Chapter 3-The story of Maranwe Ar Feiniel, woman rider of Rohan. - To the fords of Isen!
During the next two days I spent in Meduseld, the Golden Hall, I learnt much of the king and others simply by observing those around me. The king was obviously controlled by Wormtongue; Wormtongue pursued Eowyn, clearly lusting after her. Yet nothing could be done about that, for Wormtongue was the king's trusted advisor, his trusted man. Any harm to Wormtongue would mean death or imprisonment, no matter who did it. Eowyn had told me that Theoden had been a father to her and to Eomer, yet he sent Eomer to prison. This was a sad city.
The morning of the second of March-or, according to my mother's people, Sulime-dawned clear. I was up at dawn, tending to my horses, and I saw the four strangers enter the city. The first was an old man, with a long, white beard, cloaked in gray, though his garments underneath glinted bright white. He carried a white staff, intricately carved, and he rode a great white horse, more beautiful than any I had ever seen. Behind him he bore a short, stocky, and bearded man, clad in well made armor and a fine, grayish green cloak, fastened at the neck with a leaf shaped brooch, and armed with at least one axe. Next came a tall, dark man, weather beaten, with gray eyes. He was clad in a rough, worn tunic, and tall, muddy boots, but also wore a cloak and brooch identical to the dwarf's. He also wore a ring, shaped like two serpents. He bore a great sword, and carried an elvish looking knife, and was mounted on a brown horse, saddled in the manner of the Rohirrim. The last man who entered made me catch my breath. He was an elf, one of my mother's race. He too wore a cloak like the other two, clasped with the fine, leaf shaped brooch. He bore for weapons a bow; a quiver inlaid with in an elegant peacock design, and bore two knives-much like my own-and he too rode a horse saddled in the rohirric manner.
Following the strangers, I saw them all disarmed by the door-wardens, though only after a minute or two of hesitation by the dark man, and then enter the hall, escorted by the guard called Hama. I followed them, and entered the hall myself. Theoden sat on his throne, while Eowyn stood behind. Wormtongue sat below the king, as was his custom. There was a silence, broken by the old man.
"Hail Theoden, son of Thengel! I have returned. For behold! The storm comes, and now all friends should band together, lest they be swept away and destroyed singly!" Theoden rose slowly out of his seat-the first time I had seen him on his feet-and he leaned heavily on a short stick of a black wood, with a bone handle. Then he spoke. I had never heard him speak before, but I had often heard his voice described as a trumpet blast, rallying wearied troops to a desperate victory, but now his voice was gravelly, and he stumbled over words like a tired horse.
"I greet you, but why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow?" Slowly he eased his-self back down into his chair. Wormtongue stooped by Theoden's chair.
"A just question, my liege." Turning, he straightened up, and stepped towards Gandalf.
"Why indeed, should we welcome you, Master Stormcrow? Lathspell I name you. Ill news is an ill guest." He laughed and stared at the strangers in challenge.
Gandalf replied, "You are considered wise, and must be a support to your master, but in two ways might a man bring evil news; he may be a worker of evil, or he may come to bring aid." Wormtongue glared at him with malice.
"That may be, but another kind there is. Carrion fowl that grow fat on other men's sorrows and war. What aid have you brought Stormcrow? Three beggars, clad in gray, and you the most beggar like?" He laughed at them, and I could see Gandalf's impatience rising. He stepped forward and addressed the king directly.
"The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Theoden son of Thengel! Did not the messenger from your gate tell you the names of my companions? Seldom has Rohan received such guests. Weapons they have lain at your door worth the mightiest of men when it comes to aid! They are clad in gray, but elvish gray, and thus they have passed through shadow and peril to your great hall."
"Then it is true, as Eomer reported," hissed Wormtongue from the shadows, "that you are in league with the sorceress of the Golden wood? Not to be wondered. Webs of deceit were ever woven there!"
The dwarf stepped angrily forward a pace, but was checked by Gandalf, who then sang a short lay, telling of Lorien-or as the men of Rohan call it, Dwimordene-and the fair lady Galadriel. I do not remember the words, but it was beautiful.
