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Ch. 7 – Forgiveness begins
Éowyn suddenly could not breathe. She had to leave. She had to breathe the free air and ease the constriction she suddenly felt within her chest. As she bolted from the doorway Éowyn heard her brother’s voice calling after her, but she could not stop. She ran until she felt safe. Her steps slowed and she looked at her surroundings. It should have come as no surprise to her; she was in the stables. She paused and breathed in the soothing smells of clean hay and leather. She made it over to a strapped bale of hay up against a wall and climbed onto it. Physically exhausted and emotionally spent Éowyn drew her knees up to her chest. She stared out into the paddock and beyond to the shouldering mountains that held Edoras in their crescent. Her heart felt empty and yet full-to-bursting at the same time. Everything she was, every way she thought of herself lay crumbling around her. She took one deep breath after another just trying to keep the fractures in her heart from splintering off irrevocably.
She heard footsteps approaching and she bolted into the stables proper not wanting to speak to anyone. Wildefýr looked up and knickered her welcome. Éowyn ran up and threw her arms around her mare’s neck. “Wildefýr,” she began softly, “It seems I am nothing.” She buried her face in her horse’s black mane, breathing in her mare’s scent and began letting her heart splinter into its fractured pieces, too tired to keep fighting.
“Beg pardon my lady, but that is not so.”
Éowyn stilled at the familiar voice. It was Gamhelm. Her dear Gamhelm. She heard footsteps coming near and knew that he was right behind her. “But it is, Gamhelm,” she spoke, her stare boring into the back of the stall and hugging Wildefýr all the more tightly.
His voice soft, Gamhelm tried again. “It cannot be.” He sighed. “Oh, my lady, please look at me.”
Éowyn heard the plaintive tone in his voice, the unexplained sorrow and her heart immediately answered. She turned and looked at her burly old friend.
Gamhelm was stunned to see both pain and a hollowness in his young friend’s pale blue eyes. He exclaimed, “Oh, my lady what has happened?”
Stroking Wildefýr’s mane, Éowyn turned her eyes back towards the horse. Gamhelm saw his lady muster as much stoicism as was possible in that moment. “I am not to become a Shieldmaiden after all, it seems.” It seemed the next tortured sentence had wormed its way through her façade of stoicism and tears slipped past her eyes and slid down her cheeks. “My uncle lied to me, as did my cousin and even Éomer.” The last words whispered painfully as Éowyn fervently stroked Wildefýr’s mane.
Gamhelm’s heart broke when she choked back a sob and he circled her in a fast embrace. All resistance gone, Éowyn sobbed his arms. After a few minutes he looked up and saw Éomer silently round the corner to Wildefýr’s stall. He saw the stricken look on the young man’s face and immediately knew what had to have happened. Éowyn looked up and saw her brother and turned away quickly. Gamhelm saw Éomer’s pained expression intensify after his sister’s rejection. He held the young man’s gaze for a few moments and then mouthed, “I will see to her, go on”, as he hugged the sobbing girl. Éomer stood uncertainly for a moment or so and then bowed with his fist on his heart and retreated.
Gamhelm stood holding Éowyn as she cried, sobs racking her slender figure. He knew why she cried, or at least he had a good idea. She was a lass of spirit and gumption that the other girls didn’t quite know what to do with. The king had come to him years ago, asking that he should keep a casual eye on her whenever she was away from the hall, just to see that she came to no harm by either word or deed. It was a duty he took on most willingly. From the time she was eight years old and grieving for her mama and papa his heart warmed to her. He and Gamwyn had not been blessed by the Valar with any child that lived past their first year and Gamwyn always said that Gamhelm had a heart as large as all Arda. Gamhelm smiled, he did not know about that, but it was definitely large enough for a little red-haired slip of a girl with a spirit as large as Helm Hammerhand. He noticed that Éowyn’s sobs had softened. He led her over to an obliging hay bale. He gave her his clean handkerchief and smoothed back a strand of hair that had stuck to her reddened and tear-stained face.
“Now dry your tears, my lady. And tell me what this is all about,” he suggested gently.
Éowyn dutifully wiped her tears. “I don’t fit in anywhere! I felt like a fifth wheel when I would keep company with the other girls. I have only ever felt comfortable, felt like I belonged somewhere on the training field, but now that has been taken away as well. My uncle lied, Gamhelm! He lied! How could he do that?” Éowyn was starting to become upset again.
“Now hold on my lady, just hold on. Let’s look at what has happened.”
