1 Narië, T.A. 3013
Shouts of laughter escorted the king as he and his men burst forth from council with not a glance back at the musty room in which they left their cares. Good company and plentiful food and drink awaited them in the great hall of Meduseld; there a new Shieldmaiden danced with her brother, who sought to befuddle her steps even as she did his amidst much laughter and cries.
The king and his heir paused to await the one who wandered out last, frowning upon the papers in his hand. The young man in somber black started then bowed low, knee bent equally in respect as from the heavy hand that pressed down upon his shoulder.
Théoden's thick mane of grey-tarnished gold bore witness to the many years he wore but his smile was as young as spring as he gazed with kind eyes upon this youngest of his advisors.
"Gríma, your words in council were wise and well-spoken- yea, joy it is to me to have you to serve Rohan even as your good father did."
Gríma's rainwater eyes shone with pleasure. "May your reign be long and bring favor to you in the eyes of your fathers, Théoden King! Indeed, as Saruman is renowned throughout the lands for his great wisdom my heart tells me that the White Wizard shall have the answer for dealing with the fell creatures harrying our borders."
Théoden nodded. "Your counsel is good. Therefore I say that you shall be the one to go forth unto Saruman at Isengard and bear him Théoden's greetings and Théoden's pleas; and tell him that Rohan shall ever be his friend should he give us aid in dealing with these foul beasts. Now, come! Ease thy thirst, and behold my new Shieldmaiden dance!" With a last friendly grip to his shoulder the king turned away and made his way to his hall, beckoning to his son to follow.
Théodred nodded as he too passed by. "However long it takes, son of Gálmód, bring us back what my father seeks."
Gríma drew in his breath when the men had gone, grateful to have been born the son of a man who knew his letters. To speak with Saruman, the famed White Wizard- this was an honor he, the most junior of the advisors, had never looked for but greatly desired. What could he not learn from one whose knowledge was unmatched even by that strange wanderer Mithrandir, he who gazed at Gríma from under his bushy brows and mocked him with every word? No, Gríma harbored no favor for stormcrows but rather for one whose mellifluous words rippled so sweetly through men's souls and minds.
But then, Gríma son of Gálmód had learned early the power of words.
Gálmód son of Gumagast was a man of plain speech but as one of the few men of Rohan able to scribe he had won a place with the lords of the Golden Hall when a stray blade had ended his days in the éored.
Often Théoden sent him to Minas Tirith, bearing his liege's letters to the White City and returning with news of their ally to the south. It was from one such trip that he also brought back a bride, a woman with hair darker than secrets and with only the faintest beating of blood to be seen beneath her milky skin. To the Rohirrim, they who were bright and open as the summer sunshine, she was a mystery as she paced the halls of Meduseld, gazing upon her new people with pale eyes aglitter beneath heavy lids. They welcomed her yet were wary, for none understood what she spoke for all that the words were familiar. To Gálmód, however, she was greatly beloved and for a while the love was strong between them.
But she was a hothouse bloom from the south and she did not transplant well, to either the windswept plains cradled between the Misty Mountains to the west and the White Mountains to the south, or to the house of Gálmód that sat empty of clever speech and song. She saw none of the raw beauty around her and heard none of the warmth in the voices. She knew only that the emptiness drained her and Gálmód's love failed to feed her. Too late she found he did not speak her language; he did not understand when she spoke of white stone driven to life by the beat of ten thousand hearts or of dead white trees for which time did not end but merely stood still, or when she wept of drowning beneath the thundering echo of the grass. Though she held him to blame she did not recognize that neither did she heed his words when he spoke of newborn foals and blue skies and nights spent beneath warm furs.
They sought each other, limbs entwined, lips clinging, but Gálmód was powerless to hold her to him and slowly she retreated into the solitude of one in whom despair had taken root. Then she was brought to bed of a child and Gálmód rejoiced for it seemed his wife had found joy again.
And indeed as the boy grew she blessed her son's birth, for at last she had found one who understood.
