Daughters, Sisters, Wives by Rhymer

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Written for Back to Middle Earth Month 2015, and posted on LJ back in March. It was written in response to a prompt asking for a story about Éowyn and her relationship with the other women and girls in Edoras.

"Let us ride," said Éowyn, not quite seven years old. "Let's ride all the way to the moon and back."

"Why?" said Erkenhild, her new friend. She came from the Westfold and lived in a tower of stone, far bigger than Éowyn's hall with its horse-carved beams. She had three kittens and a singing bird in a cage, with a red crest on its head. She couldn't read yet, and she couldn't stand on one leg like Éowyn could, without wobbling even the tiniest little bit. She could sew a perfect seam, she said, but what was the point of that?

"Why?" Éowyn echoed.

Because that was what Éomer did, coming back with the other boys, flushed from the wind and laughing. Éowyn would sit in her window and watch them ride out, and watch them come in again so many hours later, if she hadn't been distracted by scraps of stories from the men in the hall. Sometimes she curled up in an alcove, all hidey, and nobody saw her there, not even Éomer who thought he was so big and clever. He seemed bigger with the other boys than he seemed at home, with Éowyn and her ma, sprawled with the dogs on the rug by the fire.

"Because we can," she said.

But Erkenhild was already shaking her head. "We can't, actually. You can't get all the way to the moon and I wouldn't… I'm not allowed out without an escort, with nurse and Holdred on his big horse, to make sure I come to no harm. But I ride out to the meadow sometimes, on my pony. There are flowers there, oh so pretty ones."

"There's a meadow near here," Éowyn said, "all white and gold. The white ones make me sneeze. I saw a mouse there once, all curled up, with a furry tail. It might be there again. I'll show you." Please, she almost added, but she did not want to beg.

"I might," Erkenhild said, but she came in the end. It took hours to get ready, with not one but two men to watch over them, and a flapping old nurse, and a stable lad in case the ponies needed anything. It was almost noon, and the moon was no longer faint and low on the horizon, like silver gossamer in the blue. The sun was too high to pretend that you were riding into it. The best rides were at sunset, when you could cast yourself towards the sun, but she was never allowed to go out then, in case darkness fell around her, and she was out alone.

Erkenhild didn't want to gallop. She thought it would mess up her hair.

They reached the meadow, and Erkenhild shouted with delight, and wove a necklace of golden blossoms and wore it as proudly as a queen. They weren't as good as the flowers in the Westfold, though. Éowyn smiled beside her, and watched the ponies nibbling at the grass. Their watchers kept a discreet distance. The two men were talking about something, but Éowyn couldn't hear what. One of them was very tall.

Éowyn wanted to play chase, but Erkenhild didn't want to get her gown dirty. "But it's dirty already," Éowyn told her, "from the riding, and, besides, ma's gown is often dirty from all the things that she does, and even grandmama often has mud on her gown, and she comes from Gondor where the towers touch the sky." And then Erkenhild shouted at her, and said her father was lord of the Westfold and it was different for her, and Éowyn said that her grandmama had been a queen, so there.

Erkenhild cried. Éowyn didn't. She just knocked Erkenhild over and sat on her, like Éomer did when fighting with his friends. That was why Erkenhild cried, actually. She didn't laugh like Éomer's friends did, and try to wriggle free to sit on Éowyn in return. She just cried. Éowyn didn't know what to do. "I'm sorry." She stood up, holding her hands up. A rope of golden blossoms lay crushed in the grass. The nurse was half way towards them. One of the men was looked as if he was laughing.

Erkenhild stood up and straightened her dress. The nurse fussed around her - Éowyn didn't need a nurse, and she was half a year younger - and Éowyn had to say it again: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And then Erkenhild's tears vanished quickly, and before long, they were walking along the bank of the stream, holding hands, just like a pair of old ladies, heads together as they gossiped about… whatever old ladies gossiped about.

"You can be my friend, if you like," said Erkenhild. Éowyn was paddling her toes in the cold water. Erkenhild was kneeling on the bank, leaning forward, her hands pressed together in her lap. "My third best friend. My other friends live in the Westfold, just like me. I'm going home tomorrow."

"But you're coming back?" Éowyn's feet stopped kicking. The water grew still.

"Perhaps," Erkenhild said, "but not for a long time."

"Oh," said Éowyn. Something flashed past her toes. Look! Fishes! she wanted to say, but she didn't. The fish were probably better in the Westfold, anyway. "What are you doing?" she said instead, because Erkenhild was leaning so far forward that it looked as if she might be about to fall in. It would be funny if she did. Then Éowyn could jump in after her, and they would splash each other and laugh, like Éomer and the boys. (She hadn't been supposed to see that. They were all quite naked as they bathed, you see. Éowyn had thought it all quite funny, but her ma hadn't, not when she had found out about it afterwards. Father had wanted to laugh, though; you could tell that by the way his mouth had twitched.)

