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Ch. 1 – “I want to be a Shieldmaiden!”
Edoras, 3005 TA
Saelith looked at her through narrowed eyes. Éowyn just sat there on the bench near the stables with her rag doll, Eówara waiting for Éomer. “Just ignore her Eówara, maybe she will go away.”
Saelith eyed her jealously, “I heard that you told Cyneith that you wanted to become a shieldmaiden.” She laughed as if it was a very funny joke.
Éowyn sighed and tried to push aside a feeling of humiliation. She looked at Cyneith, Éowyn was very disappointed that she had said anything. Cyneith looked away with shame in her eyes. Éowyn knew she should have said nothing, Cyneith said she would not say anything but apparently that had not been the case. She looked Saelith in the eye, “What is wrong with that? They are brave and honorable.” She had stolen away from Guthhild, her nurse yet again some weeks earlier and made her way down to the lower reaches of Edoras where she saw them training through a crack in a fence. She had been enthralled.
“They’re peasants! Why would you want to do something that peasants do? But then again you were born in Aldburg not Edoras. Not much as more than peasants there anyways! At least that is what my mama says about her Papa!” she said confidingly to Cyneith, who at least had the good grace to look scandalized by the comment, “Saelith, you shouldn’t say such things!”
Éowyn saw red, “You take that back about my Papa! He was a good man!”
“Good enough to get himself killed!” Saelith retorted.
Éowyn dropped Eówara and ran at Saelith, tumbling her to the ground, pulling hair and getting in a few fist punches before she felt arms pulling her away from the other girl. “Stop it! Stop it! Calm down!” Éowyn heard her brother’s voice in her ear.
“Éomer! You should have heard what she said about Papa!” Éowyn said while still struggling against her brother’s hold.
Éomer looked at Cyneith, who was staring with wide fright-filled eyes. “Do you know what was said?” he asked sternly. Cyneith hedged a bit and then said, “Saelith did say a few things that weren’t very nice at all,” in a scandalized voice.
Saelith looked her and hissed, “Cyneith!” the warning implicit in that one word.
Cyneith stood up a little straighter, “You said you weren’t going to say anything about what I said!” She added emboldened a little, “And it isn’t right to talk about someone’s papa who died!”
Éomer looked at Saelith, “Is this true, Saelith?”
“Maybe.” The girl admitted looking daggers at Cyneith, but without an audience, either willing or unwilling the bluster had gone out of her.
Éomer tamped down his own anger and simply said sternly to Saelith, “I think you had better go home now.”
Saelith protested, “But what about my dress and my hair! What do I say?”
Éomer leveled an unsympathetic look at the girl, “Tell them the truth. And we will tell my uncle.”
Saelith just looked at Éomer, turned on the heel of her boot and left in a huff.
Cyneith approached Éowyn still being nominally held by her brother. She began hesitantly, “Éowyn…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. But I only said something because I was impressed that you wanted to.”
Éowyn looked at her, “Really?”
Cyneith nodded, “Forgive me?”
They both recognized the bellowed words of Cyneith’s nurse, Aldwara. Cyneith’s looked sheepishly at Éowyn, “I best be off!” Éowyn nodded sympathetically. Cyneith ventured, “Friends?”
Éowyn gave her a small smile and a shrug, “Yes.” The other girl departed quickly before her nurse bellowed again.
Éomer let her go and placed her on the bench as he bent to pick up Eówara. He brushed off the doll as best he could and handed her to Éowyn who proceeded to give her a hug.
“Sorry that I dropped you like that, Eówara. But she made me mad.”
Éomer crouched in front of her, smoothing her hair and removing a twig that had become entwinned in her reddish blond hair. “I think we both gathered that. Can you tell me what started this all.”
“Saelith said something mean about Papa!”
Éomer tilted his head and smiled ruefully, “And that was wrong! But was there anything before that. Granted, Saelith is a nasty little minx but before that. What did Cyneith mean about something she said.”
Éowyn hesitated a few seconds because she knew what Éomer’s response was going to be. They had had this discussion before. “I was telling Cyneith that I wanted to be a shieldmaiden!”
Éomer sighed. He just looked at his ten-year old sister. “Ah that. You know that’s not possible.”
Éowyn looked at Éomer as he stood up and pick up his sword. He said, “Are you all right? Should I take you to Dunhild?” offering to take her to the healer who resided at Meduseld and had patched up many cuts and scrapes for them both.
