Hours swirled into the days, which morphed into weeks, and clustered together to form the first month after the war had, at long last, dissolved. Having lasted for little over two nights, the "world war" between Saruman's ocean of orc rogues and the gallant warriors of Gondor and Rohan acted as a large match that had been struck; burning brightly in the beginning, yet extinguishing quickly and without finale.
Saruman was left alone, without militia and servant upon whom to exercise his frustration upon, to brood over his next plans concerning his "imminent dominion" over Middle Earth. He sat upon his cold throne, his knuckles a ghastly white as he clutched his staff in suppressed rage. He thought many a time during his grim contemplation to send for Gríma, though the rampant Ents stomping about in his flooded front yard would cause minor delivery errors.
In Rohan, the slowly chilling airs were weighted with the silence of the mourning villagers. Golden haired women clasped their hands in prayer for the ease of souls to pass into the heavens. Sons, young and old, stood as the statues of their ancestors did; resolute, impenetrable to the arrows of despair that strung at their rigid hearts. Daughters, young woman and tot alike, sprinkled the hardening soil with their virgin tears, whispering silent wishes of peace for the hereon, hands entwined like iron links in an unbreakable chain.
What little men did return, wives, sons and daughters pooled at their feet, showering them with kisses, love and grace abound. Envy, diluted by grief enveloped many women whose homes were left that much more barren with the lack of their beloveds.
And in the mediocre cloud of Rohirrim to return to their motherland, the golden-haired head with the weight of kingship upon his heart did not resurface. Slain in his utmost moment of triumph, Théoden King lay amongst his enemies, his world-weary soul long at rest. His legacy remained behind along the connected heartstrings of his people, who cherished his fatherly leadership as the sheep cherish the shepherd. Though, more intimately, his magnetic personality within the walls of Meduseld dug deeper wounds for those Théoden left behind after his spirit sailed to the Undying Lands.
Éowyn's strong heart regained its marble-like strength in the weeks to come following the night of her nearly successful assassination. Her conscience regained with her slowly awakening body, she grew to loathe her birth gender, blaming her sudden familiarity with death's caresses upon her womanhood. She cast blame of frailty over herself, willing herself to recover patiently before using what build-up of strength she would store to train her body in the ways of Shieldmaidenry she had known not before. She vowed to know illness no longer.
It was six days following this oath in which news of her uncle's death reached her ears. Her power over her emotions, so mastered over the near two decades of her life, crumbled as clay left too long in the sun. She could not drive back the advance of her vitality's decline, no matter how she fought. She succumbed to a setback in her recovery, laying silently in her bed with fever on her brow and night-terrors haunting her mind.
The condition of Éomer was hidden from Rohan's White Lady, for fear her very soul would fly from her paled lips to oblivion should an ounce more of worry or fear seep into her heart. He had been carried home atop his mount, which gave its last shuddering breath upon reaching the outer gates of Edoras. The golden haired General was given to private care to the young maid, Éobeta, though many of the officers surviving the war thought him not to last but a few days; his sides were riddled with sword slashes, arrow piercings and shrapnel of various sorts. The blood what flew from his wounds could have filled a small lake, yet he lived. He breathed with labor, his brow slicked with sweat and all of his body's workings moaning in not only physical pain, but also with the emotional blows that he had to face after witnessing the deaths of his closest comrades, Théoden King among the slew of corpses. He continued to thrive, albeit weakly, beneath Éobeta's cold cloth which kissed the blood away from his stubborn wounds; never before had his body taken so many blows in succession, and the many open lesions grappled for his energy, all determined to heal before the next, retarding his healing ability altogether.
Five and a half nights graced the General's young life before Mandos claimed his spiritual essence, and his soul passed quietly, as he was deemed already dead in the aching heart of Éowyn. He was given the warrior's burial; burned at pyre until naught but his charred armor remained of him, his ashen remains collected and scattered about the land of his birth on the winds. His armor was buried amongst his cousin and uncle, his cleaned helmet mounted atop the vacant throne in the Great Hall for all to see and honor alongside His Majesty's.
Three more silent weeks trudged past before Lady Éowyn's shapely feet slid from the warmth of her animal furs to the cold, unforgiving tiles of Meduseld's corridors. Even after her prolonged resting period, she was considerably weakened, reduced to brushing the walls around her with her palms for support as she walked. Her heart ached with each step, and her anger that much more festered within the frontmost part of her troubled mind.
'I... am Shieldmaiden by hand, Shieldmaiden by choice and by blood! How dare I, Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, weaken myself so? What...what ill dares diminish my strength when it is for justice and heavenly deeds that I grasp my scabbard? Know the Valar not how my people need me, as an infant needs her mother? Théoden King... Uncle... He returns in spirit from the battlefield, and brother Éomer has also been cradled to eternal slumber, and so now it is I, Éowyn, who must rest my back proudly against that lonely throne, but I shall not look about my people with dead eyes. No.'
Éowyn's hands fisted against the stone wall, pushing herself upright with a sudden burst of suppressed willpower. Her blond brows hung tightly upon her fair face in a look of determination, her rose petal lips pursed into a line. She went to take her first step forward without an aid, yet her legs could not bear the weight of her righted form, even though she had taken a more slight form after her illness had dissolved. She attempted to gain support of the wall once more when her knees buckled, but her touch was not long enough. Preparing to feel the sting of the solid stone against her ankles and knees, she flinched, however met no such pain.
