Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
“A shieldmaiden has come.”
The man spoke quietly, but I heard him still. All who were in the hall heard him say the word, and all saw, too, how like iron grew my uncle's eye.
“A woman who bears a sword,” the man stammered when questioned, “in a coat of rings. I saw her horse, white like snow. She pays gold for bread.”
My uncle said nothing then, but the wretch Grima was whispering into his ear all the while. Finally, he ordered that the woman be brought before him.
I looked for my brother, and found him at the king's hand, standing by Theodred. His own face is severe, and disapproving when I come to stand beside him. Eomer holds with Theoden in this, that a woman should not go to war and bear arms but stay home and bear children. They do not hold with women who want honor and glory for themselves, instead of wanting it only for their fathers and husbands. And they know my own heart, but let me stay anyway, for I think I know what is going to happen, and it would serve as a good rebuke for a quarrelsome daughter who dreams of war like other girls dream of the bridal cloth.
Theodred nods to me. The light of good humor in his eyes cheers me, as it always does.
The men Grima sends to fetch her do not return for a while, but no one speaks. The word, shieldmaiden
, hangs in the air, whispers in the eaves. A virgin sworn to battle, told of in stories and songs. There are no more shieldmaidens, only the vague memories of graybeards and crones, of distant doings recalled in the dark of winter before the hearth fires, remembered only by poets and rhymers and me.
And now there is a shieldmaiden walking in our market, leading her white horse and paying gold for bread.
I want to see her. I long to speak to her. I am afraid that she is a falsehood, that the man, a poor worker of fields who has not seen nor heard much, has over-spoken himself, that this will be no more than a low woman on a low horse, and how all the men will laugh at her with her nag and knife.
But he spoke of a sword and a coat of rings, and a white horse, and gold, and what came into my mind at hearing him was a maiden fair and tall, with a virgin's eyes and a warrior's look, shining steel and flowing hair. And I love this woman I see, and I want it to be her.
I want her to come into the hall, to look at me, and recognize me for one of her own.
We wait, Grima at the king's hand all the while, and I fear for the woman who keeps us waiting. Eomer, too, grows impatient, made angrier by the sight of the Wormtongue whispering his foulness ceaselessly into our uncle's troubled thoughts. Theodred watches, though he says nothing, and I think he must have feuded with his father again by the way they do not look at each other. The prince works untiringly to oppose Grima in all things, and his father listens to him, if not to anyone else. But they have grown apart of late, and it is concerning to all the court, for Grima's influence is countered only by the son's presence and counsel. We fear what will happen if Grima ever manages to throw Theodred into disfavor, and the king's worsening health does not help.
“Troubled in our troubles by the foolishness of women,” Eomer mutters, and looks at me from the corner of his eye, half-scolding, half-guilty. Theodred makes a face, and I try not to smile.
He is hot-tempered, my brother, like an unbroken horse. But that is also his charm, as I hope it is mine.
At the door we hear a stern voice, and then comes in Hama, the Doorward.
“Theoden King,” he says, his face disquieted, “the woman you have commanded has come, but will not pass the threshold without her sword.”
There is a breathless silence. The arrogance in her refusal is impossible.
“By your leave,” continues Hama, and his voice grows more certain as he speaks, “The woman is a foreigner, and does not speak our tongue, nor but little of Westron. She is alone and unaccompanied, and in truth there would be no honor in demanding a woman to go unprotected into a strange place, whether the hall of a king or a common house. I ask that she be let to keep her her sword.”
Grima's face grows dark, but the king is nodding slowly.
“Indeed, Captain,” he says, “she is only a woman. Let her have her knife.”
Grima flies to his side, but the king shakes his head. I wonder at his unusual calm, for if any other had refused his command he would have been wroth. Perhaps it is because she is only a woman, and he expects all women who wear armor to be absurd. Or perhaps it is because Theodred is here, watching, and the king has always liked to appear gracious in front of his son. But that is too easy, and I worry.
Hama returns to the door, and we hear his voice, and when he comes in again, she is with him.
At my side, Eomer inhales sharply. Theodred stands very still, and their eyes are on her.
The girl stands in the middle of the hall, looking at the king.
A sigh fills the hall, a sigh filled with stories, songs, and the lore of our dead.
How can she be a shieldmaiden? But now, with her standing before me, I think that she cannot possibly be anything else.
She looks from the king to where I stand, but I cannot tell if she looks at me or my brother. I lower my eyes for only a beat of the heart, but it is enough to see that Eomer's hands are trembling.
She moves, and beneath her cloak of gray I see the glimmer of rings, and the hilt of a sword.
I cannot breathe. I am looking at her, and, for the first time in my life, I despair.
The hunger rises up in me, rises to clutch and grasps at my heart.
I am sick with longing.
I think I will die of it.
The king is standing. He stands taller than he has in many days. My uncle looks at me, at my brother, at his son.
He sees the expression on Theodred's face and, by his own, it seems he knows it.
He looks, then, at the shieldmaiden.
Grima gasps for breath. His mouth is open wide. His eyes are filled with tears.
The king walks toward her with a naked blade.
He cries, “Kill her.”
Grima rushes forward.
Blood splatters the floor, the walls. People panic, the men forward and the women back, and I see Theodred and Eomer charging together like a pair of warhorses going into battle. The hall is filled with screams, cries, and the smell of killing.
Theoden, my uncle, the king, stands before the shieldmaiden. His sword is slick with blood and flesh.
The girl's eyes are wide, her mouth open.
Between them stands Grima, his life's blood spilling in a red river from where the king's sword pierced his heart. “Nazg-kal,”
he cries, and I hear two voices come from one mouth. “Nazg amanaisal! Kal-air! Ida gimbator!”
And as he falls, as he lies murdered on the floor of Meduseld, as he spits and drools blood, his black eyes search her face, and I swear it is love I see when Grima Wormtongue last looks upon the shieldmaiden, and dies.