Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Theodred's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 5 – You Need My Sword

Theodred and Eowyn walked down the steep, stone-paved streets of the city toward the north gate. Theodred’s next task was to speak with Elfhelm, chief of the city’s defenses, and Eowyn had asked to come along. At this hour he would be drilling his eored on the practice fields outside the city walls.

Her heart light, Eowyn fairly danced over the rough stones. Soon, now, her secret ambition would be fulfilled. So many years she had waited, prepared, focused always on her goal. One by one the impossible obstacles had fallen, bringing her a step at a time closer to her heart’s desire. The final wall had seemed unbreachable, and she had almost despaired, but now this crisis loomed, and the wall lay in rubble at her feet. Surely, now that every sword was needed, she would be granted her heart’s desire, to raise her sword in defense of her beloved Rohan.

Her earliest memory was of watching Eomer the day he first began his training as a Rider. The young boy was so proud, yet so awkward as he held the wooden practice sword and swung it clumsily in response to their father’s directions. Eowyn wriggled in her mother’s arms. Not like that, like this! Her hands itched to grasp the hilt, and her arms seem to feel the proper motions, smooth and graceful, powerful and deadly.

She’d been too young then to realize what it meant that she was a girl.

The tales sung around the fire at night told of the glories of Rohan’s past. In the time of Eorl bold shieldmaidens had fought beside the men, winning glory and fame, defeating evil. Was it any wonder Eowyn had expected to be able to do the same, to take up a sword as soon as she was tall enough to keep it from dragging on the ground, to follow in the footsteps of her elder brother and the heroines of lore? As soon as Eomer, bored of his lesson, had dropped the sword by the hearth, she slipped over and seized it.

The men had laughed, to see a three-year-old dragging around her brother’s sword, blind to her instinctive grasp of its balance. Her mother had scolded her and torn the sword from her reluctant grip, returning it to Eomer with an admonishment to properly put away his things if he wished them to be safe from his sister’s meddling. But Eowyn had felt for a moment a blade in her hand, and her destiny was forever set.

Not many years after that her father died, and soon after her mother, and she and Eomer came to live in the household of the king her uncle. Stricken by grief, she had clung even more fiercely to her dream. The nursemaids and governesses given charge of her had clucked and shaken their heads, but if it gave her comfort to spend endless hours watching the men gallop back and forth on the practice fields and hack at straw figures, they didn’t have the heart to deny it to the pale, skinny girl. She learned the women’s arts they taught well enough, but without enthusiasm, and set aside her embroidery with its small, neat stitches as soon as was allowed, that she might haunt the stables, grooming the silky coats of the horses and murmuring in their ears the secrets she could trust to no human, even mucking out the stalls when the stable boys permitted. Her riding lessons she attended to with great passion, and soon her skill on horseback was notable even among the horselords, where all were skilled.

It was Theodred, finally, who noticed her, watching him for the thousandth time with her intent blue eyes, tall and straight at the edge of the field where he led his eored through the maneuvers of battle over and over, seeking perfection. At the end of the session when he had dismissed his men, he rode over to her, and on impulse reached his hand down to her. Accepting it, she sprang lightly up in front of him, and though she said nothing her body was alive with excitement to be astride one of the mearas. Theodred noted the ease of her seat, even perched awkwardly before him. He urged Silverfoot to a canter, swinging in a wide circle, then let the horse open up to a full gallop as only a mearas could, flying with unmatched speed across the grassy plain. They curved back around toward the city, and reluctantly Silverfoot slowed again, coming to a stop before the gate.

Eowyn slid down with a word of thanks. Theodred dismounted too. He hurt to see how the light of joy sparked in her by their ride faded, and she turned to go through the gate like a fledgling bird, after tasting for the first time the freedom of flight, returning to its cage.

“Wait, Eowyn,” he called. She turned back to him. “How old are you now?”

“Thirteen, my lord.”

“Call me Theodred. You are my cousin, after all. Eowyn… I’ve seen you watching, often, while the men are training.” Somehow he didn’t think she was like the other young girls who watched, in groups, squealing with laughter at a flashy move, gossiping about which Rider they found most handsome. “You look at the Riders like you wish you were one of them, at the swords like you wish you held one in your hand.”

Distrust and hope warred in her face as her gaze met his. “Yes,” she said after a long pause, her voice low. “I have long regretted the ill-fortune that I was born female, or at least, born in a time when to be female is to be deemed unworthy to be a warrior.”

