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Untold Tales of the Mark - The Rewrite  by Katzilla


Chapter 3: A Game of Chess

On the terrace before the Golden Hall, Gríma Wormtongue watched until Éomer was swallowed by the diffuse winter light, his hands unconsciously balled into fists inside the pockets of his heavy cape. It was done. At last! His most dangerous adversary was gone. He felt an intense wave of satisfaction, although he was – at the same time - very much aware that it was far too early yet for him to relax. As long as the son of Éomund was alive, he remained a threat, and having him expelled from Edoras had only been the first step towards victory.

Gríma harboured no illusions that Éomer would attempt to leave the Mark within the five days he had been given. No, he would take cover somewhere, presumably in one of the many hideouts he knew from his forays into the wild, and from there plot his return. There was no telling what the wilful young man would do if permitted to roam Rohan uncontrolled. Even though Gríma felt that he had succeeded in sowing doubts in Éomer's reputation among the people, that last procession had vividly illustrated to him that too many still held the son of Éomund in high esteem – especially the Armed Forces.

So, before this day was over, he would have to concern himself with that pesky friend of Éomer's. His entire éored had, in fact, rebelled against the new rules by not turning around during the procession, and by calling the marshal's name. Gríma could not afford to let these things slide, although it was hardly possible to have one hundred men publicly whipped. He already had an idea how to deal with this insubordination. The vital part was that the consequences would be demonstrated to the people of Edoras today, to kill off even the faintest thought about further rebellion in their minds. They had to understand that their rulers were dead serious about those newly implemented rules.

Shifting his attention from the plains below, the son of Gálmód suddenly beheld the King's niece on the other side of the terrace. Staring in the direction of the mountains although her brother could no longer be seen, the White Lady of Rohan ignored his presence, yet the rigidity of her posture told Gríma that she was, in fact, well aware of him.

Motioning for one of the guards near him, Gríma turned his back on the view and said in a loud enough voice for Éowyn to hear:

"Dorlâk, when the Lady Éowyn has had enough fresh air, you will guide her back inside to her chambers. Under no circumstance is she allowed to leave Meduseld. Do you understand me?" From the corners of his eyes, he saw the object of their conversation turn around, and her expression was that of someone who did not believe her ears.

"You cannot lock me up in Meduseld forever, Counsellor! I am still a member of the Royal Family, and I will no longer accept orders from either you or your men, unless I hear my uncle voice them himself!"

"These were your uncle's orders, actually. He is resting now, but if you insist, we can go and disturb him," Gríma replied evenly, keeping his features and voice neutral. He indicated a little mocking bow. "I suggested to the King that you should be kept inside the hall for those five days until your brother has left the Mark, for your own protection. Théoden-King is well aware that – as the resourceful and brave sister of our former Third Marshal – you will of course feel inclined to help your brother in his predicament even if this action would make you a traitor under the law yourself."

He shook his head in feigned sympathy.

"I would hate having to throw you into the dungeon, too, my Lady. And I am certain you would dislike being there. It is no place for a lady of noble blood, but you would leave us no choice if you chose to betray your King."

He bowed once again and extended his arm to gesture Éowyn in the direction of the portal.

"Be wise, my Lady. Accept my apologies for this inconvenience, but surely five more days spent in the comfort of your chambers will be much more pleasant than sitting in the darkness of a cell underneath the hill, or following your brother into this horrible storm…."

Wormtongue squinted as a gust of wind blew ice crystals into his face, and only barely managed to keep the smirk that wanted to accompany his words from his lips. Of course, there had been no way for him to know, but seeing the banishment of his adversary fall together with this winter's presumably last severe snow-storm was an additional satisfaction. It was as if the gods wanted to reward him for his well-executed plan.

Éowyn narrowed her eyes, and from her balled fists and widened nostrils Gríma could easily conclude how enraged she truly was. He threw a quick glance at the nearby guards. With the hot-headed children of Éomund, there was no telling whether the fair maiden would think twice before she assaulted him to scratch out his eyes. The bruises her brother had left on his body had still not faded, and he had no desire for further injuries.

When Éowyn spoke, her voice was even colder than their surroundings.

"And if I tell you to take your good advice and choke on it, and then walk down to the marketplace despite your order, what will you do then, dear Counsellor? Convict me?"