“You don’t seem very shocked by this, Gamhelm?” A light on dawning comprehension darkened Éowyn’s face. “Did you know that this was a lie as well? Gamhelm! How could you!?” Éowyn made to get up and leave, growing more upset the more she thought about it.
“My lady!” Gamhelm spoke a little more forcefully than was usual for him and that alone gave Éowyn pause for a moment. She stopped and looked at Gamhelm with a hurt that pained him to see residing in her eyes.
Having gathered her attention Gamhelm began, “Yes, I did know. But before you say anything, please hear me.” Éowyn looked at him accusingly, but she simply chewed on her lower lip and remained quiet. Gamhelm drew in a large breath and then said, “What your uncle did, he did out of love for you. It was a deception, yes. But you were so unhappy and so angry he wanted to give you something to focus on. A goal, a purpose if you will. Something to work toward and concentrate on to help you through your grief.” Gamhelm paused as Éowyn continued to look at him with big doleful eyes. “He needed help to continue with his plan. That was why I was told and both Théodred and your brother were brought in.”
“But if I could never actually become a Shieldmaiden, what was the point?” Éowyn demanded, still clearly upset.
Gamhelm sighed. “Yes, well, that end objective was not possible, that I will not deny. But I want you to recall what you just said a moment ago.”
“What did I say?” Éowyn said somewhat petulantly.
“You said, ‘I have only ever felt comfortable, felt like I belonged somewhere on the training field!’ “
“But I still don’t understand!”
“The training gave you a goal and allowed you to find something you love. It brought you true camaraderie and gave you confidence and joy of achievement.”
“But it has come to or will come to nothing if I cannot fight!”
“Has it?” Gamhelm looked questioningly at her. “Have you not loved what you done? The skills you have honed?” Éowyn tried to interject again but Gamhelm stayed her words with his cautioning hand. “Yes, your uncle did lie, but again, it was done out of love and to give you, as a young girl, a purpose that might help you focus beyond your grief and anger. And you have. You have become a kind, confident, strong young woman because of it. I know that your uncle could not be more proud of you.”
Éowyn was quiet, staring at Gamhelm. The older man took both of her hands in his.
“The question is where do you go from here? Knowing what you know now. Do you forgive your uncle and your cousin and your brother for their deception? Or do you carry that anger, however justified, in your heart? Is that what you take forward from this moment? That is the question you must answer for yourself. But before you answer ,think of what these seven years have been for you. Think about what you have achieved. Think about what you have proven to yourself. People are not perfect; they don’t always make the most rational choice. Often they follow their gut instinct, your uncle included. But I do know that he was guided by his heart and his desire to make as good a life as he could for you with what Fate had given him. And he is sick at heart at the hurt he has caused you.” Gamhelm fell quiet and simply looked at Eowyn. He had said his piece.
Éowyn looked at Gamhelm, chewing her lip as she pondered his words. In all the years she had known Gamhelm, he had never lied to her. He always told her the straight truth in his gruff, yet affectionate way. She said in a restrained way, trying to muster as much dignity as blotchy red cheeks and a runny nose would allow, “I hear your words, Gamhelm. And they are wise. May I please be alone with Wildefýr as I think upon them?”
Gamhelm smiled as he watched Éowyn gamely putting on a brave face. “Yes, my lady.” He bowed and withdrew.
Éowyn watched as the big, burly man rounded the corner, taking his leave. She turned back to Wildefýr. “It is just you and me, girl. I need some sky above me and some ground below me! What do you say to some bare back riding!” Wildefýr knickered with what Éowyn knew was enthusiasm. She opened the gate to Wildefýr’s stall and brought her out and then stood on a block and mounted her. She clicked the signal to walk-on and she and Wildefýr trotted past Gamhelm who looked not at all surprised to see them rush off.
Within minutes, Éowyn was under the sheltering canopy of the forest near to Edoras. She paused and patted her mare’s mane. “Ahhh! Wildefýr! Just smell that air!” she exclaimed as she breathed in the clean, fresh air of the trees that surrounded her. She remained still, with her face upturned and eyes closed simply breathing for several moments. The deep inhalations slowly calmed her heartbeat and eased her feelings that the world was closing in around her. This forest so near to her home was where they had spent countless hours training away from spying eyes. It always relaxed her. As she listened to the birdsong around her, she realized one thing Gamhelm had said was true. The years of her training, the times spent in this forest and on the archery range with her brother and cousin were among the happiest times she had spent in the intervening years. They were working together towards a goal. But that goal was now gone. It was never actually there, she thought with a slightly bitter taste in her mouth, but she could not deny the sheer enjoyment and camaraderie they had shared.