Gravely Theodred drew his sword from its sheath. “It was not always thus. Not that many generations ago, the men of Rohan counted it an honor to fight alongside a noble shieldmaiden.” Stepping to her side, he closed her fingers around the hilt of his sword. “Show me what you have learned from watching.”

The sword was too heavy for her, but it was a fine weapon, perfectly balanced. Self-consciously Eowyn held it before her, feeling awkward and ridiculous. She moved her arm into the first position of the most basic drill, one she’d watched trainees perform over and over until the movements were burned into their muscles. Thus would the sword parry the enemy’s blow, and thus slide around to thrust forward in attack. It felt strange, to move at last in reality through the exercise she had lived so often in her imagination, but right, wonderfully right. With each swing and thrust her body learned more about the art of battle, moved with more certainty into the next position. So deeply absorbed had she become in her task that Theodred’s hand on her shoulder was like a shock, waking her from a dream. She stared at him for a moment, longing naked on her face, then blushed and looked down, shoving the sword hilt toward him. He accepted it back and sheathed it smoothly, studying her gravely. Her gift was undeniable. Theodred had trained many a lad, and knew the signs of inborn talent. No matter that her stance was all wrong, her hand placed incorrectly on the hilt, her arms shaking under the weight of the too-heavy sword. Those things could all be corrected by training. What couldn’t be taught was the feel, the instinct, the passion. Those she had in full measure.

Theodred felt his resolve take shape. Grievous indeed would it be to see such passion denied. He would speak to Theoden and persuade him to see what must be done.

Her feet heavy, hands drooping empty at her sides, Eowyn turned back toward the city gate, trying to be glad that she’d been privileged to taste, however briefly, what she longed for. But the momentary sweetness only served to make her return to hunger more bitter.

Theodred’s voice stopped her, and the smile in his eyes and the warmth in his voice woke in her for the first time real hope. “I think perhaps it is time for Rohan to have a shieldmaiden once again. I would not see such a gift wasted. Would you wish to be trained? I warn you, it will be hard work.”

Eowyn tried to speak, and found herself voiceless. She cleared her throat, and blurted out, “Yes, please, more than anything.” She took his offered hand, and walked beside him up the stone streets. Her mind was skeptical, reluctant to hope, but her feet believed, and fairly danced upward toward the Golden Hall.

Now her feet danced again, walking down those same streets. The long years of training, the endless hours of labor, molding her body, hardening her muscles, drilling skills deep into her heart until no thought was required to use them, so they would be available in the heat of battle when no thought was possible, all that would now soon come to fruition. For many years the training itself had satisfied her, had answered her inmost need. But eventually the day came when she knew she had at last learned all that Theodred and the other Riders had to teach, when had she been male she would have been deemed ready to face the only true test, and ride into battle. But there was no place in an eored for her, no opportunity to participate in the defense against the endless orc raids, no first blood drawn or spilt. Now she worked only to maintain skills already honed as far as theory allowed, more and more frustrated that she was not allowed to put them into practice.

Her sense of entrapment returned, and she wondered bitterly why she had bothered, what it had all been for. She hadn’t even bothered to ask to be allowed to fight, knowing what the answer must be. Rohan had no lack of skilled warriors, and she was not needed.

But now! Now the balance of power had warped and distorted. Saruman’s betrayal had ripped away the security of the western border, exposing their vulnerability. Now eyes that had focused so long on the menace in the east must turn, and discover, with foes both east and west, what had seemed ample defense was now pitifully inadequate. Men would have to be mustered from every town and village, and even then the numbers might not be enough. Rohan could ill afford to turn away any hand skilled with a sword.

Not even mine! she exulted in her heart. Woman or no, how could they be so foolish as to deny her?

Arriving at the practice field, Theodred and Eowyn paused and watched for a while. The latest trainees had been drilling for several weeks now, and were coming along well. Elfhelm was watching, shouting instructions and orders as each in turn rode his horse through a course of obstacles, leaping over piled bales of straw, turning sharply to wind between closely set poles, navigating rocky ground and hedges of thorny branches. With an experienced eye Eowyn sized up the boy currently working his way around the course. Not bad, although he needed to tighten his knees and firm his seat. On that sharp turn he looked like he was about to come off his horse. He recovered well, though, and his form was good as he urged the beast high over the next fence, clearing it cleanly. As he finished the course, Elfhelm called his second in command over and put him in charge of the exercise, then strode over, greeting Theodred with clasped arms.