Then Gandalf suddenly changed. Casting aside his ragged gray cloak, he stood with his white garments glimmering. No longer did he lean upon his staff, and then he spoke in a clear, cold voice. "The wise only speak of what they know. A witless worm you have become, Grima son of Galmod. Therefore keep your forked tongue behind your teeth! I did not pass through fire and death to exchange words with the kings serving man till the lighting falls!"
He raised his staff, and all sunlight was blotted from the eastern windows; the fire sank suddenly to dim embers, and the hall was cast into darkness. All that could be seen was Gandalf standing in front of the darkened hearth, and gleaming white. I heard the hiss of Wormtongue's voice,
"I told you to forbid his staff!" Then there was a flash like lightning and all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face. Gandalf's voice again rang through the hall, this time encouraging and warm.
"Now will you listen to me, Theoden? Would you ask for help? For all is not dark." He raised his staff and pointed to a high window, through which I saw a patch of shining sky.
"Take courage, Lord of the Mark, for better help you would not find, but I would not give counsel to those who despair. Will you listen to me? My counsel is not for all ears. Come out! Too long you have sat in darkness, listening to twisted tales and crooked prompting." Slowly Theoden left his chair and stood, and as he stood a faint light grew in the hall again. Eowyn hastened to his side and helped him down the steps. Then Theoden took her hand off his arm and paced slowly the length of the hall to the doors, Eowyn following closely behind. Wormtongue still lay on the floor, quivering in terror of the White Wizard. Then Gandalf, who had walked before the king to the door, rapped on the door with his staff.
"Open! The Lord of the Mark comes forth!"
The doors swung open, groaning on their hinges. A cool wind blew in, bringing the scent of rain. "Send your guard to the foot of the stairs," said Gandalf, "and you, Lady, leave your uncle with me awhile. I shall care for him." Then Theoden spoke his voice stronger than it was before, and with a slight smile.
"Go, Eowyn, sister daughter. The time for fear is past." Eowyn turned and went back to the hall. Passing through the doors, she paused and looked back, the fear and worry that had been lurking in her eyes fading. The she turned and entered the hall.
Now lord," said Gandalf, "breathe the free air and look again upon your lands!"
A storm had passed, the pavement was wet with rain, and the rain still fell in curtains out in the fields. Then a shaft of sunlight shone behind us, turning the rain into shafts of silver.
"It is not so dark here," said Theoden. Gandalf replied,
"Nor does age lie so heavily on you as others would have you think. Cast aside your prop!" Theoden let his staff drop, and straightened his shoulders as he stood erect. His eyes, which had been milky like a blind man's under Wormtongue's influence, were now blue as the dark clouds in the distance. He smiled, and many lines of care and worry were banished forever. "Dark have been my dreams of late, but now I feel like one awakened. I wish you had come sooner, Gandalf." Then his face darkened.
"I fear you have come too late, only to see the last days of my house. Not long shall this hall, built by Eorl the Young, stand. It shall be consumed by fire...What can be done?"
"Much," said Gandalf, "But first send for Eomer. Do I rightly guess that you have had him imprisoned by the advice of Wormtongue?"
"True. He had rebelled against my commands, and threatened death to Grima in my hall."
"A man might love you but not Wormtongue or his counsel."
"That may be. I will do as you request. Call Hama here. Since he has proved unworthy as a door warden, let him become messenger. The guilty shall bring judgement to the guilty." Theoden's voice was grim, but he smiled, and more lines were banished. I decided to leave the men to their counsel.
Entering the hall, I went to Eowyn's chamber. Eowyn sat in a chair, her eyes red and damp. "Why, what's wrong?" I asked. "Why weep? Your uncle is healed, or close to healed. Eomer has been released from prison, and Wormtongue has been given the fright of his life! There is nothing to be weeping about." Eowyn smiled through her tears.
"I know, but I have cared for my uncle for so long, and have watched him go from a great lord to a doddering old man, and now he walks unaided! It was a shock to see him walking with just his staff."
"With just his staff? He walked without it too! But who are those men?" Eowyn was still overcome by Theoden's recovery, and did not really hear the first part.
"The men? They were announced as Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of kings, Legolas the elf, and Gimli the dwarf." Then what I had said fully registered. "Without his staff?"
"Yes, and now he looks like a great lord of men."
