directions. Éowyn is thoughtful, but not upset, and Éomer is confused.
I did not know that you knew her so well, Éomer mocks, his temper starting to get the best of him now that he does not need to keep Théodred calm. Since when do you call her Eledher?
Éowyn narrows her eyes. Since I was eight, Éomer. And I appear to know her better than Théodred does, if he could not see how vulnerable she is to such manipulations.
Though her superior, faintly accusing tone galls him, Éomer does not wish to argue with his sister at this time, so he turns the discussion to what will happen in the future. She agrees that the best thing to do is to act as if nothing has changed, and further suggests that Eledher might be less intimidated if she speaks largely with Éowyn herself. Éomer thinks this a good idea, but warns that Théodred will not be so amenable.
Of course he will not, Éowyn shrugs, and Éomer can see she is irritated. His pride is hurt, and he will want to hear every thing she has to report, so that he can remind himself how badly he has been treated.
He is startled at hostility in his sister's voice. There is a bit more than pride at stake here, Éowyn. Théodred and I both do believe that she acted unknowingly against the King. But she has deceived him in acting as if she cares for him, and that shows she is the type of woman who would --
You are hardly the most objective observer, Éowyn snaps, as you have been quite disdainful of her from the beginning. And Théodred is the second-biggest fool in Rohan if he thinks she is the kind of woman who would -- or could -- feign affection where she feels no such emotion. It is his pride which hurts him, Éomer. I am not saying it is not immediately warranted, but if he carries on as if he is a victim, then I shall swiftly lose all patience with him. This is not all about Théodred .
Éomer does not understand why Éowyn seems to take this so personally, or how she could know Eledher so well, but it is late enough that he does not want to ask her. So he leaves her, and goes to conduct Théodred to his room.
In the following weeks, Éomer thinks back on this conversation more than once, though he does not let Éowyn know. He watches Eledher carefully, when she reports the interactions between Gríma and the King, as well as watching Théodred 's reactions to her. Éomer has no difficulty believing that his cousin's attachment is true -- he had noticed that Théodred had become somehow steadier over the past months -- and his natural inclination is to side with Théodred in this matter. Of course Théodred 's pride is wounded -- what man's would not be at discovering that his lufestre pursued him at the suggestion of an enemy?
But Éomer begins to consider that perhaps he has been wrong in his unwavering scorn of Eledher. When he asks - at Théodred 's suggestion - that she try to obtain letters from months ago, Eledher does not protest this as hazardous, as it certainly is. She merely says, I will try. But I do not know if he keeps them in his office or his room, so it will not be a quick task.
And for all that she says it will not be quick, in less than a fortnight, she has produced such missives for examination. He has no idea how she has obtained these letters, which Gríma must certainly keep hidden. She volunteers no information, nor does she complain that they are overburdening her.
Éomer notes that when he sees her, which is rarely, now that the weather is warm, Eledher seems constantly exhausted, overly tense, much like a man who has been too long on in the field. But she makes no excuses, and does as they ask, pointing out the couriers as they arrive, relaying all conversation between Gríma and Theoden, no matter how seemingly unimportant, to all appearances unconcerned with her own safety in this very dangerous matter.
Théodred has begun spending a great deal of time at Helm's Deep, and Éomer is more frequently in the Meduseld than his cousin. Every day, it is becoming more and more difficult for Éomer to keep from simply killing the Worm where he stands. He hates seeing his uncle so unmanned and weak, hates Theoden's garbled, nonsensical speech, hates that he can as yet do nothing to rid his country of Gríma's malevolent influence. And Éomer's restraint is pushed to the edge by the way Gríma's eyes crawl over Éowyn. He knows precisely what repulsive thoughts are in Gríma's mind when he looks at Éowyn so, and Éomer longs to smash the man's skull beneath his boot heel for daring to think such things. He knows it is only a matter of time before they find the evidence to reveal Gríma as a traitor, but Éomer is not certain that he can keep himself in check until that happens.
He overhears Gríma questioning Eledher, and he is not startled at the Worm's malice. The man is nothing but vermin, and will stoop to anything to further his own ends. However, Éomer is shocked by the emotion in Eledher's voice when she says, He…he does not trust me. He speaks of nothing but petty matters. This is…this is simply to mark me, so no other man will approach me.