Fires roared in her hearth while she paced her rooms, her pale hand clutched about that of her small son as she softly read to him from a book of verse whose brittle pages had darkened to the richness of amber. Between her lips she caressed words now barely to be seen, savored their familiar taste before imparting her own; and warmed them in the depths of her mouth before breathing their strange magic upon the pale-eyed boy whose own tongue she hoped would roll them yet again into something uniquely his.
Weeping without tears she whispered to him of great dreams born years past in a great White City, of dreams frozen by uncomprehending stares, and of the terrible emptiness of being left wanting until all that remained were the ghosts of a thousand blind horses trampling her deep into a rustling sunlit sea. None hear my dreams, she cried.
She sang to him of love- intense and consuming, yet never enough- her grey eyes glittering beneath their heavy lids as she wandered through her memories: some newly made, some remembered only deep in her heart, some only imagined. Why does love leave me so alone, she sighed.
At last she told him about power, about a maiden afire to release the words that surged within her. But none at the Steward's court would listen save a stranger to the City who seemed to know about words, and drunk with his admiration she conquered him, refusing to heed that neither heard each other truly and never would. I speak and am nothing, son of my heart, she mourned.
He listened well, tasting each bitter word he inhaled before storing all away to ripen until they were needed.
As the fires roared higher and hotter so did she, pouring forth ever faster, seeking to fill him as she would an empty vessel. Yet the more she poured the more he yawned; her flame burned brief and hot and all too soon left her in ashes.
She wilted as he grew, faded as he flourished, and by the time she was laid into the cold ground Gríma was his mother's son and more- slight of frame, pallid and poetic, his pale eyes incandescent with an unknowing hunger. No puissant Rider of the Mark was he, but when he spoke it did not matter; the heated words his mother had fed him had aged well and from him at last now poured forth as fire to dry grass or as balm to the stricken. The Rohirrim marveled at the comely speech of Gríma son of Gálmód, so unlike the blunt earthiness of their own, and he quickly found the king well disposed to hear him.
For some years he served Théoden as his father did but shared little else, for his sire alone was unmoved by his son's molten voice and did not care to look at this poor imitation of his beloved wife. Gríma did not grieve much at the passing of Gálmód son of Gumagast.
Many a woman of Edoras would have welcomed him to her home and bed for he was comely enough, with all his teeth, gently spoken and favored by the king. He held his mother's words tightly within him, though; he dreamed not, sought no great power, and opened his heart to no woman.
Heart-whole he remained, and content, until this spring: the spring of the daughter of Éomund's eighteenth year.
Laughter roused him from his reverie and his smile broadened as he hastened toward the hall, bowing politely to those he met but not slowing his steps.
A handful of maidens danced in a circle to a singer's tuneful ballad about the ride of Eorl the Young to Gondor's aid, but Gríma saw only one as he entered the crowded hall.
Eighteen was late for a girl of the Rohirrim to come to womanhood, for many of that age were already wedded and some even mothers. But, ah, Gríma sighed as his eyes caressed the graceful form swaying before the throne, how fine a flower this late ripening had produced.
Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, spun and whirled, arms weaving a graceful pattern in the air as she danced before her liege, her cousin, and her brother. She swung on a slender ankle just barely glimpsed with each flick of skirts the fresh green of new grass; thick golden hair, glinting in the firelight, coiled along the curves of her body before springing away, only to return again and again. To Gríma she was ripe corn and lush fields, drenched with the heavy scents of summer; but she was also the wondering newness of spring and of the seasons unwoken.
He marveled at how he had not marked her until now. He had known her as a graceless girl and had seen her resist the pull of the years, ever clinging to her horses and her sword and her brother's cast-off breeches. But time was relentless and had shaped even her, molding her into a worthy daughter of kings, and when he had at last noticed his body had cried out, roused from its torpor by a blaze that now ever smoldered.
He glanced around and frowned, noting he was not the only man to gaze closely upon the niece of the king. His belly burned anew as he went to Théoden's side and wondered which of the young Riders, men so like her beloved Éomer and Théodred now standing guard before her, would win her favor.
The singer ended his ballad and the maidens finished with a deep curtsey to the throne. They rose and broke into excited laughter, embracing each other before running into the crowd to the men of their choosing.