Gríma regarded her gravely, his expression leaving no question that he meant what he said.

"I am afraid I would have to, my Lady. But I honestly hope that you are wiser than to force me to this measure."

The moment stretched between them with the nearby guards uncomfortably shuffling their feet, and at first, Gríma was certain that Éowyn would put him to the test… but then, with a huff, she haughtily lifted her chin, turned on her heels and with great, unladylike strides, stormed back into the building. Following her path with his eyes until the doors closed behind her, Gríma then turned back to the guard he had been instructing.

"I want a guard positioned in front of her chambers at all times. She will not leave them without my permission. Instruct your men accordingly."

"Aye, Counsellor. But what if…" The dark-haired man interrupted himself, not daring to look his opposite in the eye.

"What if what?"

"What shall I say if Lord Gamling or Lord Háma inquire about this? I am not in the position to—"

"If these two noble gentlemen want to know more about this special order, you send them to me. I am sure they will understand. After all, it is only in the lady's best interest. Now see that you get ready; Felrod and his men are already waiting for you. We must not give the Marshal too much of a headstart."


Standing at the window that overlooked the plains to the west with unfocussed gaze, Éowyn bit her lip, and her fingernails unconsciously dug into the wood of the sill in silent frustration. It was hard to believe what was going on in Meduseld these days, and the impertinence with which the Worm had dared to send her to her room like a disobedient child once again left her with the deep desire to unsheathe her sword and take it to that black-robed snake. Perhaps Éomer had been right, after all; perhaps she should have accompanied him. If Gríma could do this without any of the other men objecting, what else would they permit? What if he locked himself in here with her, and…

It took her great effort to shove the ugly thought away. No matter what happened, she would sooner die than allow herself be used in that way. She still possessed the hidden dagger she had been carrying for years, ever since she had first become aware of the counsellor's intentions. If he ever made the mistake to think that he could have her, he would taste it, whatever threat he uttered against her or her family.

'Oh, Éomer… where are you now? What are you doing?'

Again her lips tightened to a bloodless line as she stared at the swirling white world behind her window. Somewhere out there, alone, without the protection of his éored and unarmed, was her brother. He depended on her. There was something she had promised him, and although her initial attempt had been intercepted, Éowyn was determined to keep it. There was another way, although she felt hesitant to resort to it.

Reprimanding herself to keep a clear head, Éowyn turned away from the window and made her way over to the door. Swallowing her indignity, she knocked against it, and heard the key turn in the lock. A moment later, the guard who had been detailed to stand watch in front of her chambers looked at her. He had to be one of Gríma's men, she concluded, because she could detect no trace of discomfort in his expression. Most of the men she had known among the lines of the Royal Guard for most her life would not have dared to look her in the eye after making her suffer this indignity, but the orcish-looking brute before her seemed to have no problem with it. Although he stood a head taller than she did, Éowyn felt far from intimidated as she haughtily lifted her chin.

"Send for my handmaiden, guard. I need her here at once."

"I am not permitted to leave this door," the man grumbled, "You will have to wait until-"

Her furious look silenced him.

"You tell me to wait? Who are you that you think you can talk to me, a member of the Royal Family, like that? I know there has been much going wrong in these halls since that worm seized command, but trust me that the King will hear about it if you do not get me Maelwyn this instant! Maelwyn!"

The young woman Éowyn had spied further behind in the twilight of the hall hastened her steps and looked questioningly at the two combatants. The tension between them was thick, and not knowing the reason for it, the handmaiden lowered her head as she dropped into a quick curtsy.

"What can I do for you, my lady?"

Her eyes still shooting daggers at the guard as if she dared him to object, Éowyn pressed: "I will speak with you inside my chambers. I see no need to discuss my private life in public, nor did I hear the King forbid me to have visitors!"

"I don't know-" the guard began, but Éowyn interrupted him.

"Leave the thinking to those of greater wits and simply do what you have been told: guard this door, and leave me alone, guard! I do not wish to be disturbed!" She nodded at the younger woman and followed her back inside her chambers, flinging the door. If they insisted to keep her like a caged animal, she could at least make it a miserable time for them, too.