Éowyn shook her head wordlessly as she balefully looked at her brother, who was on his way to training.
“Why can’t I come, too.” She blurted out. Éomer looked at his little sister with sorrowful eyes. “You know that you can’t. Why do you continue to ask?”
“Why can’t I?” Éowyn said petulantly. “Village women learn how to wield a sword. Why can’t I?”
Éomer sighed and walked back to his sister, “Sister, they learn because they have to. They do not always have the menfolk around to shield them. But you do. I will always protect you.” At fifteen Éomer took his responsibility to protect his sister very seriously. He recalled his father’s whispered words, fervent and with a tinge of desperation, “Protect your sister always. She will need you!” Those words sat wrapped around Éomer’s heart. They guided his actions.
Éowyn looked her brother and she swallowed what she was about to say. Even at ten, Éowyn could feel that to say that she could take care of herself would be to hurt Éomer’s feelings. She could not do that to him. So, she remained silent and just looked balefully at Éomer as he picked up his sword and training gear and headed for the practice field.
At that moment Guthhild her nursemaid, bellowed, “Éowyn!! Where is that child?!”
Éowyn closed her eyes and pursed her lips. It was time for the dreaded needlecraft. She sighed heavily and then made a decision as she watched Éomer walking away. She could not let Guthhild see her like this. She would know that she had gotten into a scuffle again and she was not in the mood to hear yet another lecture on how a lady should act. Besides it was time for needlecraft this morning and she simply could not face it today. Her fingers were still smarting from the disastrous lesson of the day before. Running in the opposite direction she found herself in front the door to her uncle’s study. She went inside and immediately heard a snarl from Brego, her uncle’s dog. The dog was eyeing her suspiciously. Try as she might Brego always made her nervous, which was very odd because normally she got along very well with dogs.
“Brego! Quiet!” came her uncle’s voice. She looked up and saw him walking from an adjoining room holding some pieces of parchment.
“I’m sorry, Uncle! I didn’t mean to disturb you!” Éowyn said more disconsolately than she meant to.
Théoden glanced at his young niece, distracted by the parchments in his hand, she seemed a little upset. “Éowyn, lytling! What is troubling you?” he murmured. Then he really looked at her noticing the disheveled clothing and hair, “Éowyn, what has happened to you?” King Théoden’s eyes flashing with concern.
Éowyn chewed her lower lip, “Nothing Uncle…”
Her uncle took a few moments to calm his raging blood after the thought that someone may have harmed his beloved niece. He softened his look and walked over a near chair upholstered in a deep color of green brocade. He put his parchments on the table next and sat down and opened his arms to his niece. “Come and sit, lytling.”
Éowyn rushed into his arms and while she sat in his lap, she poured out the anguish of her heart. “Nobody seems to like me, Uncle! They make fun of me!” For her tussle with Saelith was only the most recent time she had been teased about one thing or another. Éowyn snuffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve and looked at her uncle with big, sad blue eyes.
Théoden looked his little niece and the fear that had gripped his heart began to ease. Nobody had to die this day, his niece seemed basically unhurt. He smoothed a strand of hair of the little girl’s eyes, “Why do you say that, lytling?”
“They made fun of me when I said I wanted to be a shieldmaiden and learn how to protect my family! Then Saelith just laughed at me and said only peasant women became shieldmaidens. She claimed that somehow there must be peasant blood in me if I wanted to be a shieldmaiden. Nobody should say anything bad about my papa! That was why I hit her, uncle.” Éowyn looked up at Théoden, big blue eyes brimming with tears of indignation. “If I was a shieldmaiden, maybe I could have protected Papa!” Éowyn suddenly looked up at Théoden, “Not that I don’t love you Uncle. I do, very much.” She looked off into the distance, “But I do sometimes miss Papa and Mama.” She admittedly quietly.
Théoden was torn between laughing at her feistiness and despair because of her reason for wanting to be a Shieldmaiden. He settled for hugging Éowyn fiercely as his heart broke yet again for the little girl. “Oh my lytling! I love you, too. With all my heart.” He thought of Éomund and Théodwyn, both gone way before their time. “It is perfectly natural to miss your Papa!” he spoke into the little girl’s hair. He thought of the reason she wanted to become a shieldmaiden, wanting to protect those she loved. He pulled back to look Éowyn in the face, “I think it is wonderful and noble that you wish to become a shieldmaiden.” He did not have the heart to deny or discourage her. It was true. Only village women trained to become shieldmaidens. It was thought beneath the women of noble birth, but Éowyn was a child of light and spirit and he could not bear to see her unhappy or deny her this.