The sudden warmth of thick furs cradled her crying muscles dipped her mind in brief drowsiness. She inhaled slowly, collecting her thoughts before her shining silver eyes re-opened. She felt secure albeit spindly fingers supporting her; one hand at the small of her back, the other at the front of her, inches away from cupping a breast. Finding her balance, she rose from the toasty embrace that cushioned her fall.
"You bear the countenance of the young spring foal who attempts to rise for the first time, my Lady. ...Is it truly wise that you wander these perilous corridors with such abandon?" An obnoxious tone; nasal in voice, though spoken with a soft, forked tongue. The words held a true concern that lacked in saturation.
Holding herself with what dignity she could muster after realizing that her savior was in reality the creature she spat on without shame, she looked daintily over her exposed shoulder at the darkly robed vizier.
"And when did you crawl from your pit, Lord Gríma?" she inquired acidly.
Eying her naked shoulder shamefully, he stepped closer while answering lazily, "I emerged as one does daily when one cannot find the peace to dream-- upon my own time, my Lady." His pale fingers came millimeters from her upper arm, dancing over the pale green fabric to grasp the deviated sleeve, covering her shoulder while surreptitiously receiving pleasure in touching her with a light intimacy.
She tore her torso from his paws, turning up her nose in disgust.
"My Lady, I did not mean--" he simpered, creeping along in her footsteps.
"Do not speak." She continued toward the main hall, her steely gaze unmoved by the shadow she saw in her peripherals.
Gríma shifted, biting at his lower lip, raising his eyes momentarily to the ceiling and twiddling his thumbs. He did not recall the upcoming turn in the hallway during the wandering of his educated mind, however brief; his chin, subconsciously raised upward with his pale eyes, collided uncomfortably with a stubborn limestone wall.
He yelped, his grey fingertips jumping to his lip. He stared at the red that painted his digits and scowled at the taste of salty iron drowning his tongue. He shook it off with a roll of his eyes, shuffling after Éowyn to the main hall where he found her there, sitting on the stone stoop before the semi-neglected throne, an expression of confusion plastered to her fair face.
He scuttled to her side, drumming his fingertips against each other before remembering that one hand was soiled with half-dried blood. He growled quietly in irritation.
'My Éowyn,' he thought, pondering her lost eyes, 'I gaze upon you and think of what an atrocity I must be when compared to your celestial image. But how you are, dare no one deny it, nor yourself! ...I find my lips unable to form the articulate speeches what form in my clouded mind when you are near, for they have the desire to—to... And my... my tongue, the cruel, oily thing, cannot aid to form these words that wait to enter the world, for it has a desire, oh yes. Many a wish that it may meet any inch, any crevice of your ivory form. Such thoughts, Gríma! Such dwellings! Curse you, curse you!'
His hairless brows furrowed in self-loathing, but regardless he approached; he would reprimand himself at a later date.
"My Lady, there is a matter of which I must spea--"
"Do not speak, Wormtongue."
He sucked in his lower lip, his worried expression intensified to one resembling a small child who had need to relieve himself. Blood from his split lip poured into his mouth as he nervously sucked on it, a wave of the red fluid dribbling down his chin unnoticed. In a final try, he spoke quietly.
"Lady Éowyn, this matter--"
Éowyn turned her head to face him, her cold eyes moistened considerably. "You cannot tame your tongue a moment for a woman to honor her dead?" Her tone showed a brief lack of volume control, a definite sign of distress. Trembling, she tucked a strand of golden hair behind a shy ear, noting the rich red of the blood seeping from the councilman's maw that made him look ever paler. With annoyance, she removed her handkerchief from her brassiere, extending her hand to him.
He was unsure of how to respond respectively, and so crept closer to her with wary eyes. He flinched violently as she moved, dreading her powerful fist when he though she was to strike him.
"Come," she ordered, her hand outstretched still. Her voice was noticeably calmer, and her eyes held low. "Do not make me ask again."
Coming into his mind, Gríma fell to his cloaked knees, inching closer to her knelt form. His chin was lifted by the airy touch of her cool fingertips, the soft Mirkwood silk kissing at the front of his jaw. His hauntingly blue eyes watched her in a way that a deer might a fire-ready hunter. In a moment more, he was relieved of her heavenly touch, and the lower half of his face groomed clean.
"You allow yourself to look a child, Lord Counselor, with blood running freely over you as such," she admonished fluidly, setting the soiled handkerchief aside.
"I apologize, my Lady... Such a fine garment needn't be dirtied with blood as blackened as mine."
"Silence, or I shall think you ungrateful."
He could not meet her authoritative stare, and so made to look upon her naked feet that peeked from the hem of her gown. He gathered himself, standing in his usual coiled stance. Gríma was engulfed by the silence that overtook the hall by storm. He concentrated, closing his extreme eyes. He could hear, or so he fabricated, the slow, strong heartbeat of his beloved within her chest.
'What ecstasy is this, to know my lady's heart pleading freedom from behind her supple breast?'
"Lord Gríma, you may speak of your proposition," Éowyn spoke, her voice detached.