She looked into her heart and found that she was not as angry as she had been, or even as angry as she rightfully should be. Looking around her, she could almost hear the laughter and the teasing, the serious talk and the banter that happened during the training sessions between Théodred, Éomer and herself. Gamhelm’s words began resonating with her. It had been done out of love. She had every right to be angry, but she also had a forgiving heart. She recalled the devastated look on her brother’s face in the stables when she turned away from him. The shocked pain in her uncle’s eye when she came back to his study and overheard the deception. She had been devastated; what she had been working toward for most of her life was now rent by a lie. She was not going to be a Shieldmaiden. That thought still lacerated her heart. But was it all meaningless? She did not have an answer to that. She needed to talk to her uncle.
Éomer paced back and forth almost liked a caged animal in his cousin’s chambers. He was trying desperately hard to control his emotions. His heart was breaking for his sister and every time he closed his eyes, he could see Éowyn turning away from him. He left the stables only because he knew that, at that moment, she did not want to see him; otherwise nothing could have dragged him away.
“We never should have agreed to this, Théodred! I knew it was wrong from the start!” Éomer exclaimed, fuming.
Théodred, who was eight years Éomer’s senior, sat silently, allowing his younger cousin to vent his anger and extreme hurt.
“I am going to go back the stables and talk to Éowyn! Théodred, I can’t stand this! She is my sister. I should be protecting her, not lying to her!” Éomer made a move to leave his cousin’s chambers, only to be stopped by Théodred’s voice.
“You could do that. And she will yell at you and you will yell at her. Neither wanting to hurt the other, but in your raw emotional states one is bound to say something that will just make the other angrier, or worse, more hurt.”
Éomer, with effort, stayed where he was. “But Théodred—”
His cousin stopped his words. “I know.” Théodred got up and faced his cousin, stilling his movement with a hand on his arm. Éomer’s face was a picture of current agony and remembered pain.
“I promised Father—”
“And you have kept your promise!” Théodred insisted.
“By lying to her! How is that protecting her?” Éomer growled angrily.
Théodred looked at his younger cousin. “By giving her a purpose. By giving her your time, your energy, your caring, your camaraderie. Those things have meant the world to her! You have forged a bond between the two of you. And,” he continued forcefully because he could tell he was getting through to Éomer, “she has blossomed because of it. So yes, it has been worth it because she is so worthy of the time that has been spent.”
Éomer looked into his cousin’s eyes, and reluctantly agreed, “You are right, cousin.” He flopped down into a chair near the one Théodred had been sitting in.
Théodred gave a relieved sigh. “Good, because if that little speech did not work in stopping you, I was going to have to sit on you to get you to stay put!”
Éomer looked at his cousin and said, “I’d like to see you try!” his blue eyes glinting in amused challenge.
Théodred returned the challenging look. “Oh I could! But it would not have been pretty!”
Éomer smiled and then sobered once again. “But I still have to talk with her.”
“Yes. But wait for a short time. Let Gamhelm speak with her. He is very skilled at calming skittish horses.” Théodred smiled. “And very good at gently calming headstrong young phillies. They respond to him.”
Éomer paused, seeing the wisdom of his cousin’s words. He nodded and got up to fill his goblet with the mead his cousin always had in his chambers. He drank deeply and refilled his goblet. “Half an hour. And then I am going to the stables.”
Théodred’s face held a chagrinned smile as he accepted the mead his cousin was now handing him. Half an hour. It was the most he was able to deter the headstrong young stallion. It would have to do.
Half an hour later Éomer was true to his word as he downed his cup of mead that he had been swirling about for the better part of ten minutes. He set his goblet down heavily upon the table that sat between the two chairs that he and his cousin had taken up residence in.
“I am going,” he said in such a forceful way that Théodred knew he could only be stopped by force of arms, and even that was no guarantee of deterrence.
Théodred watched his cousin walk purposefully from the room. He paused for a few moments and then also left to go to his father’s chambers.
Reaching the stables as fast as he could short of running, Éomer quickly glanced around for his sister.
“She has taken Wildefýr out for a ride. A ride to blow off some steam I expect.”
Éomer turned around to see Gamhelm holding a curry brush and various of bridles in his hands. He had a kindly look in his eyes.
“How is she, Gamhelm?” The young man swallowed nervously. “Does she hate me?” Éomer braced for the answer to such a question.
