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Ch. 4 – Two halves that are not whole
Edoras, 3010 TA
In a glade in the forest near Edoras as the crisp cold air of early winter blew with the promise of snow but with none yet on the ground, Éowyn leaned over catching her breath as she and Éomer had been engaged in some spirited sparring, the cold air invigorating her. In the five years she had been training she had really come to love these times she spent with her cousin and later on her brother as well. While she had come to realise what Théodred said when she began to train was true, that this was not a game and she was not to think of it as one, she really enjoyed the focus and the purpose it gave her. Her confidence grew as she became better and better at what she was being taught. During their sparring she knew that both her cousin and her brother did go easier on her because of her size and age, she could only spar with them due to the fact that no rider her age knew that she was being trained, but that mattered little. Earlier in the week she overheard the two talking before she arrived for training, Théodred ask Éomer what did he really think of Éowyn as a fighter and her brother said that she was good, better than some of the young Riders down on the main training field.
Éowyn had broken into their conversation at that point, “So I’m good, you say?” Both Théodred and Éomer started a bit. Both looking curiously relieved that it was that portion of the conversation she had overheard and not the previous few minutes because they had been discussing the fact that she would never be allowed near a battle.
Éomer had rolled his eyes, she remembered, “Yes,” he admitted, “but I should not have said because now your head will grow ten sizes too big and there will no doors you will able to get through anywhere in the Golden Hall.”
Éowyn smiled at the memory of the conversation.
“My sister is smirking. That is never a good sign.” Éowyn turned to him and made a face.
“Just thinking about what you were saying the other day about my being better that some of the Riders my age.”
Éomer looked skyward, “Valar be merciful! My sister hears one compliment and it goes to her head! You cannot best me yet, little sister.”
“Well, I may not be able to out fight you, but I can certain outshoot you!”
“Say you so!”
“Yes!” Éowyn was enjoying needling her brother.
Théodred held up his hand, “Children! There is only one way to settle this! Toe the line!” Éowyn skipped to the line and Éomer grumbled about uppity little sisters as he toed the line as well. The makeshift shooting range was not ideally set up. It was not quite long enough as the practice range in Edoras, but if truth be told, in battle the opportunities to shoot optimally presented themselves rarely. The range suited in that respect. Théodred intoned, “Standard competition rules, six arrows each. Three rounds of six. Éowyn will shoot the first and Éomer the second, proceeding from there in the same order! Make ready!” Éowyn nocked her arrow, “Shoot in your own time!”
Éowyn pulled her bow, steadied her breathing and loosed the arrow and a soft thwump was heard as the arrow land near center, Théodred shouted, “In the black!” Éomer shot him a look and Théodred looked back with a smile that bordered on a smirk. Éomer let fly his arrow also in the black. The arrows flew and the competition was heated. Both children of Éomund had a competitive streak that was intense; neither liked to lose. Suspiciously timed sneezes just as an arrow was loosed was a familiar ploy on both sides. Éowyn had taken the first round on a score of 55 to 47. Éomer edged her in the second round 52 to 50. Éomer looked at Éowyn, “Third volley. You think you can win,” he challenged. Éowyn, with her competitive juices fired up, responded with one word, “Watch,” Éomer’s eyebrows shot up and he smiled.
Théodred warned, “I don’t know, cousin. She has that look in her eye again…” as Éowyn toed the line and pulled the bow and let fly the arrow which landed in the center of the black, “In the black!” Théodred crowed as Éowyn looked at Éomer in triumph.
Éomer replied, “Nice shot, Volley isn’t over yet, though.”
Éowyn laughed, “Less talk, more shooting, brother mine!”
Éomer laughed and then let fly his arrow just inside the second ring for seven.
“Don’t worry, brother. You still have five more shots!” Éowyn teased.
“Less talk, more shooting!” Éomer shot back.
The volley continued.
Having retrieved their first three arrows of the last volley, Théodred informed them where they stood. “Éowyn is at 127 and Éomer is at 124! Three arrows to go! Toe the line!”