Gríma jumped from his fantasy, his nether regions pulsating in time with the fading sound of the orphaned princess's heart in the back of his twisted mind. He dug within the folds of his robes, grateful to have chosen not to have had his signature fur cloak washed that morning after all, to produce a withered envelope embellished with a familiar seal.
"My King bequeathed this to my possession before he and his gallant men rode to war. It is, to my knowledge and in my own boldness to presume, my liege's final decree as Ruler of Rohan." Gríma chose his words carefully, monitoring her visage, of which her eyes merely widened when he held the parchment letter to her.
Éowyn's nimble fingers peeled the wax seal open without fracture, the letter pulled from its casing and unfolded in haste, nearly resembling a feral warg ripping the entrails of a poor equine corpse. Her dilated pupils danced over the thick paper, her brow's creases intensifying with each sentence.
With the final word, the letter fell from her hands. She sat in momentary quiet before lunging at Gríma, her nails gnawing at his sensitive neck-flesh.
"Liar! Fiend! You dare deceive me! My uncle would never decree a fate as so unto me! He wouldn't bestow a word as powerful as his own in order to dash my happiness and force my life into a dreary whirlwind! You lie! You forge his words and lie..." Her frantic screams echoed in the empty foyer, the sting of her sudden animosity drowning out into wild sobs. She sank to the ground, clutching desperately at the dark lining of Gríma's robe.
"Uncle...! Brother... Éomer!" she called, her cries erupting from her like water from a burst dam. Her strong aura wasted away, revealing her innermost self; small, shaking, lost Éowyn.
For a moment too long, Gríma stood above her, mightier than she then, and staring down upon her trembling, golden head. His pupils dilated with the adrenaline coursing through his veins from her attack, he beheld her weakened form, and his mind seemed to disconnect. He was unsure of how to deal with her. Should he hold her? Caress her? Ease her pain? Yes, ease it, but how?
'She'll likely swat you away like the tick you are,' his oppressive Right Mind sneered. 'And then what will you do? Go back again, that's what. You know what you must do, Gríma; you must fold her into your cape and steal her away. Fulfill your lust for her milky flesh, and do away with her purity in her moment of vulnerability! You won't have her any other way. Even I am aware of this painfully obvious truth.'
Wormtongue pressed his palms to his temples, urging the devilish thoughts away. He would know himself as one who cowered under the power of others, one who kissed the hand of the mightiest and sneered at the less intellectual, but he would not know himself as sneering at his own person.
The thoughts that had led him to Saruman's doorstep were forcefully imprisoned at the back of his mind, deep in the darkest precipice and locked in place, so that resurface they could not. No longer did he aim to fulfill his own selfish desires under the power of another, at least not constantly.
His hands trembled when hey met with the downy texture of her golden hair. He looked down his nose at her with his hollow eyes, his injured lower lip bleeding slightly with its slight shaking. He stroked her crown, trailing down the sides of her pinked face that had crumpled with her long suppressed anguish to cup the soft underside of her chin, tilting her face upward.
She made no attempt to struggle free of his handling.
"My Lady," he murmured soothingly to her. His hands guided her upon her weak legs, where she fell into his arms, her cries reaching their zenith before dulling down into deep, hiccuped breathing. He raised his jaw in his arousal of her body being pressed against his own, even in a way that was supposedly consoling. His eyes closed dreamily while he surreptitiously inhaled the scent of her hair.
Éowyn rested her head there against his furry shoulder for a moment, the pulsing in the front of her mind reducing to a muffled sound of her heartbeat in her ears. She exhaled with a conscious shudder, the ache in the back of her raw throat massaged with her swallowing. She knew, through her tremendous grief, what she was doing, whose arms in which she lay.
Slowly her hands crept into the space between her abdomen and Gríma's, righting herself and pushing out of his balmy embrace. Her palms rested upon his stomach lightly, a flush creeping over her tear-stained cheeks.
"I apologize," she said in a hushed tone. She eyed his neck, the normally grey-white skin irritated red and raised from her brief attack. She shunned herself for allowing her emotions to get the better of her, and though she loathed him, she reached for his throat, her fingertips tingling as they touched the angry flesh. "I... am sorry. In my grief, I... It was wrong of me," she managed at last, "to have harmed you."
She retracted her hand, bending to retrieve the stained handkerchief from the seat of her uncle's throne. Avoiding Gríma's gaze, she took a clean corner of the ornate fabric to dab at the freely bleeding cut on his lip.
The adviser swept his thumb gingerly over her cheekbone to erase a stray tear that escaped from her clear eyes. He stared into her face, and she drew her eyes upward to look back, her dabbing slowing until stopping completely.
"My Lady, forgive my audacity. I should have found a time with less distress in which to give my King's final will to you." His voice was steady, expertly masking his excitement. "Though I shall be so forward as to plead my innocence; I did not forge the document. My King had given it to me already sealed and with signature."
Éowyn's expression churned with her discomfort at the decree's mention. Her heart had reached its
limit while reading it, especially seeing the words in her uncle's own hand. She had caressed the velvety paper, worn with age and keep, knowing that those were the last words that her uncle had ever written, not to her knowledge that they were much older than she presumed.