The two of them set about discussing all the arrangements for the defense of Edoras itself. Eowyn listened intently, appreciating the deep knowledge the two commanders had of every man in each eored, every road, path, hill and ravine for miles around the city, and the nuances of battle strategy. She worked to understand why they came to the decisions they settled on, and strove to see the whole of the plan in the multitude of details. The two allowed her to listen, but ignored her presence.

An hour passed. The trainees had moved on to the next phase of the exercise, which involved the experienced riders stationed at intervals along the course, so the trainees had to cope not only with the passive obstacles but also with attacking swords that must be parried. Theodred and Elfhelm had fallen silent, watching the training, plans in place. Eowyn sensed that this was her moment to speak.

“Lord Marshall, Captain, sirs,” she began, forsaking the familiarity of a cousin for the formality of a soldier addressing commanding officers. They turned to regard her.

“Yes?” Theodred prompted, when the words seemed frozen in her throat.

“Sirs, I have trained for many years in the arts of war. Both of you have worked with me; you both know my worth as a warrior. I have been mindful of my unique position, and until now have not asked or expected a place in an eored, as might normally be granted to one of my skill. But now, war is upon us, and I would not stand idly by while others do battle. You need my sword. I am asking now to be accepted as a Rider, and I await your command.”

Stunned, Theodred studied the young woman before him. She stood as tall and straight as that day he had first noticed her, but now her muscles were strong and hard, and her pose had the easy confidence of one who knew her own skill. He shouldn’t be surprised, Theodred reflected. Surely this day had been inevitable from the moment she first held a sword. She was right, he knew. Every word she said was true. She was entirely deserving of the place she asked for. Yet still he must deny her, must dash all her hopes. There was so much she didn’t understand.

“Eowyn,” he began, then groped for words to explain to her the reality of the situation. “Eowyn, it’s impossible, what you ask. Yes, you are skilled; your sword is the equal of any man’s. I would be glad to have you fight under my command. But you are not any man, you are the king’s niece, and the situation is so much more complicated than you know. You are the only one besides Wormtongue who Theoden listens to at all. You are needed at his side, much more than on the battlefield.” Theodred could see his words were not heeded. Eowyn had gone pale, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Her eyes were full of hot denial.

“You cannot mean it. You will not allow me a chance, even now at our greatest need?”

Theodred hated having to deny her. But his duty was clear. She did not understand the carefully honed camaraderie of an eored, how each man must trust his comrades with his very life at every moment. Theodred knew her skill, but the very fact of her sex would prevent the men from accepting her, not as quickly as would be needed now, however unfair that might be. Perhaps, after many months of training together, an eored might come to know her, to trust her. But Theodred had seen eoreds fall apart in battle if that trust were not present, and he would not risk that now, of all times. And he shied from the thought of that fair head bloodied, those clear eyes confronted with the horrors he was all too familiar with. No, she must not be sent into battle, not unless the battle came to the very steps of Meduseld itself.

“I do mean it. You have placed yourself at my command, and I am ordering you as your superior officer. Your station is at the king’s side. You have leave to use your sword to defend him, if the need arise. But you are not to abandon him, not though the fight comes to the very gates of the city.”

Eowyn refused to cry in front of him, staring stony-eyed at him until he waved her away with a gesture of dismissal. She walked blindly away, turning her face into the wind that it might dry her tears before they fell. She watched unseeing as the trainees continued their drills, playing over in her head the arguments she had found so convincing, that he had refused to even consider. She was dimly aware of Theodred bidding farewell to Elfhelm and departing back to the city.

A hand fell on her shoulder. Startled, she looked up to see Elfhelm gazing down at her with an odd half-smile.

“You have a great heart, my lady, and I would not see it denied. Have you not heard it said, ‘where will wants not, a way opens?’” Her face lit with hope, but he shook his head. “I can do nothing to countermand the orders Theodred has given you. But if the day should come when Theoden no longer sits in Meduseld with you his only trustworthy companion, know that I would welcome you in my eored.” With a gesture he stilled the torrent of thanks and questions that spilled from her, and strode back to the practice field.

Eowyn watched him for a long time, wondering. Then she turned back to the city, her steps heavy as she plodded back up the streets she had so recently danced down. She felt the bars of her cage closing in again around her. But a faint hope burned in her heart, and gave her the strength to hold up her head. She loved Theoden, and to attend him was no burden, though no different than what she had already been doing. But the current situation could not endure forever. Surely soon Theodred must act to cast out the wretched Wormtongue. And failing that, a secret shameful whisper stole into her heart, the king was old, his health failing daily. How much longer could he last? Eowyn shook her head against the thought. But she resolved to make preparations, nonetheless. When her chance came, she would be ready to seize it.

<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List