To pass the time, the King ordered another round of ale to be served. The guests milled about the room talking, laughing, and discussing the impending battle for about 20 minutes when Éowyn returned. All eyes turned to her, and room went silent as she entered the hall.
Gone was the party dress. It was replaced with the hard brown leather armor and mail hauberk of a Rider of Rohan. Her golden hair was now bound in two long plaits and topped with a helm of leather and iron; she looked a miniature copy of the Knights of her house.
Addressing the crowd in a loud voice, Éowyn announced, “I Éowyn, Daughter of Éomund, am ready to defend my honor. Let he who insulted me step forth and face me.”
The boy, in similar armor, stepped forward from the crowd and faced her. A murmur went up; she was his equal in height, but half his girth. It did not look a fair match.
“I accept your challenge,” he answered.
The King spoke loudly to the throng, “Normally, the ranking nobleman present would oversee this contest. However, as most here know, my son is cousin and adopted brother to the Lady Éowyn, and this might raise questions of fairness. I judge Théodred to be fair in all things, but to set aside any question, I am going to stand him down from this duty, and name my First Knight, Lord Fraeca, Master of the Order of Eorl, to referee this match.”
Known as Fraeca the Tall because his great height set him above the crowd, even among the tall sons of Rohan. He had been a legendary Rider in his youth, the best soldier in the land. In his middle years, he had been a great captain, and in his old age the King named him First Knight, master of the knight’s order.
A tall man in a richly embroidered green tunic, with the silver hair of many winters, but still hale and lively, stepped to the front of the throng and said, “Sire, I am honored to perform this duty.”
The King addressed him, “Conduct this match as you see fit. Show no favoritism to the young lady. She has chosen a man’s path and will be treated accordingly.”
The Lord Fraeca bowed to the King, “Sire.”
“I want everyone to step back and form a ring,” Lord Fraeca announced. “This will be combat, so if you do not want to take the chance that you could be struck by an errant blow, do not stand in the front row. If the combatants come near you, try to back up and give them room to fight. Whatever you do, do not interfere with the match.”
He motioned the two to stand in front of him. “Face me and listen. This will be a standard wooden sword match. Fighting will continue until one of you wins three rounds, surrenders, or cannot continue. I will be the sole judge. You will fight fairly, and in a manner that speaks well of your high births. I will not tolerate any foul tactics or low behavior. If I call halt or kill, you will stop fighting immediately. If you protest a call, or if do not stop fighting when ordered, I will penalize you as I see fit. Do you both understand me?”
Both nodded and mumbled.
“I cannot hear you,” Fraeca barked.
“Yes sir!” They both shouted.
“Salute me,” he ordered.
The two combatants raised their swords and touched them to their foreheads.
“Face each other and shake hands,” He ordered.
The combatants shook hands, which was really a hand crushing and staring contest, the first test.
“Enough of that now,” Lord Fraeca said and motioned them apart.
The weapons to be used were not true wooden swords, meaning swords made entirely of wood. They were long oak rods that had a circular hilt to protect the hands and the “blade” was wrapped in padding covered with leather. This softened the blows, though they could break bones in the extreme case. The pain of blows was real and drove home the lessons needed to survive a battle. These weapons were familiar to every soldier of the Mark, wooden sword duels being a staple of training.
Standing together at the front of the crowd, Boromir elbowed Théodred and said, “I’ll wager ten gold sovereigns on the lad.”
Théodred replied, “Make it twenty.”
“Twenty it is,” Boromir answered.
Lord Fraeca announced to the crowd, “the first round will begin with crossed swords at center.”
The two small warriors faced each other, swords held high, touching each other about a hand width from the tip.
Lord Fraeca held his hand flat between them, looking back and forth at the two. When he deemed them both to be ready, he pulled his hand back, yelled, “Go!” and stepped out of harm’s way.