He saw her furrowed brow and fidgeted nervously. He paced about, encircling her in step as a vulture might above its prey. "Surely my Lady would not deprive your late uncle of his dying proposition? Pray you ponder it, Lady Éowyn, pray you." He paused, standing behind her. "And where my Lady chooses to honor the desire of her last blood, she will need to make her mark upon the document."
Gríma turned his heel to leave her with her thoughts, even though he would secretly spy on her from some dark crevice.
Éowyn collected her uncle's final will, walking back to her chamber in a paced manner. Once inside, she cracked her door behind her and sat at her desk, the parchment set before her.
"My dearest Éowyn," her uncle's more intimately used, less ornate handwriting read, "Should you come to review this letter, it would be in the event of my succumbing to great illness or death. Think not of these words what remain after my throne has emptied as a final will to you; think of these words as a last promise asked of an old man on late terms.
You must face the event of my absence with the supreme strength that to all of Man's knowledge rests within your heart, for I leave to you all of the power that was once mine. I give to you, my Éowyn, the gift of Rohan's many children and their land. Take them into your hands, nurture them, as they are now your children as they were, during my time, my own.
Know that ever since you were brought to me alongside your brother, whose trembling hands you held with such strong compassion, I have thought you as my own daughter. Know that, no matter how incredulous they are, all of my actions in your life have been dealt with nothing but the highest concern for your well-being. And so it is now, my sister-daughter, that I make this final request:
In my adviser, Gríma, you will find great confidence. He has never guided me down a path that I regret, at least to my presumption, and so he will lead you. His words hide no lies, his hands drip with no blood, and his heart beats without evil, and it is with such words that I hope to lift your worries. I ask you this in all good intent, that you wed Gríma, son of Gálmód, with your ascent to the throne. I ask that you take to heart his words, but do not rely on them alone. I ask that you keep him close to you, in mind and in action, for no one's will runs closer to my own than that of Gríma.
It is only for your sake and yours alone that I ask so boldly of you, Éowyn, in the hour of my absence. Your mind is still your mind, and your heart still your heart, and so will be the heart of your people. Hold true to this while your hands mold Rohan into a land of greatness, one that I could never be more proud of.
May the guidance and mercy of Manwë grace you and the generations that come.
Théoden, son of Théngel ."
Her fingers held lightly the stem of her quill. With a fluid movement, she immersed the tip into her inkwell, holding the utensil with hesitance beneath her uncle's signature. A drop of the dark liquid dropped onto the parchment, the paper drinking it quickly, making the mark permanent.
"And permanent shall be any mark of mine, as well," she muttered to herself. With her head pounding painfully, a queasy feeling bubbling in the lower part of her stomach and salt tears stinging at her eyes, she lowered her wrist to the paper.
"Éowyn, daughter of Éomund," she printed in a timely manner. Her quill was laid upon its rest while she stared down at her work. She covered her mouth with her palm, her eyes blinking out the tears that fought their way out as she squeezed her lids closed. She had resigned her fate.
'But I will not be caged,' she thought with a weary yet determined resolve. She wiped her face free of her momentary upset before taking the signed order in her hands and making for Gríma's chamber.
She stood before the closed door of the man she was then bound to by her own courtesy of granting her uncle his final wish. Her grip tightened on the paper while she tapped gently upon the smooth wood.
A sliver of the pallid face of the Wormtongue was shown in the light of the corridor. Seeing who summoned him, Gríma opened the door to his threshold.
"My Lady, what--" he began as though speaking to a child.
She wordlessly thrust the decree into his hands, her brow furrowed and lips pursed. Her livid expression nearly instantly melted into one of despondency, her silver eyes downcast.
He glanced from her face only for a moment to spy her finely scrawled signature of approval beneath his former monarch's. He forced back the sneer of joy that threatened to curl his grey lips. His eyes taking on a compassionate stare, he returned to her crestfallen visage.
"It is a just thing you do, my Lady," he uttered, in a way that he could have spoken to a baby.
"Say nothing more of it," she ordered curtly, her throat aching with emotion. "I shall be crowned within the week." She turned on her heel, walking upright with one hand against the stone wall for support in a dignified fashion. Over her shoulder, she demanded in a stately voice, "Send for the priest in no less than three days."
Watching her walk with such an air of grace and power about her, he replied dreamily, "Consider it done, my Éowyn..."
Saruman bellowed to the seemingly endless ceiling of the Tower of Barad Dür. He had been imprisoned there for nearly a month following the war in which all of his cherished Uruk-hai were eaten by the arrows, swords and spears of the men of Rohan and their comrades. He dared not go near balconies or windows of any sort, for a fear lying deep within his cold belly that the mighty Ents, who had nearly doubled in number since they had destroyed his Uruk-hai production site might decide to end his misery and destroy his place of refuge.
The Palantír perched dangerously at the center of his dwelling place had been smoldering with the malignant energy of Sauron even more so since Saruman's defeat, causing the White Wizard to avoid communicating with his master for fear of elimination.
He sat then in his library, a map of Mordor laid out before him. His deranged brown eyes stared frantically upon the ink sketch of the Eye of Sauron, which seemed to be staring back. Hastily, he threw the map from his sight, holding his forehead in his wrinkled hands.