Realising that her unusual explosion of temperament had made her the object of her trusted handmaiden's scrutiny, Éowyn took a deep breath. She needed to calm down, or she would forget something vital and Éomer would have to pay for it.

"My Lady? What can I do for you?"

Maelwyn was only slightly younger than the woman she served, but seeing her mistress in such emotional turmoil made her sound like a frightened child. Four years in her service had not yet prepared the quiet but compassionate and reliable woman from the Eastmark for such a flare of her lady's temper. It was unlike Éowyn to shout or throw doors. Her brother, yes; Éomer was known for his heated temper, but also for his sense of justice. Whoever he shouted at, usually deserved it. It had always been easy to determine how the Third Marshal thought about something or someone, whereas Éowyn remained an enigma to most members of the Royal household up to this very day.

While many incidents hinted at the fact that the White Lady was possessed of the same strong will and stubbornness as her brother, she usually remained in the background, observing. Hiding her thoughts from all she did not trust, and the way things were, the people she still trusted could be counted at the fingers of one hand. Right now, her angered expression slowly melted into one of exhaustion, worry and regret as Éowyn gestured toward the chairs.

"I am sorry, Maelwyn. It was not right of me to make you witness that. But it is hard to remain calm while our honourable counsellor gets away with deeds that would formerly have been unthinkable." She made her way over to the sitting group and lowered herself into one of the armchairs.

The younger woman smiled at her.

"You need not apologise, my lady. I understand that these past days have been very hard on you. They have been hard on us all." Looking into her mistresses' sad eyes, Maelwyn spontaneously added: "Your brother is a mighty warrior, Lady Éowyn. He will not be helpless out there."

Èowyn was thankful for her effort to cheer her up, but unfortunately, she understood their adversary's black soul better than this innocent young woman before her.

"I know, Maelwyn, but I fear that Gríma is not done with Éomer yet. They hate each other, and he knows that Éomer will remain a danger to him for as long as he lives."

The grey-blue eyes in front of her widened slightly.

"You mean he will attempt to have him killed, my Lady? But… that would be against the King's orders!"

"That may be so… but Gríma cares nothing for the King's orders, and my uncle is too ill to see how his orders are executed."

Éowyn shook her head, and a great silence followed her words as she gazed unfocused in the distance. Seeing how her mistress seemed to ponder over a thing of great import, Maelwyn dared not interrupt her. Finally, Éowyn's attention returned to her, and the piercing look she was given caused the handmaiden's heart to jump into her throat.

"Maelwyn, what I tell you now must remain among us, you must promise me this. Please know that I have always trusted you, but in these days of madness, it seems that even the walls of Meduseld have ears. You must speak to no one about what I will tell you now."

The young woman shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"My Lady, I do not understand-"

"Promise me, Maelwyn, or I cannot tell you. And I need your help!"

It caused Maelwyn almost bodily pain to hear her mistress beg. It also left her feeling deeply uncomfortable. What would be demanded of her?

"Didn't you entrust me with many secrets over the years I have been in your service, my Lady? You know that your secrets are safe with me."

"Yes, but this is different, Maelwyn." Éowyn lifted her brows. "Lives depend on it this time, my brother's and mine if word gets out, so even though I know that I can trust you, I still need to hear it from you again."

Éowyn had never sounded or looked more intense, and the younger woman's discomfort grew. What had she gotten herself into this time? Lowly, almost in a frightened way, she said:

"I promise, my Lady. I will not speak a word about it."

"Except to one man." Taking a deep breath, Éowyn began. This was the point of no return. She hated having to drag the innocent girl into this net of lies and intrigues, but there was no other choice. She had to save Éomer. "Maelwyn, I need you to deliver a message for me to our blacksmith. It is very important that he receives it as quickly as possible. Will you do that for me?"

"To our blacksmith? Bergfinn?" The handmaiden furrowed her brow in confusion. How could a message to a blacksmith be of any greater import?

"Yes, Bergfinn. I need you to see and tell him to send his eldest son to our old hiding place. Élric will know what place I am speaking of; he accompanied us there many times. Tell him to pack a knife, a bow, and, if he can, a sword, and perhaps some food, too, and deposit them for Éomer. He knows where. It is of the utmost importance that he is not followed!"