Éowyn stepped up, pulled and loosed. Third circle for six. She scrunched up her face in chagrin.
Éomer let fly into the black, though not quite centered for nine.
At the last arrow to shoot Théodred recounted the score. “Éowyn, 139…..Éomer 140.”
Éomer said to his sister, “Last arrow, sister dear, no pressure!” Éowyn shot him a look.
She concentrated and another curiously timed sneeze sounded but she still got the shot in just off the black.
She shot a look at her brother who feigned innocence, “What? my nose tickled.”
She voiced a disbelieving “Um-hmm.”
“Quiet, I am about to take my shot.”
She and Théodred watched him take aim and loosed just outside the second ring for six.
Éowyn whooped, “I won!” she hugged Théodred. Competition over, Éomer looked at his little sister with a smile on his face, “Well done, very well done!” Éowyn returned the smile. “Nice last shot.” He said.
“Somebody was trying to distract me!”
“Exactly, and that is why it was impressive, through distraction you still managed to get off a good shot. That is difference between the range and battle. I am proud of you.” Éomer said suddenly serious.
Éowyn looked at her brother and felt his pride in her. She smiled, and at a loss for words, she said, “Thanks.” And gave her brother a hug, feeling very happy.
Later that evening…
Éowyn sat in the Great Hall listening to the roaring hearth fire crackle. It always made her feel warm and safe because it meant she was surrounded by family and friends readying themselves for storytelling time. It was one of her favourite times when the inhabitants of Meduseld gathered together at night during winter and while the wind howled outside; they were all warm and snug listening to tales told by the loremasters and skalds. Tales of daring, tales of bravery. Heroes battling great odds to complete their quests. She and Cyneith would sit on velvet cushions near the foot of her uncle’s throne, woven blankets throw over their knees listening to the skald’s poetry. She had remained friends with Cyneith, who proved a loyal friend though she did dwell a little too much on clothes and frippery and which of the young riders she found handsome. Still she was a good friend.
Sipping from a mug of mulled wine, Éowyn had her drinking arm pulled on by Cyneith, causing Éowyn to spill a little, “Cyneith! You made me spill.”
“Sorry, but Elfred is about to begin with “Sister mine, she waits for me,” Cyneith enthused. “I love this one so much!” She got all dewy eyed when she thought of the ballad that sang of love unrequited that would always wait for that one true love. Éowyn rolled her eyes and shook her head in amusement.
“I saw that eye-roll, Éowyn! It is a lovely ballad. You have no romance in you!” Cyneith teased, using her familiar refrain when she sought to tease her friend.
“Shh! Elfred is about to begin!” she said to distract her friend from that familiar theme. She was glad that her friend distracted so easily when Elfred was the skald for whom she harbored a secret wish to be swept up and sung one of his ballads as they rode away on a flight of fancy. Thus distracted, she did not notice the furrowed brow that had taken up residence on above Éowyn’s troubled blue eyes. Éowyn tried to push aside the little kernel of concern that she was unmoved by these tales. She did not want to contemplate the idea and in her growing concern she did not want Cyneith delve a little too deeply, though she knew her friend was only teasing her. Cyneith did not have a spiteful bone in her body.
She sat listening to the ballad thinking that this time she might be moved by the plight of the maiden Heloise, she waited and waited, wasting away because the Rider did not return her love. Usually when she heard this particular ballad she always thought “Hogwash!” and secretly considered the maiden to be a ninny for pining away. Her reaction was no different this time, but she looked at Cyneith who was awash with emotion and she looked at other ladies of the court and they seemed to be enraptured as well. She began to wonder if there was something wrong with her.
The ballad ended to rapturous applause no one seemed to notice her tepid clapping. The next chords stuck by the skald had her full attention. It was “The Tale of Helm Hammerhand” and it told the story of the legendary king who saved his people and died in their service. The last line of “he went out in the night so cold, never to return….” always struck a chord within her. He gave everything to his people and he paid the ultimate price. It always brought a tear to her eye. She could not think of a more glorious way to die than in the defense of her own people.