"Fetch me my flask of mead, Worm," he barked. A moment of silence passed, the absence of thick robes scraping hurriedly across the rugs or a weak 'Yes, my Lord' unnoticed at first. "Do you seek punishment, Worm? ...I demand an answer!"
And then it slowly blossomed within his frazzled mind: his servant was not trapped inside of Barad Dür with him. That would have explained his storage of food remaining in decent supply, although Gríma would usually go without, or consume what meager ration he was given. It would also have given answer to the unusual silence cloaking his dwelling.
"You cancerous dog," he snarled of Gríma. He slammed his fists upon the tabletop with rage; he had heard news from a sentry that he had released (a moth) that Éowyn not only lived to the day, however ill she was, but she was to become Lady of Rohan.
Without dignity, protection or servant, Saruman's mind dove into a frantically educated state of spite. He closed his eyes, entering his slave's mind once again as before.
'If no one else will fall before Saruman, then you shall suffer the most,' he decreed darkly, stepping into the gallery-like inner-mind of Wormtongue, the many emotive images of Éowyn's face still decorating the space.
Glancing about the otherwise white, endless space, he spied something new floating past a memory of Éowyn's tear-ridden face resting upon Gríma's shoulder. Walking across the white floor, he captured the wandering memory in his magical grip.
It was a memory of Théoden's final decree. Gríma had opened it carefully, reading it to himself with fiendish delight before sealing it closed once more, therefor storing the climax of the letter into his mind to think about during his moments alone.
'And so the snake will marry the filly,' Saruman chuckled darkly, releasing the memory. He could foresee, albeit unclearly, the prospect of an heir being produced of the union. Singular in nature, as well.
His bearded lips curled into a venomous sneer as he exited his servant's mind. 'If I cannot bereave you of a reason to live instantaneously, then I shall wound your dreams with a precious death and seal her fate in an unavoidable bind.'
"Yes, your prize may have escaped death's kiss once before, but now it approaches without interference. With your happiness resting upon having finally obtained the heart of Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, it shall be stolen by the birth of the heir to Rohan's throne that is cradled within her womb. With the birth of you son rides the death of your 'White Lady.' I, Saruman of the White Council, draw upon the great power of the Dark Lord Sauron to mark your fate. By the power of the Great Eye, let it be so!" he chanted at the top of his lungs, throwing his arms upward in climax of the dark magic flowing from his very soul.
A wild shine in his deep brown eyes made the once gloriously untainted White Wizard seem to be completely consumed by the supremacy of Sauron's disembodied being.
Two days following her acceptance of her fate, Éowyn was crowned the new Lady of Rohan by the town priest and an upstanding member of the Senate of Edoras. Her people gathered before the doors of Meduseld, of which the once cold, lonely halls had been reborn with a motherly warmth that even the horses could sense, as they all remained considerably less excitable.
The man of the Senate read aloud the speech that honored her predecessor, Théoden, and which acknowledged her as next rightful heir to the throne of Rohan. The speech went on for little more than an hour, the representative reading aloud from the parchment scroll in a timely, well pronounced manner, and covered more points of interest, such as the rights of becoming Lady of Rohan, duties of Her Ladyship, and various underlying subjects on fair use of power.
The moment that her uncle's crown met with her downy, golden waves, she silently wept at the surge of overpowering nostalgia that overtook her. She recalled a memory that had been long asleep inside of her mind from her early childhood.
She sat in her uncle's lap on the side balcony, watching her older brother, who was only nine years old then, practice his swordsmanship with a squire of Gamling's. She stared with longing, resting her craned neck against Théoden's chest.
"Why can't I play with swords like Éomer, uncle?" she had asked innocently, though with a noticeable sting of jealousy in her tone.
"You, my dear, are meant to study language and the arts. If it is one thing that my sister asked of me, it was that you become a proper lady in a more timely manner than she," he chuckled lightly in reply.
"But I don't like reading poetry or writing! I want to learn how to fight!" She slid from his lap, crossing her arms in irritation. Looking over her shoulder briefly to see how her father figure was going to respond to her disappointment, she spied his golden crown sitting atop his head. Her interest was caught, and she forgot her tantrum.
"Uncle, your crown... Isn't it heavy to wear?"
Théoden had hidden his amusement from her tantrum, but at her question his entertained smile was contained no longer. He lifted the crown from his brow slowly, the grandiose metal material glittering in the beam of sunlight that passed over it. He extended the signature item to his curious niece.
Her face glowed in wonder when the circle of ornate gold was placed into her eager fingertips. Staring at the design for a moment (of a trio of horses chasing one another on each side, then a man extending his hand to one of the equine creatures without threat), she lowered the ornament onto her head in hesitation. It was nearly two sizes too large for her, but from what she could tell, it wasn't as weighty as she had imaged.
"It's not heavy at all, uncle!" she exclaimed in delight.
Taking the crown back gently, he smiled at her with a hand on her cheek, saying in a heartfelt tone, "Ah, but it feels all the heavier to me with the responsibilities that it carries."
She sat herself in his lap one more time, watching her older brother defeat the squire with a triumphant call.
"One day, maybe you will know the true weight of this crown, Éowyn," he murmured as Éomer ran towards them in victory.
"Do you really think that I could be Lady someday?" she whispered into his ear.
