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Ch. 10 – Lies Shared and Truths Foretold
3017 TA, Edoras
The clash of swords never failed to stir Éowyn’s heart. This time was no different, but there was a melancholic tinge connected to the sound now. That avenue was closed to her; not that it had ever really been open, but the possibility of valor had lived in her heart. It still did. Try as she might reconcile herself to her fate, that small seed of futile hope remained alive in a corner of her heart. And it made acceptance of her life as it stood difficult. Also, there was almost a motherly concern as she watched the young riders sparring. It had been a little under two year since young Háláf’s leg had healed and he had been able to take up his training place in the youth Éored. She came to watch the young potter’s son train often, and often with a mother’s concern for his safety. She frequently took the slight detour to see him train when she was off on her weekly rounds helping those of Edoras’ less fortunate inhabitants with whatever was a pressing need. Sometimes, these were essential needs such as a roof that wanted fixing before the winter rains; sometimes it was simply keeping company with someone in need of a friendly visit, to companionably sit and share a cup of spiced mead. Oftentimes she discovered the pressing need while enjoying a cup with those who had become friends. Many, she found, were too proud to say what they were lacking, and only through observation and sharing their lives did she discover what would make their lives easier. She had come to treasure these excursions. They got her away from Meduseld and all its duties and expectations. And if she were honest with herself, she had of late noticed a slight sense of despair that had begun weaving its way through the Golden Hall and she welcomed the time away.
“My lady! Did you see?”
Éowyn roused herself from her musings at the sound of Háláf’s voice. She looked to her side and saw the bright red of exertion color the twelve-year-old boy’s cheeks. There was a spark of life in the boy’s eyes that delighted Éowyn’s heart. “Yes I did, Háláf! You are becoming quite the swordsman!”
Háláf’s eyes lit with happiness at her praise. “Thank you, my lady!”
Éowyn smiled. “I am off to see your father and mother. I shall tell them of your progress.” Both Déor and Saeryth would appreciate whatever she could tell them about their son’s progress because life rarely afforded them the chance to see their son in training.
Háláf blushed as only a twelve-year-old boy could. Then Éowyn saw another thought light up in the young eyes. He started hesitantly, “It’s papa. It is his back. It hurts him all the time, especially when he works at his wheel. But he won’t say anything about it to you.”
Éowyn looked thoughtfully at the boy. “Thank you, Háláf, for telling me this. I shall talk to Léoulf about what can be done. You best get back to training before Master Heredig starts looking for a wayward young rider."
“True! Goodbye my lady!” Háláf bid her before opening the gate and running back to his training group.
Mulling over the new information imparted, she looked at Heruling, her newest attendant for her rounds. “And we are off to the potter’s house! Apparently Déor has been keeping secrets!”
“Aye, my lady,” Heruling said noting the look in Lady Éowyn’s eyes. This did not bode well for the potter, he thought, thinking of the spirited lady he served.
After giving Déor a lecture on holding back about what ailed him, Éowyn found herself once again sitting in Holdlith’s small and well-kept little house. Seated once again on Holdlith’s best chair at the continued insistence of the older woman, she waited for the special mead that Holdlith was known for. Éowyn had, over the years, become very fond of the older woman and smiled as she watched Holdlith putter about readying the mead and cakes for Éowyn and whichever young rider attending her. Holdlith handed the first cup of mead to Heruling, who obligingly took the cup. Technically he was on duty and should not be partaking of mead, but after his first few visits he realized that partaking was a necessity as not to injure the woman’s feelings. So, per Éowyn’s instructions, he did take the one cup and glad he was for it, because it was a very fine mead indeed. Holdlith always served it warm which made it even more delicious and it managed to stave off the early spring chill nicely.
Éowyn swirled the warm mead in her mug and inhaled the slightly honeyed scent deeply. As she did, some of the tension of the past week flowed away from her. She looked up and saw Holdlith looking at her intently. “What?” she inquired, her defenses half-heartedly engaged.
Holdlith peered at her over the rim of her own steaming mug, “I don’t know. That is for you to tell me.”
Éowyn sighed. “Uncle is suggesting again that I marry.”