There is something in the way she speaks which makes Éomer think that Eledher believes what she is saying. She believes that all she has ever been to Théodred is a talented bed-partner. Eledher sounds hopeless and defeated, as if she now has nothing left to lose, and therefore does not care what happens to her.
He speaks with Eledher later, on the pretense of asking her if any more letters have been delivered. I overheard Gríma speaking to you earlier. Does he always treat you so?
Yes, my lord. She is always wary when Éomer speaks to her, and he cannot blame her for that. He knows that Eledher is aware of his feelings toward her.
Is he…does he still threaten your safety?
Eledher frowns, clearly confused by Éomer's question. Of course he does, my lord, she says, as if this should be obvious.
Now Éomer is puzzled, and a little angry. He believes that my cousin -- the Heir to the throne -- is attached to you, and yet he dares threaten you?
Eledher regards Éomer silently for a moment, and it seems as though she is searching for words. He believes that your lord cousin has only one use for me, she says at length, and again Éomer hears that defeated note to her voice. He believes that Lord Théodred would not waste his energy defending someone like me.
Eledher looks away, but not quickly enough. Éomer sees the expression in her eyes, and realizes that this is what she believes as well. Despite his disapproval of Eledher, Éomer cannot help but feel pity for her, particularly since he cannot in good faith reassure her fears. He thinks that Théodred would protect her from Gríma, but his cousin has been acting so oddly of late that Éomer cannot be certain. Disturbed, he speaks to Éowyn of this.
I wish you would say these things to Théodred , she says with some exasperation. He will not listen to a word I say, for he thinks me still a child. Of course Eledher is hopeless, Éomer. She has no one to turn to, and thinks that Théodred has abandoned her to Gríma's mercies. All she wants to do is correct her mistakes, and Théodred will not acknowledge how she is risking herself. He is blinded by his pride, and I have all but given up trying to make him see.
I do not know that he will listen to me either, Éomer admits. You are right; his pride is keeping him from seeing how harshly he is treating her. I still do not think their association proper, but this …does not seem honourable.
Éowyn shakes her head. And has it occurred to either one of you that we are acting no better than Gríma, in using Eledher this way to further our own ends? Our motives may be noble, but -- Éomer, I do not like how we are using her. She would not think to question us, either. She will simply do as we ask, and take any consequences that may fall upon her.
This has occurred to Éomer, for when he overheard Gríma and Eledher, he himself had been on his way to interrogate her. And this is unnecessary -- over the past weeks, it has become clear that Gríma is discussing nothing of interest with the King, at least in Eledher's presence. Bracing himself for an eruption, he says as much to Théodred .
However, to his surprise, Théodred agrees. It is of no use, Théodred says, staring into his ale. What useful information we have gathered is entirely from those letters. If only we could link them definitively to Gríma! But he is clever, and will never say anything that will allow him to be identified. All we have is Eledher's word, and no council of lords will take that over the word of the King's Advisor. But you are right - we should not subject her to such questionings any longer.
Éomer is caught off guard by the faint hint of wistfulness in Théodred 's tone when he speaks of Eledher, but he is also emboldened by his cousin's reasonability. Cautiously, Éomer tells Théodred of what he overheard, as well as the resulting discussion with Eledher and part of the conversation with Éowyn.
Théodred listens, face impassive, but Éomer catches a fleeting glimpse of something unnamable in his cousin's eyes. Of course we have not abandoned her to Gríma, Théodred says, frowning. Does she think we are so cruel?
Éomer hesitates a moment. We have not told her that we will give her protection, he says carefully. We have told her nothing; we have simply interrogated her and demanded that she do as we say, in order that she may prove herself loyal. It is…it is not entirely fair, cousin.
There it is again, that unidentifiable gleam. This time, Théodred does not say anything; he only retreats into a troubled silence that is becoming more and more his usual behaviour.
Éowyn remembers being very young, watching a skittish girl with a badly bruised face, and wondering if she had been thrown from a horse. The kitchen women rarely thought to hold their tongues when Éowyn was near, so soon she realized that someone had done that to the other girl on purpose. Shortly after, Éomer had found his sister crying in a corner, and Éowyn had been too young to articulate what had upset her so.