"I believe that you will become a great Lady of Rohan, who can defend her people from behind her blade as well as charm them with her poetry, even as she loathes it so," he chuckled in reply.
The words of her uncle on that day had paved her way to her striving to become what she was to that very moment: a woman who was more than a woman; a Shieldmaiden, so as to aid her people against anything to cause them harm. She had, from the birth of that memory, vowed to be more than just a pretty face, more than just fair of skin and desired of body.
And so she had become. She stood before her people, the people of the field and of the horse, her people of Rohan, with her uncle's crown perched atop her head of white-gold locks that were mussed by a playful wind, her arms outstretched and cold tears kissing her cheeks. The moment that she had mused over as a child had become her fate, indeed, and while the townsfolk pooled at the base of her dwelling cheered her, throwing flowers and calls of celebration, her chest felt sick inside, for she also knew of another twist in her destiny that had yet to come.
And come it did.
Éowyn awoke in a cold fever, her eyes wide with an unknown horror. She knew it, deep within the icy pits of her stomach.
'It is today... It is that day...' she reminded herself, attempting to quell the feeling of nausea rising up into the back of her throat. She had little time alone to herself that morning; her handmaidens and nurses all scrambled to prepare her in time for her...for that, the moment that Éowyn wished death could free her from.
Bathed in soothing, steamy waters with fresh honeysuckle blossoms sprinkled throughout for nearly an hour before dressed in a white gown unlike any she had ever donned before, Éowyn had mere minutes left of freedom of self before she would be bound by law to the man-creature that received not even a breath of her concern.
She sat then before a mirror as tall as herself, three handmaidens buzzing about her. She noted two searching for some missing piece to her costume, while the third, the calmest of the trio and none other than Éobeta, braided two strands of her hair that were joined into a single braid at the back and down the length of her hair.
Pleased with her work, Éobeta added a pale green ribbon to the simple yet beautiful style, and, stepping before Éowyn to gaze upon her, placed a single forget-me-not blossom behind her right ear. Éobeta smiled, her eyebrows arched at the sight of her Lady's innocent beauty.
"My Lady..." she whispered.
"The outfit is unbecoming of me, I agree," Éowyn grimaced, looking away.
"No, my Lady," the blond, young maid murmured passionately, "I do not believe that an angel could be more resplendent."
The blond monarch looked to her maid in brief confusion, an involuntarily shy smile taking the place of her bewildered expression. She nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear, toying with the hem of her low-hanging sleeve. She peered in slight awe of her own reflection after Éobeta joined the other two maids in their frantic search.
There she sat upon a pouf made of fine Elven silk before a magnificent chamber. Her garment was not a mere dress, but a gown of great splendor; colored in white of a nearly translucent shade with a neckline that plunged dangerously close to her soft breasts in a heart-shaped fashion. Her sleeves resembled those of a priestess; long, open and flowing. About the circumference of her bodice was an elegant leaf pattern, embroidered in gold, and the same pattern followed at the hems of her sleeves and of the dress itself. A simple necklace bearing her father's crest sat atop her collarbone upon a golden chain, and then, suddenly, her trio of handmaidens brought a pair of white lambskin slippers to her feet.
She was complete; her costume was at last presentable, so that her performance could be brought to stage.
That was how she came to stand there upon the topmost step of the temple honoring Manwë, placed high for her spectators to see. Spectators they were, indeed; six councilmen from the Senate, a scribe so as to record the event's happenings and the priest himself, as well as Éola at Éowyn's side to aid her.
The priest, called Awáin, prompted that Éowyn face her small audience, as her betrothed was about to make his presence known.
She could hear the scribe's raw quill scratching at the parchment, one of the elderly councilman's wheezed breathing and her own heartbeat reach a deafening volume in her ears. She knew that she had to hold strong, for if she were to lose consciousness... If she were to seem weak then, of all times, she would be branded as weak for the remainder of her rule. She lifted her chin, taking a haughty appearance.
It came. The shadow crawled through the grand oak doors separating the room of prayer from the lobby, his usual color palette of black upon black unchanged, yet his attire tossed aside for something more suited to "royal appeal."
Gríma glanced about, his eyes that held the fair blue of the sky draped in a veil of pride to mask his nearly cataclysmic state of mind. His crouched posture remained as he crept forward, his grey skin glistening with light sweat. Raven waves of hair stuck to his forehead in places where the moisture ran rampant, making the dark rings beneath his eyes appear ever more prominent.
For the first few seconds of his arrival in the chamber, his hollow eyes were locked on the sextet of noteworthy men. They did not pay him a single glance, for all of their eyes, if not half, were lustily drawn to the virgin queen standing before them.
Gríma's stare did not stand long before joining them. He beheld her there, standing at a higher ground than he, almost as though she were upon a pedestal for display. His mouth went dry at her image; so innocent and yet so unforgiving, waiting for him to claim her without her full consent. He paused there in his stride merely to allow her matronly image to become forever stained into his mind. He was brought from his trance by his legs, clad in black leather trousers with thick leather straps binding the loose material to accommodate his thin, yet shapely legs, which trudged onward toward her as though with magnetic pull.