Éowyn tensed upon seeing hesitation in the younger woman's eyes. Maelwyn's complexion was always rather pale, but now it seemed as if all blood had departed her face, and her reddish freckles were the only colour left.

"But… wouldn't that be against the King's orders? Wouldn't I become a traitor then, too?"

"To betray a traitor is no crime, Maelwyn. It is, in fact, our duty. And Théoden-King's order was to banish Éomer, not to kill him; in fact, this was not even his order. It was his voice that uttered these words, yes, but they were not his words." She shook her head to herself, seeing how the girl got even more confused by her explanation. "I only want to ensure that the King's orders are obeyed, Maelwyn. It was not his wish that Éomer be killed."

"But how do you know then that is the counsellor's intention… if I may ask this?"

"I know that man, Maelwyn. Trust me, I know him."

Suddenly deciding against telling the girl too much, Éowyn fell silent. The inner urge to share all her worries and frustration with someone she trusted was almost impossible to resist, but she would have be more careful than ever. She stood alone now in Meduseld, and the Law of the Hall was not the one being followed in these evil times. The less Maelwyn knew, the better. She drew a deep breath.

"Will you help me, Maelwyn? I cannot deny that there may be a certain danger involved in the action, but it should not be too great if we do this smartly."

The young woman looked miserable, and from the way her hands were clutching each other until her knuckles turned white, it was very easy to see her discomfort. Maelwyn had done nothing yet, and already she looked guilty. Gríma would have to be blind not to notice that look upon her face. Yet if she staged a diversion, Éowyn thought, perhaps he would not pay attention if her handmaiden slipped out of the Golden Hall…

Maelwyn's voice was barely audible when she finally answered, not daring to meet her mistresses' gaze.

"I would love to help, Lady Éowyn, truly. I am not blind to what is going on, and I would very much like to see that horrible man gone from Edoras, but what if I am caught? I have two small children to take care of. I must think of them first… and of my husband. "

"You will not be caught. I have a plan, Maelwyn. It is impossible that Gríma learns of it if you do it right."

"Please, I'd rather not, my Lady." The grey-blue eyes were pleading now. "The thought frightens me. I am only a servant, not a shield maiden. I am not a person possessed of great courage. I am not one of those people who can make a difference."

Éowyn's expression hardened, and she lifted her chin.

"The people who make a difference are not usually those possessed of greater skill, they are those who decide to make a stand, Maelwyn. Alas, there are too many among our people who think that what is happening to them is destiny, that they cannot change the course of things. It is this belief that allows Gríma to act as he wishes. It is comfortable to lean back and let others do one's fighting, but it opens the door for those who are determined to take fate into their own hands… and not to the good of others."

Éowyn allowed those words to sink in, coming to her feet and starting to pace the room as she was overcome by her own restless.

"I do not believe in fate. It is I who decides how I live, and no one else. There is no fate but what we make. And if we all decide to do nothing, Éomer will die, and the Mark will fall to ruin before long," she said matter-of-factly. "My brother, Maelwyn, was sent out into the wild with no weapons, and no food, and without the protection of his men. The verdict forbids the people in the settlements to help him, and a snowstorm harrows the plains. He needs not even run into orcs to perish under these conditions." She swallowed. "Éomer has given his blood repeatedly for our people, and now those same people he rescued lean back and do nothing. Isn't that most unfair, Maelwyn?"

This was her last weapon, her last resort, and Éowyn despised herself for using it on this innocent, frightened girl. She had no right to endanger the mother of two young children and wife to a young, hard-working man, but she could not bear the thought of losing her brother.

Before her, Maelwyn hid her face in her hands, terrified by the decision that had been laid upon her shoulders. The trembling in her voice indicated that she cried.

"Of course it is, Lady Éown, and I wish I could do something to help him! Your brother was always kind to me… he and the Prince. They never treated me like a lowly servant."

"Well, you are no lowly servant, Maelwyn, you are a member of the Royal Household, dear and trusted. And you are in the position to make a difference now. The danger involved may not even be great, at least not for you. If you are caught – which, I guarantee you, will not happen – you were simply following orders. As my handmaiden, you are not in a position to deny my orders, so the blame would be mine, and the consequences mine alone to face."