"I'm admiring my reflection." Erkenhild pushed a strand of hair behind her ears, and turned her head slightly to one side, the strangest of expressions on her face.

"Oh," said Éowyn, frowning. "Why?"


Father was dead, and ma was so very tired.

"Look!" Éowyn told her, touching her mother's heavy hand, trying to get her to raise it from her lap. "I can sew a straight seam at last."

Ma's hand was as cold as ice, but it was summer outside, and all the birds were singing.

"And I can walk across the courtyard with a book on my head, and it never falls off. I can jump as far as the door warden's boy, and he's nine. I can balance on the railing around the terrace and walk along it all the way. Cousin Théodred says I have a swordsman's grace. But I think," she added, "I think he was just being kind, because Éomer laughed. I've still got a lot to learn. Father said…"

Her mother's eyes slipped shut, and she turned her face away from Éowyn, her daughter, facing the wall.

Éowyn had wept in the darkness, when there was nobody to see her. Her mother's shoulders were shaking, as if she was weeping now.

"Ma…" Éowyn reached for her, finding only that cold, unnatural hand.

"Éowyn, my dear Éowyn." And ma wasn't crying at all, but suddenly she was coughing, coughing into a handkerchief made of blood-red linen. When she had finished at last, she bunched the handkerchief into her fist, pressing her hand to her heaving chest. Then the hand slid downwards, and the handkerchief disappeared beneath the furs that lay across her lap.

So cold, but Éowyn was hot, sitting in a sunbeam slanting in from the half-closed shutters.

"You will be happy in Edoras," her mother said. "I was. Of course," she said, faintly smiling, "I had a host of brothers and sisters, all older than me. I think I was more than a little indulged. But Théoden was always my favourite. He will love you as your father did."

"Are we going to Edoras?" Éowyn asked. "When? When you're better?"

Her mother was still smiling with memories. The smile lingered afterwards. Was that her answer? Did the smile mean yes?

"I don't want to go," Éowyn said. "I like it here." There was always something happening here, like bands of warriors riding out on their horses, or coming back in, fierce and proud. There was a meadow to ride in and nooks and crannies to hide in. She had buried a favourite dog in the meadow by the stream, and had found a garnet signet-stone between two stones on the hearth, just there. Father was the greatest marshal in the Mark, and he had the best riders, and the best masters-at-arms to teach the best boys. He was…


She blinked fiercely. No tears. "But I want you to be well," she said valiantly. Éomer had always told her how important it was to be brave, and father had ruffled her hair and called her his fierce little warrior. He'd let her ride his horse, holding her in front of him on the saddle. Laughing, he'd let her try to lift his sword, but had stopped laughing when she had managed it, holding it with both hands, straining, straining. "Éomer started using the spear when he was eight, and I'm eight next year," she said. "Then I can…"

What? She knew what she dreamed of, but she knew, too, that dreams were not for speaking.

"I should have had more girls," her mother said, and she was sad again, no longer smiling. "Sisters for you, and playmates. This is such a place of men. They bring…" She started coughing again. Éowyn twisted her hands together in her lap, watching her. "Sons," her mother said at last. "Sons for training. Young men for the fame. Fathers because they know that he, that Éomund… that he… That he fights the shadow. That he will use them as a weapon against our foes."

"What foes?" Éowyn asked. There were calluses on her palms, and broken blisters. Swords were too big for her, so she had practised with knives and daggers, because her father had been the best warrior in the world, but he had died. She knew all the movements, the steps of the dance.

"Sons, they bring," her mother said, "and brothers. But they leave their daughters and their sisters at home."


It was cold that winter, the year that Éowyn was twelve. Spring came late, although nobody told the birds and the flowers. Blackbirds tried to tug thatch from the frosted roofs, desperate to build nests for their sweethearts. Through the late-falling snow, tips of flowers could be seen, like a scattering of blue jewels of a field of white.

And nobody told the horses, too. As a bitter wind blew in the from the east, Éowyn's favourite mare was about to foal.

"Let's go to the stables and watch!" Éowyn grabbed Léofwyn's wrist with one hand, lifting her skirts with the other so she could run without tripping. She was always running. You had to, didn't you, in cold like this?

Léofwyn didn't move. "We'll get in the way."

"No, we won't." Éowyn shook her head vehemently. "They like me in the stables, and even if they didn't, I know lots of places to hide. You do, too. We've played hide-and-seek there often enough."

But not for a few months, she realised suddenly. Not since the coming of the cold.

"I just don't think it's…" Léofwyn tugged her wrist free; Éowyn was too surprised to fight it.

"What?" Éowyn demanded.