“Not again, Éowyn!” Cyneith exclaimed quietly but loud enough for King Theoden to hear.
“What? You cry over your ballads, I will cry over mine. Helm was so brave to sacrifice himself like that.”
Cyneith just laughed, “You are silly, but I like you anyways.”
Éowyn smiled, looked at her friend, “And I like you, too.” And she did. Cyneith was a simple soul, a sweet heart that accepted her friend’s oddities with nothing more than gentle teasing and no judgment. Her only real female friend at court. All the other ladies at court thought her odd though this was never stated overtly for fear of the King’s wrath.
Theoden heard this little exchange and was thoughtful. Éowyn’s tears over Helm Hammerhand. He knew that it was tales of battle that stirred her. And he had encouraged it. Allowing her to train; allowing her to hone her skills as a Rider for which she had indeed shown great aptitude he added thoughtful. He had encouraged it and enlisted both Théodred and Éomer’s approval and cooperation in the endeavor. It had all been done to help a little girl through her grief. And it had worked miracles. Éowyn was a confident young girl who was blossoming into a caring young woman. But while training had achieved the desired goal he was beginning to wonder where could this go? What reckoning would have to be paid? Just then Éowyn looked up at her uncle and smiled radiantly. He smiled back, stroking her hair and put aside these questions in his mind for another day.
The next morning Éowyn sat on a bench in the stables talking to Gamhelm, the Master of his King’s horse. She sat there kicking her boots on the dirt covering the stable floor. She was looking pensive as she scuffed the dirt. Gamhelm sat working on a repair to a saddle and glanced at her a couple times but did not say anything. He knew that whatever it was, she would say it when she was ready. A few more minutes passed and then, “Gamhelm? Do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“Now my lady, why would you think that?” the big, burly man inquired.
“Oh, I don’t know. Cyneith and the other girls just talk about jewelry and what they are going to do with their hair and which of the young Riders they fancy. I smile and say things but I don’t really care. I mean jewerly just gets in the way when I’m shooting and rings just affect the grip on my sword. A single braid keeps my hair out of my face during swordplay.”
Gamhelm mused a bit, he had been told in utmost secrecy that Éowyn was training to become a shieldmaiden. It was decided by Théoden that the horsemaster needed to be told so when Éowyn rode out with equipment he would know why and not question it. He was a very good secret keeper. He looked at the furrowed brow over the pale blue eyes and said in response, “Well my lady, I don’t rightly know why young girls take an interest in such things. I mean Cyneith is a sweet girl, don’t get me wrong and the rest of them. Well, I honestly do not know why you take time with them. That Saelith, she’s piece of a work.”
Éowyn started playing with an old piece of leather thong that Gamhelm had taken off the saddle he was working on. She twirled it around her index finger, saying “I don’t know. I don’t really like Saelith. Not since I was ten and she said mean things about Papa. But I guess I take time with them so I don’t feel alone or too different. But I just don’t see things the way they do. Last night at the storytelling the love ballads were just boring. Pining away for love? Really? Does that happen in life or just in stories. Cyneith loves those songs and thinks that actually happens.”
“Just because she does, doesn’t mean you have to. There is no reason you should,” Gamhelm was trying to give the best counsel he could because it was obvious that this was truly troubling her, but unfortunately for Éowyn, he only had sons and truth be told the feminine mind was beyond him. So, in an effort to cheer her up he said, “Would you like to continue working on the new saddle we are making for the King?”
“Would I? Yes!” Her face lit up with excitement. She loved working in leather, Gamhelm said she had some real touch for leather work. She loved it because she could create wonderful pieces for her family with her own hands. It gave her a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
They sat there peaceably working on the saddle and Éowyn lost track of all time until she realised with a start that it was time for her daily lessons in cooking. She jumped as if she were on a spring, gave Gamhelm a quick hug and ran up the slope to the Meduseld kitchens. She ran by a horse drinking trough, stuck her hands and quickly rubbed her hands together and tried to smooth back her hair by wetting it down. She had to try look at least presentable for Thilda hoping to fend off another lecture. She slipped in and stood next to Cyneith. Thilda, the cook turned around and saw two where there had been one previously. She looked at Éowyn and sighed, “So kind of you to join us, my lady Éowyn. What excuse you have for us this time?”