Immediately, the lad leapt forward, bowling Éowyn over with the impact of his body. As she rolled across the floor, trying to regain her footing, he swung wildly at her with his sword, striking the floor close to her many times. When the opportunity presented itself, he kicked her sword out of her hand, placed a foot upon her chest, and put his sword’s tip against her heart.
“Kill! Round one to Master Tydrec,” Lord Fraeca announced.
The lad offered a hand to Éowyn to help her up. She accepted, and stood, shaking herself.
“Opposite corners,” Fraeca called out, “Fighting stances.”
Éowyn picked up her sword, went to her corner, and assumed an open legged stance, with sword held up and out with both hands.
Tydrec assumed a similar stance in his corner.
The First Knight went to center ring, held his hand out, and checked that both were ready. When he was satisfied, he pulled his hand down, called out, “Go!” and stepped back quickly to clear the ring.
The two charged each other and met in mid-ring. The lad swung a mighty two-handed stroke, which Éowyn ducked, turned and stood holding center ring.
The lad returned and they began to parry each standing their ground, striking blow after blow against each other’s swords. This went on for about 20 strokes before the lad pulled up his stroke, causing Éowyn to miss, swing wildly, and lose her balance. He then did a low backstroke, which knocked her feet out from under her. He quickly put one foot on her sword, and the tip of his sword to her throat.
“Kill!” cried the Master. “Round two to the lad. The score is two for Master Tydrec, none for the Lady Éowyn.”
The lad offered a hand to Éowyn and helped her to her feet, again. She smiled politely, and tried to act like nothing was amiss.
“The third round will begin with the two fighters standing back to back in the center,” Fraeca announced.
They took their positions, standing at attention, backs almost touching, swords held upright in front of them.
“Steady,” The Master cautioned them, holding up his hand “Go!”
The lad tried jumping backwards to knock Éowyn down, but she had anticipated this, jumped forward at the same moment, and with no resistance the lad fell backwards onto the mat. Éowyn quickly spun, kicked his sword hand causing him to loose his grip on his weapon, and put her sword to his heart before he could recover it.
“Kill!” Lord Fraeca called out. “Round three to the Lady Éowyn. The score is, two for Master Tydrec, one for Lady Éowyn.”
Éowyn offered her hand to the lad to help him up, and he refused the help.
The First Knight glared at the lad with eyes that could bore though a castle wall.
He then raised his hand up to Éowyn, who helped him to his feet.
“Round four will commence with the swords laying on the ground, and the opponents on opposite sides facing away from the center,” Fraeca announced.
They handed their swords to the Arms Master and took to their sides, facing away from each other.
“Neither combatant is to look at the placement of the swords until I give the signal to turn and commence combat,” he announced, “to do so will be deemed a foul, and will forfeit the round.”
He then placed the swords in the center, parallel to each other and perpendicular to the fighters, about a foot apart, with the hilts on the fighter’s left side, forcing them to pick it up with their weak hand. When he had them just exactly where he wanted, he held his hand out, checked each fighter, drew back his hand, and called, “Go!”
Both spun and charged to the center. Éowyn was quicker and got to her sword first. Picking it up on the run by the blade with her right hand, at the same time she kicked Tydrec’s sword to the side and out of his grasp.
The lad countered this move by attempting to run into her and knock her over. This failed because she stepped to the side enough to make it a glancing blow that left her on her feet.
As the lad turned to face Éowyn, she got a proper grip on her sword, but it was on the wrong side, and she made the best backhanded stroke she could.
The lad ducked the stroke, and while she was off balance punched her squarely on the eye, knocking her off her feet. He then jumped on her and they began to roll on the floor, punching and choking each other as best they could.
“Halt! Halt! None of that,” Lord Fraeca cried out as he grabbed each by the collar and pulled them to their feet. “This is a sword fight, not a brawl.”
When they were separated and on their feet, he took a good look at Éowyn, who was bleeding freely from her eyebrow and was trying to blink the blood out of her eye. He pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed the blood away to look at the wound. “It is not serious, do you wish to continue?” he asked.
Éowyn shook her head yes.