“And this idea does not find favor with you?”
“Honestly, Holdlith, it does not.” Éowyn fell silent, so many emotions roiling inside her.
“It would give you a chance to start your own household away from Meduseld. You said yourself since Éomer removed to Aldburg to live as Third Marshal you have not been very happy there.”
“I know what I said and that remains true, but I just cannot leave my uncle. He needs me.” And I do not trust Grima, she thought, but did not give voice to the idea. She did not think that Heruling would repeat anything she might mention, but such thoughts were better left unsaid.
“That he does, my child. But what of your happiness? Where does your heart lay?”
Éowyn was silent. Her heart lay on the training ground still. It yearned for what it could not have. A life of valour and renown that was closed off to her. She thought of her friends, all married and young mothers with their own households. Her heart screamed “no!” when she thought of that life; which was the only path that lay open to her. It was not of her choosing, but it seemed to loom inescapably as her destiny. “No place where it can go!” She tearfully whispered. She looked with eyes of despair at her friend.
Holdlith smiled kindly at her. The older woman then looked up at Éowyn’s young attendant. “Heruling, can I ask you to do me a great favour?”
“Aye, Mistress. What is your need?” Heruling asked, brimming in youthful earnestness.
“The latch that leads to my beehives. It keeps sticking, can you look to see what needs to be done?”
“At once, Mistress.” Heruling knew he was being dismissed; he had three sisters and could recognize when women needed to be alone to discuss whatever it was they discussed. He took his leave through the front door.
“Nice young man!” Holdlith said with a smile. She turned back to her friend. Kindness lit her eyes as she said, “My lady, give me your hands.”
Éowyn extended her hands and Holdlith held them in hers. She was saddened from the despair and sadness she felt growing within the young woman. She still saw happiness for Éowyn, but she also saw a long path leading towards it. She moved closer and smoothed the young woman’s hair in a loving gesture, eventually placing her hands on either side of Éowyn’s head covering her ears and lacing her fingers through the reddish gold tresses. She sang an old rhyme that calmed Éowyn’s spirit.
“I still see happiness in your path and yes, I know you don’t want to hear talk of love, so I will place that off to the side. Change will come in a most unexpected way. How, I do not know, it is unexpected,” she said with a smile. “But have faith, my child, that things will turn out as they are meant to. But always remember to be true to yourself and follow your heart.”
Éowyn looked at her friend. “Thank you, and I know it should help, but I’m still unsure of my path,” she said with a sigh.
“I know,” Holdlith said. “I could tell you what I see, but you must discover the path forward to it yourself. Only then will it be your true path.”
Éowyn smiled ruefully at her friend murmuring. “Thank you.” But still she looked as bemused as ever.
Holdlith patted her hand and then caressed her cheek. “Have faith my child!” she whispered.
Éowyn sighed heavily, shook herself and stood, smoothing her woolen skirts of light green and smiling a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. “Well, this butters no parsnips! I must get on with the rest of my day,” she said resolutely shaking off the melancholy that threatened the edges of her mind. She asked, “Can you spare Heruling? I can send him back if more needs to be done.”
“Hmmmm!” Holdlith murmured distractedly. “Tush! There is nothing wrong with the gate. I just said that to send him from the room!”
Éowyn chuckled guiltily. “Oh dear. He really is quite sweet. In a puppy dog sort of way.”
Holdlith eyed her slyly. “Oh, is he now….?”
Éowyn rolled her eyes, “Yes, and no I do not think of him in that way.”
Holdlith’s eyes danced with mischief, “Of course not!” she chuckled conspiratorially.
Heruling chose that moment to reappear and stopped at the scene of girlish gaiety; his life with three sisters taught him never to ask “What are you talking about?” It never yielded a safe answer. Instead, he gave a quick head nod and stated haltingly, “Mistress Holdlith, your gate is fixed.”
Holdlith gave a quizzical look at Éowyn and made her way out to the small beehive enclosure, and she found to her great surprise and delight that the gate which had always stuck a little opened smoothly. She turned to Heruling, “Young man, I thank you greatly!” Heruling blushed and mumbled, “You are welcome.”