Léofwyn had gold-flecked eyes and freckles across her nose. In sunlight, her curly hair glinted with flashes of bronze. Her mother started each day by braiding it, but by evening, all the curls had wiggled free from the braids like shiny snakes. She was thirteen years old, and Háma the door warden was her uncle. Her father had been dead for nearly a year, killed by orcs.

"What?" Éowyn demanded.

Léofwyn didn't answer. No curls were escaping now, Éowyn noticed suddenly. Her dress was clean, and it looked different on her. No, she was different beneath it. Éowyn was forever shooting upwards, as thin as a reed. Although older, Léofwyn was three hands shorter than her, but she seemed to have spent the winter growing in other ways.

Éowyn's hand half rose to her own flat chest, then down again, fierce.

Léofwyn had come to Edoras a year ago, arriving downcast with her mother, her eyes red from weeping, even though everyone could see. Éowyn had watched them come in. 'My father died, and I live with my uncle, too,' she wanted to say. But Léofwyn still had her mother. Éowyn watched her avidly for a few weeks, afraid that she, too, would turn pale and listless and then fade away, but she showed no signs of it. When Éowyn crept close enough to hear them talking, Léofwyn's mother was berating Léofwyn for the state of her hair, no shortage of spirit in her voice.

The day after that, she and Léofwyn had played hide and seek together for the first time, then squeezed together into Éowyn's special den, and told each other stories of horses and great riders from the past.

"I just think it would be nicer if we stayed here." Léofwyn sat down, arranging her skirts neatly around her. Her feet were together, in the way Éowyn had to sit when they were in company, not sprawled any old how, like she had always done when they were alone.

Éowyn found herself edging backwards, back towards the cold beside the window. Hangings shivered in the draught, as if the horses on the banners were alive and breathing. 

"Your brother's coming home today, isn't he?" Léofwyn gave a breathy laugh, like no sound she had ever made before. "Let's stay here inside and…" She blushed, playing with her hair. "Wait for him." Her voice was barely audible at all. "He might…" She was fiercely red now. "Talk to me," she said.  


Sometimes it seemed to Éowyn as if the last few years had been one never-ending autumn. It was the twenty-second autumn of her life. The square of her window showed her a leaden sky, and only a few brown leaves still clung to the trees within the walls. Her days were spent watching a great man fade away. His hair was turning as brittle as those autumn leaves. His flesh was withering, like a plant sucked dry of sap. His skin was a lattice of wrinkles, like the skeleton leaves she used to find, pressed into the mud on the river's edge.

She turned from the window, and moved not to her bed, but to a high-backed wooden chair, where she sat erect, her hands in her lap. Her calluses were softening now. Although still slender, she was strong enough to lift a man's blade and tall enough to wield it, but she so seldom had time. Her days were spent with Théoden. Her nights were spent in exhausted dreaming.

"My lady?"

She looked up, blinking slowly, and smiled. Hild, her maid servant and attendant. For years, she had helped Éowyn with her dressing and tidied her chamber, and Éowyn had smiled her thanks and given her the traditional midwinter gift, but had never really looked any closer.

All that had changed now, of course.

Hild was bringing her a bowl of herb-scented water, a neatly pressed white cloth across her arm. She closed the door behind her with her foot, and when she was safely inside the chamber and there was no-one outside to hear them, she laid it down. "Here you are, Éowyn."

"Thank you." Éowyn took the cloth, and dipped it in the water. She washed her face, cleaning away the staleness of close confinement. The herbs brought with them memories of a time, not so long ago, when she could ride outside alone.

"Was it bad today?" Even now, Hild would not sit down until Éowyn invited to, so Éowyn did so, gesturing towards the couch with a dripping hand.

"It was bad," Éowyn said.

It was worse every day, since first she had noticed it happening. Théoden had been declining for a while before that, she realised afterwards, but she had not noticed; or, rather, she had thought it merely the normal changes that came to people as they grew old. Her father had died young, and her mother too. Grandmama had been strong right until the end, but she was from Gondor, and she was a woman: Steelsheen, they called her. Éowyn had once longed for a name such as that.

"I live every day in dread that he will forget my name," she confessed, fingers dabbling in the sweet water. She remembered paddling in streams, so long ago. "He does not. Yet. But Gríma is always there, always watching. He whispers things in that honeyed tongue of his, and my uncle just nods, and presses his seal where Gríma points. He leans on me so heavily whenever he stands, and it's hard to hold him upright, but if I don't, then Gríma will."

"Éowyn," Hild said, just her name. She was still standing. Her hands were clasped together tightly, knuckles white.

"What is it?" Éowyn asked. "Is it your mother? Is something wrong?"