At long last, Gríma came to stand beside her, his hands shaking at his sides. The black cape that draped across his shoulders was not nearly thick enough to his taste, and so left him with the odd feeling of draft upon his ghostly skin. The ornate black lace that covered his arms to the middle of his palms did little to warm him, even with the black wolf-fur vest that adorned him topping it.
The priest raised his scroll from which he read various passages of Rohannic religious tales pertaining to faith in love, youth and virginity in an animated, devout fashion.
Éowyn fought to maintain her stability. Faintness clouded her mind, and her legs attempted with near success of reverting to their previous countenance of a newborn fawn standing for the first time; unsteady and awkward. She would not have any knowledge that her opposite, Gríma, was also having poor control over his appendages and state of mind.
Awáin's wizened yet still youthful eyes glanced from the golden, fair Éowyn to the pallid, cadaverous Wormtongue during a fruitful pause following an immense reading of marital rights and duties. Even he, a man of the Valar, could not deny his gross curiosity as to what kind of rulers the odd pair would make to Rohan. He knew of Gríma's previous, less desirable acts along with his untrustworthy persona, and though he could not help but wonder, he stopped himself. To doubt was to tarry, and there were more important matters at hand. He found his place; the exchanging of vows.
"And now," he turned to Gríma with an oddly encouraging glance, "Gríma, son of Gálmód, how do you offer yourself to my Lady Éowyn?"
Gríma swallowed, his throat no more moist than the soil of Mount Doom's summit. His darkly-ringed eyes stared at the holy man a moment too long before he bowed his oily, though freshly groomed, head. His dark locks fell over his pallid visage, giving him a meeker disposition. The control quivered within his chest. Gríma dropped fluidly to his knees before Éowyn, his pale eyes narrowed as he gazed up at her as though she was enshrouded by a blinding light. Control shuddered once more, and then dissolved, allowing his passion and eagerness to flow freely at last.
"I offer myself to my Lady as I am, yet even now I know she dreads to accept me. My offering is of soul, and purely is of a search for my Lady's recognition. I ask not for your compassion, your pity, your hatred, nor your will to know the innermost person of this sorry creature that is Gríma, son of Gálmód, no. I... I simply ask," Gríma's eyes softened, as though he was beginning to adjust to the light, "that my Lady accept my humble offering of a despicable, foul shell of a great man that wishes to redeem what small thimble-full of reverence he could have within you."
"...All that I can offer of myself, mayhap if you would be so generous to humor such a loathsome being as I, is the oath of determination and," his pupils penetrated deeply into her own, his words slowed in a dreamy state, "faultless loyalty."
Oh, how he felt the words leaping from his blackened core in which they had so long rested. The adviser thought that he wouldn't be able to silence his ramblings of his long concealed love of her for another day or two following. He had managed a pause in order to breathe greedily, and when his colorless lips parted against to resume his romantic spiel, Awáin found it opportune to intersect.
"And how does my Lady Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, offer herself to Lord Gríma, son of Gálmód?" the priest inquired, glancing searchingly to her.
The fair haired young woman looked upon her dark counterpart from beneath her eyelids, like a teacher would survey an unworthily deemed student's work. Her gaze suddenly intensified as she peered at him.
"I do not offer myself," she said simply.
The gathering of Senate goers murmured in quieted disbelief. Lady of Rohan or not, Éowyn had just insulted the priest as well as her future husband.
Yet she was not phased by their noises of outrage. Instead, she continued coolly.
"I do not offer myself as a bride, nor as a woman. I do not offer myself as a Lady of Rohan, nor as a Shieldmaiden." She paused briefly to observe the confused expressions of her audience.
"Then how does my Lady offer herself to my Lord this day?" Awáin took the quick silence to ask.
"She does not. What a proposition, Father, to set me as a token before this man to take as he pleases. Here I know, as anyone inhabiting my court would, that this man," she gestured pointedly at Gríma, who remained knelt before her, "would have me without question. I detest the thought, being named like a grand treasure might." She exhaled, giving her feminist pride leeway to her hidden weakness for a single, ill moment. "Yet... I digress, for I shall be taken nonetheless." Her eyes bore a sadness that was alien to her usual proud nature while stiff silence overtook her celestial image.
"And so my Lady offers herself. Doth her Lord accept her?" Awáin glanced over his scroll to the darkly colored pool of man-creature aside the heavenly maiden.
"I would quicker take my Lady than the throne to rule all of Middle-Earth," he spun, his tongue rolling over his own words in a velvety fashion. He bit his lower lip while he righted himself; it took nearly all of whatever control he had rationed within him following his lust-fueled rambling to restrain the excitement festering beneath his skin. To think that with a few simple words, Éowyn would finally be his-- or she would be lost to him forever.
Awáin lowered his scroll, looking to her in a sagely manner. His words were softly spoken. "My Lady hears the offering that my Lord proposes. Doth she accept him?"
The group of Senate members buzzed almost inaudibly, their eyes wide with anticipation. The mass of them considered the moment at hand: the snake of an adviser to their late, beloved king had just pledged what little self-worth he had, along with his unstaled loyalty, if such a claim could be held to any true value considering his reputation in and outside of the court, to the White Lady of Rohan. She was known throughout her land for her cold, lonely heart as well as her hatred for the man who had sat before her feet. The two persons melded into a hearty feeling of undying inquiry amongst the six of them.