Wispy strands of gold floated about her face as Éowyn faced her men folk, cheeks pink and grey eyes bright with the pleasures of the dance.
"Believe you, Théodred, that this is my grubby sister with the owl's screech?" Éomer grinned. Their laughter rang from the rafters as Éowyn wrinkled her nose at him and went to her uncle.
Théoden leaned forward and held her face between his hands as he kissed her brow. Taking her slender hand between his own strong fingers he asked, voice rich with pride, "What think you of my Shieldmaiden, Gríma son of Gálmód?"
Gríma smiled slowly, pale eyes beneath their heavy lids eloquent of admiration and even bedazzlement. "Let none deny that only with the beauty of Éowyn Éomund's daughter is the Golden Hall at last truly made as it is named."
Éomer snorted and rolled his eyes. Théodred smiled, but his eyes slewed toward his father's amused face, his own slightly questioning. Éowyn, however, laughed, her skirts continuing their dance about her slender form as she gave the advisor a playful curtsey. "Ah, wordsmith, would you have me blush? Behold! I do name you Gríma Goldentongue, for so you seem to me, with words glided and sweet as honey from the hills."
"A goodly name, sister-daughter, for so persuasive and valued a counselor." Théoden turned to his son. "As Gríma is to depart early on the morrow to Isengard to speak to Saruman on my behalf, be sure that he has all that he will require for a sojourn of uncertain length."
"That is well indeed, my lord father," Théodred replied quietly.
Gríma excused himself and wandered out to the corridor. His relations with Théodred and Éomer were cordial enough, though he knew they found his nature amusing and were wont to ignore his speech. Yet he felt himself blush as he remembered how Théodred had looked at him, when he had betrayed himself with his fervent words. He was glad that young Éomer had not noticed for he was more fiercely protective of Éowyn than even Théodred and Gríma had no desire to face Éomer's fists before his long journey.
He sat upon a carved bench and carefully pulled forth from his pocket an ancient book, worn thin and dark. Absently his fingers traced the faint letters while he mused.
His mother's strictures, held so long to his heart, faded as he savored his new name, bequeathed him in that clear low voice, like echoes from the fog, which shivered him to the marrow and pulsed his blood to his loins. But he tasted sorrow too, for how could such a golden girl desire one such as he- a grey-eyed raven, mild as milk, with a taste for wordplay instead of swordplay?
His mouth grew dry as Éowyn ran lightly towards him, her hair glittering about her fair face and upon her shoulders. In her arms she bore her new sword, given to her just that morn when she had sworn fealty as Shieldmaiden to Rohan's lord, bound until pardon or death released her.
"Do you hide from me?" She teased as she settled beside him, making him blush yet again. Her laughter bubbled forth and he smiled at such innocent mirth. "What is that you hold?"
He gazed at her a long moment before he answered, enjoying his study of her. The green gown became her well, though he liked her best when she wore white and resembled winter's queen, such as that morn while she had danced with her sword before her liege; garbed in thin pure white as gossamer and mist, tall and queenly she had been indeed.
He smiled a little. In truth what had captured him most then were her hands, slender but strong, playing upon her blade. She had stroked the sword, held it close to her warmth as she would have a lover; more fool he to feel jealous of a length of cold steel.
Recalling her question he replied, "Verses from Gondor, brought by my mother when she wed my father. Tales of mighty kings of old."
"So old a book. Was it a treasure of her house?"
Gríma blinked. He had never asked such questions of his mother, even about so precious a thing as this; there had never seemed to be time to stop her torrent of speech. "I do not know. I had supposed the book itself mattered little; she ever treasured the contents, not the shell." Yet he realized with sorrow that this did not explain why she had kept this battered relic and had not had it recopied. It was something he would never know.
Éowyn's long fingers hovered over the book. " As brittle as dying leaves they are- do you not fear to touch the pages?"