“Well, Mistress Holdlith, I think we will be taking our leave of you now!” Éowyn said with fervor to shift focus from the blushing young Rider.
After completing her errands Éowyn and her attendant made their way back up the hill to the Golden Hall. Having dismissed Heruling after a shared bottle of mead and a few purloined tartlets, Éowyn traced her customary path to her uncle’s study to share with him the day’s events. She reached up to knock on the door to her uncle’s study when it abruptly opened to reveal Grima Wormtongue’s odious presence. She had never warmed to her uncle’s latest chief councilor and she doubted she ever would. There was just something about him that spoke to her of unease, but in deference to her uncle who would not hear a word against him, she held her opinions to herself. “Pardon me!” she spoke with a trace of unpleasantness she had not had time to scrub from her voice. She saw malevolence and something else glint in his eyes before the mask of unctuous solicitude could slip over his features.
“My lady,” the oily voice sounded, “can I help you?”
“No, Grima. Thank you. I have only come to see my uncle.”
“Oh! But I am afraid that he is weary now and wished to left alone,” Grima said with all solicitude and a hard glint of persuasion.
“Then my visit shall cheer him as it always does,” Éowyn said, undeterred and pointedly ignoring his oily attempts at suggestion. She noticed his eyes flick quickly back and forward as she could see the gears in his brain working on what response to give. Choosing to relent, he bowed as a supplicant.
“As you wish, my lady!” Grima stood and then seemed to slither away. Éowyn watched him go and as she did, she could feel cold dread nipping at the edge of her mind. His was ever a disturbing spirit. She wished she could sever him from her uncle’s presence and yet, with each passing year, he seemed to graft himself more fully to Théoden’s side, becoming more ever-present as time wore on.
“Éowyn! My dear!”
Éowyn shook herself from the disturbing train of thought at the sound of her uncle’s voice. Looking at Théoden she hoped that her smile hid the growing concern at the tired look in his eyes. Eyes that used to snap with vigor and vitality. If she did not know better, she would think that, slowly but surely, her beloved uncle’s lifeforce was being sapped.
“Uncle! Much I have to tell you of my day!”
His eyes sparked with some of the vitality that had been his wont. “Come sit with me and tell me of your day.” He moved over to the padded settee covered in green velvet in the corner of the room. It had become their space to spend time and talk.
Éowyn noted his gait was slower and again she pushed aside the flare of worry within her heart. She first talked of the various requests and observations she had made and then she slipped into the stories to tell. Stories such as how young Háláf was coming along in his training. At that telling a look of pain crossed Théoden’s face. He clasped Éowyn’s hands and looked at them. He looked up into his niece’s eyes and ventured forth with a forbidden subject. “I am sorry that you cannot train to become a shieldmaiden. I am sorry that I misled you all those years. I am so sorry that you cannot follow your dreams.” He looked into her eyes with such hurt sincerity that Éowyn’s heart broke. Against her will, She felt her eyes brim with tears. It was the private pain in her heart. She never spoke of it, not even to Holdlith and certainly never to her uncle, to Théodred or even her brother, for she had no wish to cause them any more pain than the whole situation already had.
She looked to the side in what was probably a futile gesture to hide the tears that had welled in her eyes. “Why do you speak of this? I do not even think of it. It is done and gone.” Except from my heart, she thought. Genuinely she said, “I understand why you did it. It was done out of love, but it is done now. I do not think of it.” Having retained at least a portion of control over her emotions, she looked back at her beloved uncle whose unhealed pain was evident on his face. “I am happy as I am,” she said pasting a smile on her face.
“Of course you are.” Her uncle affirmed a little too vigorously. “I am just tired and perhaps feeling regretful because of it.” He gave her the same pasted-on smile she had given him. Both knew it was a lie they shared, but it would have to do, because the reality could not be changed. Switching the subject, Théoden said as briskly as he could, “I had a dispatch from Éomer today. He enclosed a letter for you…” Éowyn took hold of the intended distraction her uncle mercifully extended for her, to avoid the futile emotions of longing for what could never be.
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