After that, she kept distant watch on the other. She overheard someone remarking upon the strangeness of the name Lathwyn, and worked up the courage to ask the bruised girl her birth-name. Éowyn had been very proud when the older girl had answered the question, thinking that she was the only person who knew that birth-name was Eledher.
Since then, Éowyn has always been aware of Eledher, whether directly or peripherally. As time passed, Éowyn came to see that Eledher was not like the other kitchen women. For a time, when Éowyn reached adolescence, she was wholly contemptuous of Eledher and her much-discussed proclivities, but as Éowyn grew older, she has found deep sympathy for the older woman. She remembers the long-ago chatter of the servants, and knows that Eledher's past was not easy. She understands the pain of losing parents, even if she cannot begin to comprehend the life Eledher led with the Dunlendings. Of course she would never consider one of the maids a friend, but Éowyn sees and hears more that happens with the servants than her cousin and brother do, and she has observed Eledher for years. Éowyn has always suspected that Eledher does not feel secure;she can see hints of this in Eledher's silence and subservient posture, in the way Eledher holds everyone at arm's length and confides in no-one. The other women servants often call Eledher cold and heartless and unfeeling; even Liðides has done so. But Éowyn thinks that Eledher fears for her safety, even in the Meduseld.
And Éowyn knows, as perhaps no-one else in Rohan does, what that is like.. Since she was old enough to grasp what lay behind Gríma's eyes, Éowyn has felt vulnerable, though she has done her best to hide it. This is part of what has driven her to take up the training of a Shieldmaiden - she wants to be able to protect herself from whatever may come. Sometimes she feels disloyal, for taking this task upon herself rather than trusting to her male kin -- but they are not always in residence.
Gríma is constantly there, skulking in shadows, whispering malice disguised as wisdom into the ear of her uncle the king, and she can do nothing to stop him. She and Éomer and Théodred tried many times to make Theoden see Gríma's duplicity, but they were unsuccessful, and now her uncle has been reduced to a grim ruin of his former self, a weak man who is barely able to string a coherent sentence together.
Gríma's gaze swarms over her skin as if he has every right to look at her so, and some nights Éowyn cannot sleep, despairing that she -- and Rohan --will never be free of him. But it would not be fitting for a woman of Eorl's house to be so cowed, so she is defiant, cold, as strong as she must be, for there is nothing else she can do to defend herself. Her brother and cousin do not understand what it is like, to fear a man in the place they call home, but she knows Eledher does.
When Éomer comes to Éowyn, and tells her all that has happened, it is all Éowyn can do to keep from finding her cousin and berating him. She understands his initial burst of anger -- Théodred 's temper, once roused, is a fearsome thing, long to cool, and Eledher's admissions would of course send him into a rage. But Éowyn wonders how he can have spent so much time with Eledher, and not understand?
Éowyn certainly does not understand why Théodred would doubt Eledher's heart. It has been clear to Éowyn for some time that Eledher is sincerely attached to the Heir. Although Éowyn does not entirely approve, for after all, Eledher is very common, she cannot say that she disapproves, either. Éowyn knows, of course, that the relationship cannot last -- she is realist, not a romantic -- but she thinks it good for both of them. She sees that Eledher is less withdrawn that she once was, and more tellingly, that Théodred seems less restless. Knowing Eledher first came to Théodred by subtle coercion saddens Éowyn, but does not make her think that Eledher's attachment is any less true. The mere fact that Eledher has let someone, anyone slip past her guard is revealing, for Éowyn cannot remember Eledher ever having done so before. But Éowyn restrains herself, knowing that it will do more harm than good to lecture Théodred at this point, but she also knows that she will not be able to remain silent on the subject for long.
Éowyn is relieved to have something active to do against Gríma, and throws herself whole-heartedly into trying to interpret hidden meanings in his correspondence. She grows impatient with having to hurry through each letter, and decides it will be easier to simply copy the contents of each, so that she and her kin may study them at length. Eledher guards the door of the library while Éowyn's quill flies over the parchment, and, while the other woman does not argue with this course of action, Éowyn can see that Eledher is made very anxious by the extra time it takes. She cannot blame Eledher - each moment the chambermaid spends in watching the library door is a moment she is not at her duties - but it is necessary. Éomer and Théodred both are pleased with the results, and they spend any free hours they have locked up in Éomer's room, pouring over each missive. Théodred also takes copies of these letters with him when he goes to Helm's Deep, so that Erkenbrand and Dunhere will have the same, vague knowledge.