The Arms Master put one hand behind her head to brace it, and pressed hard on the wound with the thumb of his other hand for a bit causing Éowyn to wince from the pain. “There, that will stop the bleeding, but it will start again if it is struck. If you stop the fight to tend it, you will lose the round. Do you understand?”
Éowyn shook her head again, and said, “Yes sir.”
“Pick up your weapons and stand ready in opposite corners, facing out,” He commanded.
They both assumed their stances. At the go, Éowyn spun and stood her ground. The boy charged, weapon raised for a mighty stroke. She waited until he was on top of her and had begun his stroke, then she ducked into a squat on the ground. The lad tried to jump over her, but instead tripped over her and crashed into the crowd of spectators.
“Halt!” The Arms Master called out as Éowyn spun and charged, weapon raised.
The fighters returned to their staring positions. This time, both tried standing their ground, and not much happened for a moment. Then they both decided to charge at once, and clashed in center ring. They came to parrying face to face, with neither having the advantage. After a dozen or more sword strikes, Éowyn pulled up short, causing the lad to miss, and then she lunged in with a stabbing thrust to the center of his chest with enough force to knock the boy down.
“Kill!” Fraeca cried. “This round to Lady Éowyn. The score is now tied at two each. Whoever wins the next round will win the contest.”
“Center, swords crossed.” Fraeca called out.
They stood facing, swords crossed. At the go, the lad pushed her back, trying to knock her over. She retreated, and he followed making wide powerful strokes. Éowyn kept backing up, staying just out of reach of the blows. After more than a dozen strokes, the lad began to tire from the exertion. At that point, as the boy’s blade swept past, Éowyn stepped forward and deftly put her sword tip to where his chin met his neck.
“Kill!” Fraeca called. “That is a clean kill. This round and the challenge to Lady Éowyn; shake hands.”
The crowd exploded with applause and cheering.
As Éowyn finished shaking Tydrec’s hand, Théodred stepped up from behind, hoisted Éowyn over his head and sat her on his shoulders. She raised her sword in a victory salute and the crowd chanted Éowyn, Éowyn, Éowyn as he danced around with her on his shoulders.
When the cheering subsided, the King set her down and escorted her to his table. Using a napkin wetted in a finger bowl, he carefully wiped the blood from her eye and cheek. “You made me proud,” he told her as he cleaned her face.
A chair and service was brought out and she was set next to her brother Éomer at the far right end of the table.
Once all the tables had been returned to their position and the guests reseated, the first course was served, and the feast returned to normal.
The King rose to speak and after pounding the table with his gavel and said, “When we were interrupted, Lord Boromir was speaking of the long brotherhood in arms between the brave men of Gondor and the Eorlingas. A subject I never tire of, so I now request that he resume where he left off.”
Boromir rose and began again, ”I can think of no greater example of the worth of the House of Eorl than the display we just witnessed. Even the young women of your house have a fighting spirit and sense of honor that would do any soldier proud.”
A great applause rose from the room.
“Proof that Rohan is a valuable ally.”
I wish to assure you that I will keep the arms of Gondor strong and worthy of the friendship of this great people.”
Another round of applause rose from the crowd.
Boromir continued in this vein for many minutes. As he spoke, the King noticed that the small children were all laughing and that many eyes were turned to the right end of his table. He looked and to his horror, the Lady Éowyn had broken a crescent roll in half, had stuck one half in each ear to give herself horns, and was making faces to amuse the small children at their table.
Without interrupting Boromir, the King elbowed his son and directed his attention to Éowyn. Théodred reached his arm behind Éomer and swatted Éowyn in the back of the head, knocking the crescent rolls from her ears, and bringing a sudden end to her performance. She looked at him with a glare for a moment, understood fully, and resumed comporting herself like a lady.
Éomer snickered and poked her with his elbow. Théodred gave him a quick swat to the back of the head as well. Turning he asked, “What was that for?”
“Laughing at your sister. Now both of you shape up, or you’ll be sitting at the children’s table,” Théodred threatened.