After several years of barely noticing, now Éowyn knew so much about her attendant. Hild was eight years older than Éowyn, and she had a mother and two brothers on a small house below the hall. One brother worked in the stables and the other with the hounds. Although they were men, and although they could fight, they had not been warrior-trained and owned no spears or horses of their own. Hild had fallen deeply in love at sixteen, but her boy had died before they could marry, just a fever, not war. She had told Éowyn what it was like to love: how nothing in the world was as longed-for and as cherished as your loved one's smile.

It had helped Éowyn through the dark days, these tales of lives still lived outside.  Éomer was often gone for months on end, and Théodred her cousin was based at Helm's Deep, commanding the forces that his father was too old and tired to lead himself. Éomer was solicitous when he saw her, but other tasks always called him away. He had called her good, once, good with a sword, but he had his own battles to fight now, and here she was, fighting her own battles in the dark.

"No," Hild whispered. "No, Éowyn, it isn't my mother. It's…"

More friend than servant, really, although the fiction had to be preserved. Éowyn wondered, sometimes, how she could have endured these last few months without someone to talk to afterwards. Sometimes she wondered…

And suddenly she saw it, knowing it beyond doubt. Gríma knew. He had found out. "He's sending you away. He's sending you away, isn't he?" How had he done it? Some whisper to the king about how unseemly it was that a daughter of the House of Eorl should find friendship with the daughter of a landless carl? Or just another paper slipped through and sealed without a glance?

"The king has commanded it," Hild said, almost weeping. "I serve in his household, and I cannot…"

"Cannot refuse your duty." A horn sounded outside: free men riding away. "I know."


It was their first time of meeting. Éowyn had been busy building a home in Emyn Arnen, and Éomer had spent his time back home in the Mark, healing the wounds that war had left there. But at some point, it seemed, he had found time to visit Dol Amroth by the sea.

"I do love him very much," Lothíriel was saying. She was as tall as Éowyn, but dark-haired, with eyes as grey as the Anduin in winter. She was Faramir's cousin and distant kin to Éowyn's own grandmama, but it was hard to imagine her winning the name Steelsheen. She was only four years younger than Éowyn, but she seemed far younger. Her hand had never wielded a sword. She had never ridden into battle. She had never endured the years that Éowyn had endured, sinking to a place almost beyond hope, yet finding the strength to emerge on the other side.

She is a little afraid of me, I think, Éowyn suddenly realised. She had tales told about her deeds, the maid who had slain a Nazgûl.

She loved her husband. She had settled into a home of her own, and she could ride wherever she willed.

"Of course you do, "Éowyn said. "Who wouldn't? Although," she confided, "he could be quite the arrogant pup when he was a boy. I can tell you such stories! You can tell them back to him when he gets too proud."

"I hope…" the girl said. "I want to be a good wife to him."

But she was not a girl at all, of course. All those who had grown up during the years of shadow had left childhood far behind. Lothíriel had spent the war in Dol Amroth, but Dol Amroth, too, had been under constant threat. Who could tell what battles she had been forced to fight in that castle by the sea? The songs only sang of deeds of arms, but Éowyn now believed that the fiercest, bravest, battle of her life had not been on the field of Pelennor, but in the darkened hall of Meduseld, beside a fading king.

"You will be," Éowyn assured her. "And he loves you, that I know. He was giddy as a boy when he told me you had accepted him."

"He was?" Lothíriel blushed like Léofwyn so long ago. Éowyn had not understood that blushing, then. Hild had told her what it was to love, but she had never really understood, not until she had come to know her own dear lord.

"He was," she said, "and who can blame him?"

But Lothíriel would need more than Éomer's love, if she was to thrive. The world was ruled by men, and sometimes even the best of them sometimes forgot that women were more than just daughters, sisters or wives; that they, too, needed the friendship and fellowship that men found so easily with their comrades in war. Like Éowyn's own grandmama, Lothíriel was leaving the only home she had ever known, and going to live in a distant land. Roads were being rebuilt, and Gondor and the Mark were growing ever closer, but life in Edoras would still be so strange to her. Éowyn had come from Meduseld to live in Gondor, and Lothíriel was leaving Gondor to live in Éowyn's old prison and old home. It was a lonely thing to be so far from home, even if you were married to a man you loved.

Touching did not come easily to her, but she leant forward and clasped the Lothíriel's hands in her own. "I wish you every happiness." Then she stood up, smiling down at the woman who would be her sister. "Do you like riding? Let us ride out together, away from the prying ears of our men, and I can tell you all about Edoras and the ways of the Mark, and if you have any questions, then you can visit me, and I will visit you, and in between times, we can write."

Lothíriel stood up tall and straight, and there was an echo of Faramir in the set of her chin, and somewhere, very faint, a hint of Éowyn's grandmama, whom they had called Steelsheen.

"I would like that, sister," Lothíriel said. "I would like that very much indeed."

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