Éowyn’s face lit up, “Do you really, Uncle?” her face darkened, “But what about what Saelith said?”
Théoden looked at her, “I said ‘Pish’ to what Saelith says,” He knew of the child, she was the daughter of his First Marshal, Heregar. Heregar was a good man but he had married a rather vain and selfish woman and it did not surprise him that their daughter would say such things. He might have words with Heregar later but he would deal with that if the problem arose. “Peasant indeed!” He said out loud, “You are the daughter of Kings!” Éowyn smiled, “But remember, Éowyn, as the daughter of Kings, you should not put on airs or lord it over people no matter how much you think they deserve it. That is not how one acts. Am I clear?” Éowyn looked earnestly into her uncle’s eyes and nodded while gently chewing her bottom lip. “Good girl!” he said as he wiped almost dried tear tracks off his niece’s lightly freckled and currently dusty cheeks. “Now then about your training.”
“Really Uncle, do you mean it?” Éowyn cried happily.
“Yes,” Théoden smiled, “I wish you learn, if that is what you want to do.”
“I do, I do!”
“Well then, but I do have one request,” said Rohan’s King.
“What?” Éowyn said, not knowing what to expect.
“That we keep this in the family. No one else need know.” Théoden said conspiratorially, “It will be our secret,” He did not wish to open the child up to wagging tongues and more hurtful gossip, and he still wish to allow the child to dream. “I shall ask Théodred to teach you.”
Éowyn mouthed a silent “O” for she idolized her cousin, “Yes, Please.” Her face clouded up again, “But Guthhild would want to know where I was. She is after me every second, always trying to teach me needlework and other things.” Her little face held a mutinous scowl.
Théoden hid a sympathetic smile. He had seen some of his niece’s handiwork. It was…problematic was a kind way of describing her abilities in the “womanly arts.” “Well, she is your nurse.”
“Yes, sir,” came the dispirited reply.
Théoden, still valiantly trying to hide his smile, “I’ll tell you what. What portion of your lessons would you like to dispense with?”
“Needlework!” came the enthusiastic assertion. “All I seem to do is poke my finger with that blasted needle,”
“Language! Éowyn.” Théoden admonished albeit gently. “You should not use such words.”
“Yes, Uncle. I do try. But sometimes they just slip out!” Éowyn ended with a little more spirit.
Théoden let forth a cough that sounded more like a laugh. He cleared his throat and began again. “Well on days when Théodred is available to teach you I shall tell Guthhild that during your needlework time you are to spend time with your cousin instead. She does not need to know the reason why.”
“Thank you, uncle. Thank you!” She gave him a big kiss on his whiskered blond cheek.
Théoden laughed. “It won’t be all the time, you’ll still have needlework at least part of the time!”
Éowyn beamed, “But not all the time!”
Théoden laughed again.
“Beg pardon My King,” Théoden looked up from his niece, slightly aggrieved their time had been disturbed. But he nodded his consent for the rider to continue.
“Beg pardon once again, My King. But the Marshals are in the meeting room, they await your presence.”
Théoden’s eyes fell upon the forgotten parchment on the near table and he let forth a sigh, “Yes, of course, Déormod. Thank you for reminding me. Forgive me.”
Déormod was a bit flustered at hearing his King apologize to him. He was new to Edoras and to the King’s service and did not know his King’s ways, he stumbled out, “There is no need, My King.”
Théoden turned his attentions back to his niece, “Éowyn, are we in agreement?”
Éowyn looked at her uncle and felt so special that he was asking for her consent. She felt very grown up, “Yes, Uncle!”
He kissed her forehead and gave her a hug, “Up you get!” he said as he placed her feet on the ground. “It will be our secret!”
Éowyn giggled. She dropped a little curtsy to her uncle and to Déormod. She scurried off to find Éomer to tell him the secret. He would keep the secret. He could be trusted.
Lytling (Old English): A little one, a young person or child (Rohirric was based on Old English, so I looked up a few Old English words.)
A/N: I looked into the idea of Shieldmaidens in Rohan and I got many conflicting ideas and nothing definitive. I read somewhere that Shieldmaidens were village women who learned how to defend themselves when their men were away. I have decided that this is the idea that I am going to run with as it began to present story ideas almost immediately.
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