Later that night, the feasting was done. Théoden, Boromir, Théodred, and the chief Knights of both lands were sitting on the back steps of Edoras enjoying the cool evening. They had buckets of black ale and a board set with cheeses, sausages, and breads to sustain them. The talk was of politics, the war fighting potential of enemies, the price of horses, and the expected size of the harvests.
The door opened and out stepped Éowyn, followed by her nursemaid, who looked like a dragon with a sour stomach. Éowyn walked up to her uncle. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she looked quite unhappy.
In a tiny voice she said, “Uncle, Lord Boromir, I wish to apologize for disrupting your feast and ask your forgiveness,” and curtsied.
Théoden looked at the girl and then at the nursemaid, paused for a moment and said, “madam, you are dismissed. I will send her along to bed in due time.”
“Sire, the child needs her sleep, and it is not proper for a young girl to be out here alone with these men.”
The nursemaid realized she had overstepped her bounds, but before she could speak more the King replied, “madam, if she is not safe here with her kin and the Lords of the West, no one is safe anywhere.”
The nursemaid stood with head bowed, and her hands clasped before her. “Yes Sire,” she nodded.
The King held her in his eyes for a while, and said, “before you go, I want you to understand this. I will not have you marching her out for apologies where none is called for. She is the daughter of my sister and a Marshal of the Mark, my adopted daughter, and the ranking Lady of the House of Eorl; keep mind of your station when you deal with her.”
The woman bowed her head while shaking it in the affirmative, and mumbled, “yes Sire.”
“You may go,” the King replied.
Turning to Éowyn with a smile, and opening his arms, the King said, “how is my little warrior?”
Éowyn all but ran and dived into his arms. “She is horrible Uncle, she threatened to beat me with a strap if I did not apologize.”
“And you gave in?” Théoden queried?
“Not for fear of her, but for fear I had embarrassed you in front your guests. Her words made me sick with the fear that you would not want me any more, that you would turn me out,” Éowyn said.
The King laughed, and hugged her strongly. Then, standing her in front of him and holding her hands in his he said, “You are my daughter now. Edoras is your house. You are its Lady. You brighten my life. I will never send you away.”
Turning to Fraeca, who was closest to the buckets of ale, he said, “pour our little soldier a drink. We shall toast her fighting spirit.” The King made a sign holding his thumb and forefinger about three inches apart indicating that it should be about half full.
Fraeca passed the flagon to Théoden and then passed the bucket of ale around so each could fill up.
When all was ready, Théodred stood up and stood Éowyn on the step where he had been seated. The other men rose and faced her. Théoden raised his tankard and said, “Hail Éowyn, Lady of the Riddermark, the fighting spirit of Eorl runs true in her blood” and took a great drought of his ale. Éowyn and the men joined him in the drinking. Then they all sat down again, Éowyn between Boromir and her uncle.
Boromir took a lantern, held it up to her face and said, “it looks like you are going to have quite the black eye on the morrow. You are lucky the surgeon did not have to stitch it.”
“It does not hurt too much,” she answered. “I am quite proud of it.”
“You should be,” Boromir replied. “A wound taken in combat is honorable, something to be proud of.”
“And do not worry about disrupting the feast in my honor,” Boromir continued. “Let me tell you a tale from when I was about your age.”
“When we were too young to train for war, your cousin Théodred and myself spent our summers together. Our fathers contrived to send me here one summer and then to send Théodred to Gondor the next summer. That way they gave each other a respite from raising wild lads with no mother to attend them.
In the courtyard of my father, there is a sacred tree. Its lineage is greater than that of any man here, going back to the Elven-home across the sea, and the time before the Sun and Moon were lit. It died hundreds of years ago, but was never removed as it is one of the most important symbols of my land. If you look carefully at my outfit, you will notice trees are woven and embossed unto everything, much as there are horses on all your clothes and gear. The images are not of any tree, but the very tree I now tell of.
One fine summer day we had little to do, the Citadel was not designed to entertain young boys, and in a moment of boredom we decided to climb that tree. We were only in it a few minutes when the Tower Guards noticed and we were captured in the act. We were taken directly to my father who had to be called out of an important meeting with high ministers and foreign dignitaries to deal with us. To say he was mad is an understatement.”
Théodred laughed to punctuate the point, “he was furious with us.”
“The guards presented him with a broken branch as proof of our guilt,” Boromir continued. “My father ordered us both to drop our britches right there in the hallway, bend over, and grab our ankles. Then, in front of the guards, he thrashed us thoroughly with the broken branch. We could not sit down for days.”
Théodred laughed again, “see, you are not the first child to interrupt an important event, are nowhere near as much trouble as Boromir and I were, and our fathers never turned us out.”
“Besides, a child who doesn’t get a taste of the strap here and there is a child with no spirit,” Boromir added.
Éowyn sat there wide eyed, imagining these two great Knights as naughty children. The story made her feel less different. She was often made to feel like she was the only child who ever caused trouble, that there was something wrong with her. This story comforted her, made her feel more connected to her world, that she did fit in.
“Before you go to bed, I have something for you,” Théodred said. “Boromir here was foolish enough to wager against you today. I took twenty gold sovereigns from him with your help, and have decided to give them to you as a prize.” Théodred reached across Boromir and handed her the coins.
“My son puts me to shame,” the King said. “Today, I won five hundred sovereigns from Lord Tydhelm in the same manner. I have been too busy to give much thought to what I should do with it Théodred has given me the answer, I will add it to your bride-fortune.”
Éowyn didn’t know what to say. A child has no grasp of the importance to her future of things like a bride-fortune. She just knew her uncle had given her a grand gift. “Thank you Uncle,” was all she could think of to say. She put an arm around him and hugged him.
He put his arm around her, gave her a squeeze and said, “drink up now lass, you have to get to bed. Tomorrow, I am going to set Nanna to new tasks. You are old enough to manage without a nursemaid. I will find a sweet young girl to be your chambermaid.”
Éowyn drained the last drop of her ale, kissed her Uncle, bid the rest goodnight, and left for her bed in a smiling good mood.
After she left, Boromir turned to Théodred. “That girl is a jewel. Would that the young men I get for training had half her fighting spirit. She showed real heart today. She has the will to win that I look for in a commander. If it was my choice to make, I would put her in training as a Knight.”
“You read my mind lad,” Théodred answered. “She is a handful for the ladies. Has them all in a stir. Not a week goes by without them complaining to me that she is unlikely to ever become a proper lady. Perhaps the Master at Arms will fare better. She prefers playing with boys to embroidery and gossip anyway. I think military training will better suit her nature.”
“I agree,” Boromir said. “Pass the bucket of ale, I wish to toast the daughters of Eorl, and am in need of a refill.”
“Then pass it on to me sir,” The King said. “I’ll toast the Sons of Gondor and we can go back and forth with toasts until we are quite properly drunk.”
They all laughed.