Seeing how the younger woman battled with herself, Éowyn fell silent. Maelwyn was her only hope; what she would do if she denied her request, the daughter of Éomund did not know. There was no one left within these halls she trusted enough to pour out the contents of her heart to, and yet her heart missed a beat when the woman before her suddenly looked up. Although there was still fear in her gaze, there was also new resolve, when Maelwyn said with a trembling voice:

"All right… I will do it, my Lady. For you and your brother. And for the Mark, perhaps. I cannot deny that the thought still frightens me, but I see the wisdom in your words. I come from a large family, with eight sisters and brothers. We never had much, but my parents taught us that we could overcome all difficulties if only we stood as one."

She took a long, trembling breath, and then looked Éowyn straight into the eye, her fists balled at her sides.

"It is time now for the Mark to stand as one, isn't it? If we all hold together, surely no evil can ever overcome us." It sounded more like a desperate question than a statement, and yet the sincerity of it nearly broke Éowyn's heart as she stepped forward to embrace her utterly surprised handmaiden.

"Thank you! Oh, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Maelwyn! I wish there had been a different way for me to help Éomer, but I know you can do this. I have a plan, and Gríma will never know about it."


Two hours had passed since the procession, and upon the guard's ominous remark that their weapons had been confiscated, Éothain and his captains had returned to their places and found that, indeed, Gríma's men had taken everything from their swords to their bows, down even to the smallest dagger. His mother had been in a state of utmost alarm when he had entered, and unable to prevent that the men had ordered her aside to search her house. The realisation that such an action was possible had deeply shaken her.

Many of the riders had gathered in the tavern to discuss their further way of action, when the heavy door was opened from outside and a large number of guards spilled in.

"Captain Éothain?" their leader barked, and his gaze travelled over the tavern's patrons in search for the culprit.

"I am here," Éothain let him know, and slowly stood up. Aedwulf and Anlaf, who shared his table, followed his example, although they were only too aware of the fact that, without weapons, their implied threat was only theoretical. "What is it?"

"You are arrested for disobedience. Come forth, and no one will be harmed."

"What about the rest of our éored?" Anlaf inquired with a piercing stare into the guard's eyes. "None of us turned around when the Marshal passed. If you want to punish someone for that, should it not be all of us?"

The question earned him a grin.

"If you are volunteering to be whipped, be my guest. I'll gladly even do it myself. Yet my orders only said to apprehend your captain."

Éothain lifted his hand in an attempt to calm down his seriously enraged brother-in-arms.

"It is good, Anlaf. I will gladly accept the punishment for mentioning Éomer's name. I shall bear these scars with pride."

The guard's grin deepened.

"That's another ten, Captain. Keep this up, and your back will be a bloody mess for the next weeks."

"If you think you can spare me for so long…" Éothain lifted an eyebrow. "I'm not certain how understanding Théoden-King will be if Edoras is overrun by enemies, because the éored assigned its protection was rendered ineffective by the removal of its commanders."

"You seem to think you're indispensable. I bet the Marshal thought the same…" The man's hand petted the hilt of his sword in expectation. "So, Captain… are you coming freely or must we resort to bloodshed? It doesn't matter to me."

For a moment, strained silence spread in the room as the riders regarded their captain with a sense of foreboding. None of them would have believed it possible that one day, they would be forced to witness such scenes. Finally, Éothain nodded and stepped out of their protective crowd.

"Do what you must do," he said calmly. "Just be aware that there will come a time when all your deeds will be remembered… and paid back."

Two of the guard's men grabbed him roughly.

"Oooh, I'm shivering…," his adversary said, and his grin reminded Éothain very much of a hungry warg as he turned back to the waiting éored. "The bell will call you together in about thirty minutes. Be there, or we will see who else among you wants to taste the whip!"


Once again, the citizens of Edoras found themselves gathered at the central place, and if possible, their expressions were even darker. It seemed to them that this nightmare of a day would never end, still hoping for it to be only a horrible dream from which they would wake groggy, but thankful to escape it.

A sense of unreality had spread through the city, and certainly, the son of Céorl felt it the strongest as he followed the armed guards to the platform, hands chained behind his back. For a moment, he hoped that his father's éored would return in just time to witness this madness and put an end to it, but of course, he was also aware that that would quite likely also be the start of something much bigger and worse. Still, how could anything like this be happening? How could Théoden-King allow this? Did he even know about it? And did the Royal Guard?