The look on Éomer’s face struck Gamhelm straight in the heart. He looked so young, so vulnerable, so like his sister. They were like two peas in a pod. Having grown up together, one was always trying to protect the other. The burly stable master remembered when they first came to Edoras. His heart was immediately taken with Éowyn, a young slip of a thing wearing her emotions on her sleeve. But Éomer was a different story. He was all of twelve, but trying to act much older and like nothing bothered him and he was always very protective of his little sister. Gamhelm instinctively knew that trying to coddle him would have only driven him away. So, in befriending him, Gamhelm always treated him as an equal, a grown man able to take care of himself. Until now, that is. There are just times a man needs another, if only for reassurance. Placing a firm hand on Éomer’s shoulder Gamhelm looked him in the eye and said, “No, son. She doesn’t hate you.” He saw relief cascade across the young man’s face. “She is hurt and confused, but she is not angry.”
Éomer looked at the older man a little skeptically. “This is my sister we’re talking about, right?”
Gamhelm raised his hand in amused surrender. “Well,” he conceded. “Not as angry as she was.” Éomer nodded, his lips pursed in thought. “Why don’t you wait for her here?” The older man offered. “She should be back soon.”
Éomer nodded stiffly, still trying to contain his emotions. “Thank you, Gamhelm. I think I will.” Within minutes, though, Gamhelm heard Windfleet’s neigh and a rush of air as the young man rushed out of the stables to find his sister. Gamhelm chuckled lightly, those two were truly Rohirrim born and bred. They might best repair whatever needed mending between the two of them amid the empty fields where horses ran wild.
Giving Wildefýr her head in a gallop across the plains that lead back to Edoras from the shouldering forest helped to calm Éowyn’s jumbled feelings. Gamhelm’s words also continued to doing their best to soothe her raw nerves. After she brought Wildefýr down from her gallop, she slowed her into a trot. She looked up and saw a figure riding in her direction. She knew immediately from how the rider sat in the saddle that it was her brother. She brought Wildefýr to a halt and waited. She would let him come to her. Her feelings roiled up inside her once again. Her heart was in her throat as she watched him approach. As he came nearer though, her heart softened despite herself because of the way he held his body. She could see just how tense Éomer was, how uncertain.
Éomer approached and then brought Windfleet to a halt. He looked at her and seemed to be searching for something to say. He landed upon neutral ground, their shared love of horses. “That was a beautiful sight, watching Wildefýr soar across the grass!”
Éowyn looked at him somewhat pointedly. “Some girls soar when allowed their freedom honestly!” Éomer almost physically winced as Éowyn’s barb found home. He was rendered speechless. Éowyn looked at her brother and found that while her barb had hit home, she found no joy in it. She wanted nothing more than to forgive her brother, regardless of his mistakes. He was her brother. Seeing the stricken look on his face, she quickly said, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” Éomer’s face was incredulous. “Forgive you? When I am in the wrong? I should never have been a party to such lies. I have hurt you deeply.” Wounded blue eyes shifted from her face to the ground.
Éowyn patted Wildefýr, calming her skittishness mostly due to her mistress’ intense emotion. She and her horse had always shared a special bond. “Shh-hh! Wildefýr. ‘Tis all right.” She looked at her brother and surprised herself by saying, “I know that what you did, you did out of love.”
His downcast eyes shot upwards and Éomer stared at his sister, his heart began beating again in its normal rhythm and not the desperate tattoo it had been performing since she ran out of her uncle’s study a few hours before. He dismounted Windfleet to stand at her side. Éowyn dismounted as well. Éomer stood and tentatively held both of her hands in his. “I am sorry. I never meant for you to be hurt by any of this. Can you ever forgive me?”
Éowyn looked into her brother’s eyes, she saw such pain and regret in those earnest blue depths. “Gamhelm made a very good point earlier when we were talking. I was very angry and was questioning everyone and everything. He said I should focus on what I had achieved in these seven years. That I found something I truly loved and regardless of the ultimate outcome that I should remember all that I had learned and achieved and everything that I had gained.” Éowyn’s voice hardened somewhat. “While I am still very angry at the deception,” her voice softened once again, “I realised that I loved spending time training with you and Théodred. They were always the best part of every day. And that is what I will try to remember most.”
The use of the words “try to remember most” was not lost on Éomer. It said that Éowyn had not completely forgiven him but still in time he could have hopes that she would. He leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead and she did not move away. It was enough for now and more than he had a right to ask for.
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