How would their lonely-hearted lady answer, they wondered, if at all? Should she, considering the event in its entirety was within her last remaining relative's final wishes? The men dared not turn their eyes away, stifling their breathing in order to hear each word.
Éowyn looked upon Gríma, her expression one of utter defeat. She no longer had any choice. She could no longer banish him from her sight merely because of her loathing for him. She could not have her brother and his guard seal his path from her when she sickened of his shadow stalking her every step. She had no way to escape.
Shuddering breath in tow, she parted her lush lips.
It was all that she could manage to force from her mouth, the hesitant, two-word reply.
The holy man waited a moment to ensure that neither of his patrons were to burst into a sudden, lengthy bout before he took in the silence that swallowed them. He, himself, was somewhat speechless in the sum of it. Indeed, the land's most unlikely duo had just announced and taken one another's offerings of self, even though some offerings were not as willingly given.
"So given by the Valar, this union shalt be blesséd by peace, grace and spirit alike. May all troubles wilt as new seeds of passion and prestige are sew into thy soil of matrimony," Awáin finished, his tone smoothed with a breath of relief. His eyes, withered with the years, somehow came to foresee unusual albeit unimaginable events to fall upon the final steps of the odd bond. He raised his scroll, closing it grandly then to conclude. He pressed his fingertips to his lips, then gently tapped them to Éowyn's forehead.
"May the Gods bless you, Lady Éowyn," he prayed before straightening his tired form. He stood away from the pair, awaiting their final seal: the kiss.
Éowyn turned to face her self-proclaimed enemy. Her eyes were saturated acid. Her chest was filled with ice and weighted with heavy stones, but she knew not why. She longed to be rid of the place, to gather up the skirts of her Elvish silk dress and barricade herself away from the man-creature chained to her as her "husband," yet she did not, for should she, her dishonor would extend to her priest, beyond the grave to her beloved uncle and then to herself.
Gríma, whose very innards threatened to explode with the deadly hot air of his triumph, examined his prize. His hands flexed and curled into fists within his cape's folds. His everlasting greed for her was proving difficult to tame. He stepped closer to her, slowly, as the hunter would approach the wounded deer. He reached out with his chilled fingertips, brushing the goldspun hair from her neck. The way his luminous blue eyes beheld her, one might think he had witnessed the birth of an angel.
Éowyn felt his touch upon her, and though she started to shrink back, she did not move from it. Her skin crawled under that familiar touch, the same trembling caress of the same disgraceful serpent had danced over her flesh on the same night that her Théodred was cradled by Mandos. Her throat ached in its attempt to rebel against the tears that threatened. Her head leaned into the hand of the man whose heavy-lidded eyes had lusted after her for so long. The soft pain weakened her at his disposal, and she loathed herself then.
In the grey silence, a ray of sunlight did tenderly shine.
"May I be so presumptuous as to speak?"
All eyes, among them the grateful, frightened eyes of the child Éowyn, came to see the lonely bridesmaid, Éola, standing erect in the shadow.
"If I may say, my king, Théoden, knew justice and was adored by all. His fatherly hands cradled the whole of us. To disrespect him now would bring a great ill omen," she crafted solemnly, her hands folded with pristine tranquility before her.
"Of what disrespect do you speak, my child?" Awáin inquired, his sage tone shrouded in panic.
"My king was of stern tradition. In his respect, he would have my Lord and Lady consummate their marriage, even in such fond ways as a kiss, with clandestine nature, Father," Éola supplied. Her vibrantly green stare, the plainness and yet profound beauty of an open field within them, bore no lie. "Following my king's belief, my Lord and Lady would complete their union within the privacy of their chambers."
Pausing a moment to think over the matter, Awáin nodded deeply in her favor. "My child, you are bright to bring last honor to our king. The Valar have witnessed your well deeds, and bless this day. Let Théoden King's desires, however until now unspoken, remain honored."
Gríma's hand lowered slowly from his bride's jaw, his eyes clearly disappointed. Though festering in the womb of his Right Mind, a devilish wave of thoughts lifted his spirits. Alone he would be, completely left to no one but the company of his desired to do with as he pleased, as the man's rights were. His Right Mind molded the situation into one of great ecstasy yet to come.
Hello. (*ahem*) I don't think any number of apologies could make up for my rather unnecessarily lengthy absence. I usually take my "vacations" toward the end of my fictions. Suspense, and all that. I don't know what came over me. Oh well. Here I am, though. :]
*Gríma's "Right Mind" - his "shoulder devil." I thought that a remnant of his past self, the conniving, thieving, lecherous Gríma who worked for Saruman shouldn't be completely banished. Where would the fun in that be? "Right Mind" distorts Gríma's otherwise less conniving, lecherous and thieving (but still pretty conniving, thieving and lecherous) into ideas of a much more devious, juicy vision. "Right Mind" is Gríma's personal snake of Eden, one might say.
*Manwë- the King of the Gods of the Valar. Google him for more information, as it's quite a bit to explain here.
*Mandos- the God of the Underworld and Dead (Valar). He is Manwë's brother. For more info, Google him.
If I failed to explain anything else noteworthy in this chapter, please ask of it and I shall promptly scoff at my own carelessness and answer. :D