"And a great lord he is too...." Her voice faltered and faded. We sat in silence a few minutes, thinking about this miraculous recovery of Theoden's. Then a knocking at the door startled us, and I went to see who it was. A guard, Brego by name, stood in the corridor. "The king has ordered that food be served to the strangers, and that all but the guard and warriors go to Dunharrow." Eowyn looked up.
"Aye, Milady." "Is the king to leadthe people there?"
"That I do not know. He will probably tell at the meal."
"Very well." He bowed and left, and we went to the kitchen to oversee the meal preparation.
"The king does not lead. He will go with the soldiers, wherever they are going..." Eowyn stopped and looked at me. "Probably they go to the Fords of Isen."
"Why the fords of Isen?"
"There has already been a battle there. Theodred was killed there by Uruks with a strange emblem, a white hand. The king will probably go to strengthen the defenses there."
"A white hand? From over the Isen? That could very possibly be...."
"Saruman." Eowyn finished my sentence for me. "Saruman whom Wormtongue has always called our friend is seeking to take Rohan." She paused to sample some soup and compliment the cook "I am sure that Wormtongue is just a servant, and what must the master be like?" The thought of that silenced us both until the meal was served.
We ate before the king and his guests, and then waited on them during the meal. Eowyn tended Gandalf Theoden, Eomer, and the dark stranger, Aragorn, while I took care of the dwarf and elf, the dwarf being actually a humorous fellow, despite his savage looks. Legolas, the elf, was very polite, and though he said nothing, I could feel his eyes staring at my slightly pointed ears. They both fell silent and listened while Theoden questioned Gandalf about Saruman.
"He was not always evil," replied Gandalf. "Once, I do not doubt, he was a friend of Rohan, and even when that friendship waned he still had his uses for you. But now he has long plotted your downfall, pretending friendship until he was ready. In that time Wormtongue's task was easy. Your lands were open and strangers came and went. All that took place in Edoras was soon heard of in Isengard, and Wormtongue's whispers were always in your ears, dulling your mind, weakening your limbs, poisoning your thoughts. While your true friends watched helpless, your will was in Wormtongue's keeping, but when I came in September the mask was torn, for those who would see. After that Wormtongue played craftily, always seeking to prevent your full strength from being gathered. Yes, he was crafty, working on men's fears or dulling heir wariness, depending on his purpose. Remember that he urged no man be spared on a wild goose chase to the North, while the true danger lay to the west. He persuaded you to forbid Eomer's chasing the raiding orcs; had he not defied Wormtongue's order-yes, even though you gave it, it was Grima's- those orcs would have reached Isengard with a great prize. Not the prize Saruman covets most, but at the least two members of my company, sharers of a secrete hope, which I can not speak openly to even you yet. Dare you think what Saruman might have learned to our destruction? Or what they may now have been suffering?" Theoden nodded.
"I owe much indeed to Eomer. Faithful heart may have forward tongue."
"Say also," said Gandalf, "that to blind eyes truth may wear an evil face." Theoden nodded again in agreement.
"I was almost blind indeed! I owe much to you, my guest. Once again you have come in time. I will give you a gift, any of your choosing. All I have is yours, save my sword!"
"If I have come in time or not is yet to be seen. But as to the gift, I would choose one to fit my need; sure and swift! I ask you for Shadowfax. He was only lent before, if loan it may be called. But now I will ride into great perils and hazards, setting White against Black; I would not risk anything that is not mine, and already there is a bond between us." Theoden smiled.
"You choose wisely. In him live the great horses of old. There is none like him, and there will be none like him. It is hard to part with such a horse, but I give him to you gladly." Theoden turned and addressed the other three. "And to you, my other guests, I offer such things that are in my armory. Swords you need not," this with an admiring glance at Aragorn's sword, "But helms and fine mail I do have, gifts from Gondor in my fathers day. Choose what you would from these, and may they keep you from harm." Theoden then called a servant, and told him to bring things from the armory. In a few minutes-during which the dwarf Gimli drank three cups of wine, slurped one bowl full of soup, and belched one loud belch-a few men came into the hall, carrying helms, mail, and shields. Aragorn and Legolas chose bright mail. Legolas declined a helm, but Aragorn chose one and a round shield, it's brass bosses overlaid with gold. Gimli's mail was unmatched by any in the kings armory, but he chose a helm that fitted well on his head, and a shield with a green field and white running horse, the emblem of the house of Eorl.