"No, though I have not read them in many a year. Fear not for them, they are merely offended to have been denied so long, dear lady." He smiled as she laughed. Taking a deep breath he dared to ask, "Would you stay and read with me?" He traced the faint letters, already rolling the words over his tongue and wondering how intensely he should warm them before offering them to her. And how would they taste? Sweet? Tart? Dry as sand? He glanced at her mouth, imagining how those soft lips would curve and flutter as she repeated his words, and felt a sharpness slide into his belly.
Words were his strength. He needed them now.
"Ah, I cannot, for I am promised to my brother and my cousin, who are to show me more of the ways of the sword so that I will not shame my duty as Shieldmaiden." Try as he might he could hear no true regret in her voice as she gazed at her sheathed blade, a happy smile curving her mouth.
Gríma sucked in his breath, disappointment heavy in his chest. "Yet I am to leave early on the morrow and do not know when I will return."
"Then you shall speak your gilded words to me when you are come back." She patted his arm. "You will wait for me ere you read on, will you not, good Gríma?" Her smile flashed and he told himself she smiled for him, while he sought to suppress cold Reason that scoffed she gave no more than she did to any other of her uncle's trusted advisors.
"Ah, Éomer and Théodred are here at last. Ferthu Gríma Gyldentunge hál!"
With a beguiling laugh she leaped away, and he sighed at the heartlessness of pretty young maidens savoring their newfound power over men. He watched as she caught her brother's arm against her breast and pressed a kiss upon her cousin's cheek, and for the first time envy truly gripped him, fierce and angry, as he gazed upon the laughing sons of the house of Eorl. The wrench that he had felt while ensorcelled by her dance deepened; the pages of his book crackled unheeded between tightening fingers.
Goldentongue she named me- so shall it be.
He would indeed discover what was needed about the orcs and other fell creatures that attacked Rohan, as Théoden had commanded him. But that would no longer be enough for Gríma. No, he would use his golden tongue to flatter the wizard who knew so much, cajole him, persuade him to share his secrets. He would seize those words and distill them even as the bees did with the sweet fruits of their labors, and when he had learned all that the great Saruman could teach him he would return to Théoden's side and pour forth his own precious honey into his lord's ear.
But the honey would not be for just the king; wizards knew much of men- and women.
Théoden King- he shall be mighty amongst mighty kings who all shall bow to the glory of Rohan. And when the king strides forth to receive their homage ever at his right hand shall stand Gríma son of Gálmód, lord and friend to wizards, his arm clasped warmly about a fair-haired lady brighter than the sunlight on the bleached summer grasses, whose eyes shall glow with a fire kindled only by him.
With an effort he suppressed the vision, his belly hollowed by the ache of wanting. He licked his dry lips and clapped the book shut before he hurried off to make his preparations for the next day's travels.
"And why should not Saruman favor me?" he whispered to himself and nodded, liking the taste and sound of the words he spoke. "For I shall be a fine pupil as I ever have; do not people heed me as they did not my poor mother? Ah, my mother, I have denied myself of much for so long, what ill that I should seek this one thing? No, ill-fortune to any who would condemn me for seeking to be one of Rohan's honored sons and to be favored by the fairest of her daughters! Saruman is wise and fair and shall guide me well, and Théoden himself will declare Rohan in my debt."
His vision rose again before him, and he shivered with anticipation; for the first time in his life he dared to believe in dreams.
Note: 1 Narië corresponds to 23 May
Tolkien did not indicate how long Gríma served Théoden before he turned to Saruman, or when exactly the betrayal occurred. However, it does seem clear that Gríma was in the king's service for some time before 3014, and probably was fairly close to Théoden in order to be able to take such complete control. Also, despite being depicted as such a physically repellent character in the movies (sorry, Brad ☹ ) Gríma must have had a considerable amount of that elusive quality known as charisma in order to have had such profound influence; even if he had been drugging Théoden, a less canny fellow would likely have been routed early. Eloquence, particularly if Gríma was more pleasantly spoken early in his nefarious career, seemed a good way to dramatize such a trait.
The name Gumagast was chosen for Gálmód's patronymic for reasons alliterative and aesthetic only; the fellow lives up to his name as he only exists in my imagination (guma, 'man' and gast, 'ghost/spirit')