Once again, the bell's din stopped, and with it, the dismayed murmurs of the crowd. Heavy silence fell over the marketplace as the guards' captain climbed up the stairs to the platform.

"Citizens of Edoras! Only a few hours ago, you were informed about the new rules! You will witness now what happens to those who think that not following them comes without consequence! It does not matter whether you are a blacksmith, a baker, a servant… or the commanding captain of an éored; all will be punished in the same way, so look closely and ask yourself whether this is what you truly want!...Bring up the accused!"

Gasps could be heard from the crowd as the people beheld just who it was they would see being punished right before their eyes, and dismayed shouts rang out. A great press started for the platform. For a moment, Éothain hoped – and feared – that the spark of rebellion would catch at last, that their people would not permit these ghastly and formerly unthinkable proceedings… but then the sharp sound of swords being drawn reached his ear, and the crowd recoiled.

"Make no mistake!" his adversary shouted. "Anyone who comes within reach of my men will taste their steel! This is your only warning!" His piercing gaze found Éothain. "If you do not want for these people to get hurt, perhaps you should say something, too, Captain…"

Éothain inhaled.

"Stand back!" he shouted over the din, and horrified faces looked up at him. "I appreciate your concern, but please… stand back. This is not the day for rebellion."

'It will come, though, and sooner than you think!' he communicated silently as he turned his attention back at his opponent. There was an amused spark in those curiously dark eyes for a moment, then the guard nodded at the two men at his sides.

"Very well… Chain him to the post!"

Bracing for what was to come, Éothain closed his eyes for a short moment.

'This is for Éomer…'

His handcuffs were briefly unlocked… and then fastened to an iron ring an armlength above his head. A ring that looked curiously new and as if it had just been hammered into the wood a few minutes ago. 'It probably was…'

The guard stepped behind him while his two henchmen stood back at the corners of the platform, ready to act upon the slightest sign of a disturbance.

"I will enjoy this…' the Worm's guard whispered into his captive's ear… and suddenly, a cold draft hit Éothain's body as his coat was torn from his shoulders and cast aside, and with a ripping sound, his tunic and shirt were cut away. The silence around them deepened… and then the whip cracked, and its leathern tongue plunged the son of Céorl into a world of pain. He did not even hear the gasping crowd, for there suddenly seemed to be a river of fire descending his back, and his body became rigid.


For a moment, Éothain detected his captains' dismayed faces behind the guards. 'Let it happen,' he thought, hoping they would understand. 'Don't challenge them…'


Another crack, more searing pain. He gritted his teeth, grunting. Not wanting to give his tormentor the satisfaction of a cry.

"Three!... Four!... Five!"

The torture went on, each lash worse than the one before. The pain so enormous that it drowned out everything else… the shouts of the people around them, the voice that continued its merciless count to thirty, always followed by that dreaded crack.

"Twelve… thirteen… fourteen…"

Éothain's knees buckled, but the short chain kept him upright. At one point, it became too much, and his grunts turned into anguished screams. The sound the leather made as it bit into his back changed to a wet slap, and little droplets of his own blood sprayed into his face when it was withdrawn… again… and again… and again.

"Twenty-one… Twenty-two… twenty-three…"

His vision caved in and he slumped. A loud buzzing sound in his ears drowned out even his tormentor's voice. 'Yes… please…take me…'

"Twenty-eight… twenty-nine…thirty!"

Silence. On the very edge of unconsciousness, Éothain hung in his chains, head on his chest and eyes closed. Waiting for darkness to be granted to him…

The repercussion of heavy steps on the platform, approaching him. Warm breath upon his left cheek. A hissed threat was whispered into his ear.

"Now you know the pain, Captain. Remember it well. The next time you're feeling rebellious, it will not be you who suffers the consequences… it will be one of your recruits."

A cold shudder raced down Éothain's spine, but he could no react to the atrociousness he had just heard, could not even lift his head. He could only hang there, in agony, hoping that unconsciousness would grant him a merciful respite. His wish was granted when the locks of his handcuffs were released and he dropped onto the platform like a sack of meal, sinking into grey nothingness…

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