"May it keep you well." Theoden smiled at memories. "It was made for me when I was a boy, back in Thengel's day." Gimli made a bow.
"I am proud to bear your device, lord of the Mark. Indeed, I would rather bear a horse than be borne by one. Maybe I'll come to a place where I can stand on my own two feet and fight."
"It may be so." said Theoden. Then he stood up, and Eowyn went to him with a cup of wine. "Ferthu Theoden hal!" She said. "Receive and drink this cup in happy hour. Health be at you're coming and going." Theoden drank and Eowyn offered the cup to the guests. When she came to Aragorn, she paused slightly.
"Hail Aragorn, son of Arathorn." She said, presenting the cup. He smiled as he took the cup, and as he took it his hand brushed hers. I could see that she trembled at his touch.
"Hail Lady of Rohan." He replied, and drank, but now his face was somber now, and he did not smile.
Then, after all had drunk, Theoden went outside the hall, and there were the guards of the Golden Hall, heralds, and all lords and chiefs that still lived in and around Edoras.
"Behold!" Said Theoden. "I go, and it is likely to be my last riding. Theodred, my son, is slain, and I name Eomer, my nephew, as my heir. If neither of us come back; choose a new king as you will. But now I must have one who will care and guard the people of Rohan who do not ride to war, to stay, and rule in my stead. Who would stay?" There was no answer. "Is there no one? In whom do the people trust?" Hammer the guard stepped forward.
"They trust in the house of Eorl."
"But Eomer would not stay, nor could I spare him, and he is the last of that line."
"But I did not say Eomer, lord," said Hama, "And he is not the last of that line. There is his sister, Eowyn, who is brave and fearless. Let her lead us."
"It shall be so. Let the heralds announce to the people that she will lead them."
Then Theoden went to a seat in front of the doors, and Eowyn, kneeling before him, received a sword and mail shirt.
"Farewell Eowyn, sister-daughter! Dark is the hour, yet it may be that we will return to Meduseld. Long may you defend yourself in Dunharrow, and if the battle goes ill all that can escape will return there."
"Speak not so, Uncle! You shall return, and a year shall pass every day you are gone." But even as she said this, I saw her eyes wander to Aragorn.
"We will return," said Theoden. "Not east but west lies our doom." Theoden dismissed Eowyn, and she stood and went inside, beckoning me to follow, and I went mystified by her behavior.
She led me to her room and closed and locked the door.
"You must go with him." I did not comprehend.
"You must ride with the king. Gandalf may have healed him, but he couldn't his full strength back. Here," she said, removing a cloak, helm, and coat of mail such as the Rohirrim wear, "wear these. No-one will notice you." I took and started donning the armor.
"Are you sure?"
"Quite. I have worn that often enough to know if it will disguise you often enough." I stared at her in amazement, but made no protest. I would not mind going against the orcs. Especially after what they did to my parents. Eowyn left to saddle Fea for me while I armed myself. Adjusting my cloak to cover my figure and with my helm set firmly on my head I left the room and went out of the hall. Eowyn handed Fea's bridle to me and then I was off. I looked back once as I went to the gate. Eowyn, clad in mail, stood with her hands on the hilt of the sword.
At the gate I mounted to ride with the more than a thousand men assembled. Several men held horses for Theoden, Aragorn, and Legolas, but Shadowfax, Gandalf's horse, ran wild on the plains. Gandalf whistled, a clear, piercing whistle, and Shadowfax galloped over a ridge, mane and tail floating, nostrils flaring, the very picture of strength and beauty. Slowing, he trotted to Gandalf, and I heard Theoden say, "The gift already seems given, but hear now all! Now I name Gandalf Greyhame, most welcome of wanderers, wisest of counselors, a lord of the Mark and chieftain of the Eorlingas while our kin last, and I give him Shadowfax, prince of horses." Gandalf bowed respectfully.
"I thank you, Theoden, king of Rohan." Then, casting back his gray cloak, he leapt onto Shadowfax, and his snowy robes shone in the sunlight.
"Behold the White Rider!" cried Aragorn, and all there took up the words.
"The White Rider and our king! Forth Eorlingas!" Trumpets sounded loudly, horses reared, spear clashed on shield, the king raised his hand, and we surged forward, like a great river of men and horses into the West.