Days passed; weeks turned into months; slowly but surely the autumn harvest approached; and then the harvest was finished, but still life went on. It had returned to normal, after welcoming Lady Lara, as most Rohirrim called her, and the sons of the Steward. With Gandalf gone to wherever wizards went, and with Éomer out in the wilds somewhere hunting orcs, both Laramir and Éowyn had something to worry about, and would have liked a bit of excitement; life was a bit too normal for them. But slowly some people began to notice that not all was quiet on the western front. For example, Lagoric, who ran the royal stables.
”Good morning, ladies,” he said to Éowyn and Laramir one morning when they came in to saddle their horses for a ride. “I wondered if I might have a word with you, if you’ve got a second.”
“Of course,” Éowyn said. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well, it’s me sister, Éowyn. She lives in Algoras– you know, one of them villages out on the western border– and, well, she hasn’t written me for months. She normally wrote at least twice a month– we were mighty close, you know, but her husband, he missed his home out there in Algoras, and she went with him, like proper, you know.”
“Yes that’s proper, I suppose. When did you last hear from her?”
“Let’s see? that’s right, it was right before you and Éomer set out for Minas Tirith. That would have been the first or second week of July, wouldn’t it? Yes. And I received that letter about a week before. Give or take. So we’re taking the very end of June, very beginning of July.’
“And this is the third week of October,’ Éowyn said, almost to herself. That’s a solid three and a half months. She should have written seven times.” She turned to Lagoric. “You two didn’t have a fight or anything? She didn’t give you any reason why she would have stopped writing? This is important, Lagoric, I need you to be sure.”
“Well, no? nothing I know of, course. I didn’t say anything I think she’d get mad at. Course, you never can tell with women-folk, you beg my pardon, ladies. And she might have gotten hurt or something, but still?”
“It’s not just you. Something’s not right. Will you excuse us, Lagoric? I’ll take it up with the king, I promise, but first I need to talk with Laramir. Are you ready I need some air.”
The two mounted their horses and rode out at a fast trot, around the city, over the fields for miles, until they climbed a tall hill. Finally Éowyn stopped and dismounted. She started to run before she sank down to her knees and screamed.
‘I should have known. I should have seen? Oh, Laramir, he’s out there, Éomer, in it, whatever it is. But something’s definitely wrong. Gandalf’s right. Snake’s wrong, or he’s lying.
This went on for a good twenty minutes, and finally they both stopped as they saw a man riding fast on horseback toward them on a hill.
“Excuse me ladies, do you live in Edoras?”
“Yes,” Lara answered (she didn’t trust Éowyn to speak just yet). “I am from Gondor and am the king’s guest, and this is the king’s niece, the lady Éowyn. Who asks?”
“Aye, ladies, my name is Elledurm. I am a farmer perhaps twenty-five miles south of here. This little girl was brought to me by another farmer, and he asked me to carry her to Edoras. That I have done, and I have told you all I know. You will forgive me, I pray, if I do not tarry.” And with that he rode off.
Laramir stood there holding the sleeping girl in her arms. “Look at her, Éowyn. She looks like she hasn’t eaten in weeks. And she’s so filthy. Let’s get her back to the house.”
They mounted their horses and rode slowly back to Edoras, the girl sleeping in front of Laramir. She woke briefly when they dismounted but then fell back asleep until they were walking into the house. Laramir gave her a bath, using her best bubble bath and strawberry soap while Éowyn set the table and ran over to Meduseld. She had prepared a meaty soup and grain bread for herself and Laramir, but this girl needed more than that, so she and one of the kitchen staff came back with roasted turkey and potatoes, a heartening ale, and the kinds of baked goodies little girls love.
Finally Laramir, Éowyn, and the girl sat down to dinner. “I can’t believe how nice your towels are! So thick,” the little girl said.
“What is your name?” asked Éowyn.
“Tova. I’m from Neiv, in the west.”
“And you’ve come all this way by yourself?” Laramir asked.
“Oh, no. The men helped me.”
“But? how did you leave Neiv?”
A tear crept down her face as she thought about the question. “It was a long time ago, back before the harvest; I guess they must have harvested it by now.” She paused. “Papa had gone off to hunt with the old moon, and that was five nights ago. Mama and me, we’d gone down to the well to get water for breakfast that next morning. When we came back, we saw a pole in the yard. I was scared, but mama said we had to go home, because that’s where papa would look for us. When we came closer I saw that papa’s hair was on the pole, and some of his skin. I shrieked, and some black men came out from behind the trees, they grabbed mama. Two of them grabbed her, and started to take her off, and another reached for me, but I ducked, and ran inside the house. Mama, she yelled out, ‘Run, Tova, run!’ and so I ran? I grabbed my extra cloak, and tied it up with some bread and a flask of water, and ran out the back door. The black men, they ran around?only misses, they wasn’t like normal men, all covered in hair, and their faces were all lumpy?but my other sister, Saralina, ran out, and stopped them. They just grabbed her, and two of them held her back while another started to run after me. But as soon as I reached the field, I was hid, cause we hadn’t started the harvest then, and the wheat was tall and thick. And one of them black men grunted, and they all left, carrying away my mum and Saralina. But mama had told me to run, so I did, all through the night until I could run no more. And finally I reached another farm– miles away, and he took me for a bit, and asked his brother to take me some more, and bit by bit, until here I am.”
All through this the girl had been eating hungrily– she hadn’t had a decent meal in some time. She was on her second plate, and Laramir had eaten her bowl of soup, but Éowyn had hardly taken a bite. Now the old fire lit in her eyes again. She turned to Laramir and said, “Watch the child. I have business with Snake.”
Éowyn marched straight to Meduseld, and Wormtongue did not dare refuse her with that look in her eyes. She told Wormtongue and Théoden about Tova and her story, and Théoden saw that she was not fooled, nor was she to be delayed.
“My niece, this is grave news. But why are you so worried?”
“Why am I worried? My brother is out there, and there is a new menace he does not know how to fight. If he even still draws breath. Your nephew. How can you not be worried?”
“But what would you have me do?”
“‘My lord?” Grima tried to say.
“Send out riders. Find my brother, and bring him back safely, or at least his bones.”
“But my lord, we have no proof?”
“You have an eye-witness,” Eowyn spat. “What more proof do you need?”
“Éowyn speaks truth, Wormtongue.”
He looked at Éowyn with daggers in his eyes. “As you wish, my lord. But it will take an army to find him.”
“Then send out an army. Send out Théodred, and all the troops that can be found. They ride forth at the tenth hour.”