“Sorry, Thilda, I just lost track of time. I ask that you pardon me.”
Thilda pressed her lips together by way of reply and a faint “Mhmmmm!” was heard. “Yes, well.” She held her tongue mindful of the fact that her recalcitrant and unethusiastic student was the beloved niece of the king. “Today it is a basic lamb stew.”
Éowyn and Cyneith shared a look as Thilda’s back was to them. Rohirrim daughters were as tradition dictated were taught to cook and spin and weave by their mothers. But both girls had lost their mothers tragically early. Cyneith’s mother was lost to a wasting fever when she was five and Éowyn had lost hers she always suspected to a broken heart as she died within a year of losing Éowyn’s father to an orc attack. She suspected that was why she and Cyneith had gravitated towards each other, their shared loss forming a bond. This is why they were being taught cooking by Thilda.
Éowyn did not excel at cooking. She did try to follow the directions that Thilda gave them but between the potatoes that squirted out her hand and onto the floor as she tried to peel them and the eggs that ended up with broken yolks and bits of shell needing to be fished out of various mixing bowls, she was nothing short of calamitous. She was determined to get it right, though. But Thilda’s heavy sighs did not help matters. The only saving grace was that usually she and Cyneith could laugh about it afterwards.
First, they had to brown the lamb so Thilda said. Éowyn added butter to the hot pan and sat and watched it melt holding the handle of the pan with a holder which then reminded her of a particular grip of a sword that she and Théodred had been going over the day before and as she was pondering that, Thilda bellowed, “It is burning!” Éowyn shook from her reverie and was greeted by the smell of burnt butter and then the cloth holder caught fire which Éowyn immediately flung onto the floor but in her haste her hand upended the mixing spoon that was in the other pot flipped that up into the air.
“Be still!” Thilda said, once again. She stamped on the cloth holder to make sure it was extinguished. The wooden spoon clattered to the floor and spattered on the lower hem of Éowyn’s dress.
Thilda stood with her booted foot still on the burnt holder, apparently trying desperately hard to reign in her temper. “Use another holder and take the pan off the flames.” She said to Éowyn in a controlled voice. Éowyn quickly complied making sure she grabbed a holder first. She was shaking, not from the burning of the butter and the fact that she was caught daydreaming again, not from the fact that she had almost set herself on fire and not from the clear evidence that Thilda was ready to throttle her but from all three at once. She stood there burning with shame. She could not do this; she did not know why but her mind wandered when she was supposed to be paying attention. Thilda did not make it any easier always barking, always finding fault. When Théodred was harsh or critical or even Éomer who taken over some of her training, she knew that it came from their heart because they genuinely wanted her to improve. She did not have the same feeling from Thilda.
Thilda broke the silence, “Right,” she bent and picked up the burnt holder and placed it on the counter, “Let’s start again, if we can do this without burning the hall down!” She said purposefully not looking in Eowyn’s direction.
Éowyn gulped air and tried to think past what had just happen, but she could not do it. She untied her apron and looked at Cyneith and murmured, “I have to go! I can’t stay here.” Cyneith looked at her friend with a sympathetic look and nodded.
Éowyn left the kitchen’s at a brisk pace and heard Thilda calling after her, “My lady, where are you going? Come back here!” But she just kept walking. She needed some air. She found herself on the front steps of the Golden Hall feeling the invigorating north wind blowing the loose strands from her plait this way and that. The wind felt good, she imagined it to be blowing her cares away. She did not know why she let Thilda get her so upset and flustered. She felt torn in two different directions. Who she knew herself to be and who others expected her to be. She could not be both. These two halves could not make her whole. She sighed and re-entered the hall, weighed down by the sure knowledge that she would be expected to apologise to Thilda. Better behaviour was expected of her and she was bound to give it.
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