Éowyn's annoyance with Théodred is growing daily, for all that she has not seen him often these past weeks. Théodred will swear that he holds Eledher blameless in the matter of poisoning the King, and Éowyn believes that this is so, but she thinks it unreasonable that her cousin will not even consider the possibility that his conduct toward Eledher is less than fair. He seems to be determined to think that he is the only one who has been injured in these happenings. And it is not as if Théodred notices that his youngest cousin does not speak to him. He prefers to spend his time at Helm's Deep. Éowyn is sure that Théodred is needed there, but it worries her nonetheless that he is isolating himself so. When Théodred does return to the Meduseld, he spends more time in a heavy silence which neither she nor Éomer can penetrate.
As the weeks pass, Éowyn can see that Eledher is growing more and more uneasy with her role in this plan. She still tends to the king with scrupulous care, and uncomplainingly carries out what orders she is given, but she seems uncharacteristically emotional, and often looks as if she has recently been ill. Éowyn feels sorry for Eledher, but does not know what she can do to ease the other's tension.
Is all well? Éowyn asks one day.
Eledher looks startled by the question. Aye, my lady.
You seem…is there something amiss? Has Gríma been mistreating you again?
He has not laid hands on me, if that is what you mean.
Éowyn sighs inwardly at Eledher's blank expression. She did not expect Eledher to pour her heart out, but Éowyn had hoped that a show of concern might lead the other woman to share something of what has been troubling her.
If he grows too spiteful -- if he does lay hands on you, I would have you tell me.
Eledher winces, as if Éowyn has said something which pained her. To what end, my lady?
So that he may be kept from doing so again, of course, Éowyn replies, irritated with Eledher's seeming lack of perception.
Eledher hesitates. And who would keep him from doing so? she says finally. The Lord Éomer is oft afield, and the Lord Théodred -- her voice falters for an instant -- the Lord Théodred has other matters with which to occupy himself. They have no time to concern themselves with something so trifling.
Éowyn is stricken by the bleakness in Eledher's eyes. Do not be foolish. Of course they --
Eledher interrupts Éowyn, which is another shock. My lady, Gríma can do nothing to me that has not already been done, she says. I do not expect anyone to risk this plan for me, and complaining about Gríma would surely do that, as I have never done so before. Do not trouble yourself.
Éowyn thinks that this matter-of-fact statement in to be comforting but instead, it sends a chill down her spine in its quiet resignation. She is also troubled by the fact that Eledher seems to think that she must accept any ill-treatment with nary a word of protest.
I would have you tell me, Éowyn repeats, frustrated. We are not asking you to do this because you are being punished,Eledher. You simply have the most access to Gríma's secrets. But if you feel you are in danger from Gríma, then we will find another way to accomplish our goals.
A puzzled frown passes over Eledher's face, but all she says is, Thank you, my lady. I will keep that in mind.
This is all Éowyn can do; she cannot assure Eledher that all will be right in the end, for it may not. She cannot tell Eledher that Théodred will forgive her, for Éowyn does not know that he will. It infuriates her to think that her cousin is so hard-hearted, but Éowyn knows that Théodred can be ruthless, if he thinks he is in the right.
Éomer comes to her one night, and they discuss Théodred 's odd behaviour. It is very unlike their cousin to keep such emotions to himself, and Éowyn thinks it is only Théodred 's pride that holds him back from admitting that perhaps he is acting selfishly. She is surprised when Éomer reports that Théodred agrees they should stop pushing Eledher for information on Gríma's dealings with the King, and is curious when Éomer tries to explain what he could not identify on Théodred 's face. She wonders what this signifies, and hopes that it means that their cousin is starting to realize that he has been acting deplorably toward the woman he has claimed to have feelings for.
Éowyn is hurriedly copying a letter when movement catches her eye, and she glances up, distracted. Eledher is standing in the doorway as always, but today she seems strangely relaxed. Oh, her back is still rigid, and she still has her arms wrapped around her waist, as if she is protecting herself from someone-- but there is something intangible which has changed. It is as if Eledher has fully let go; of what, Éowyn cannot begin to guess. She turns back to her work, but a suspicion begins to grow in the back of Éowyn's mind.
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.