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Swordplay

Chapter 1: Swordplay

by JaiMarie

"Keep your shield level, Éowyn! Don't raise it!" Théodred called out from
his perch on the low stone wall bordering the courtyard.

Éowyn grunted a reply as she turned and took a cut at her opponent, who
promptly thrust a mock finishing blow to her exposed side. She gave a
disgusted shriek of rage and threw her sword and buckler down, seething with
clenched fists.

"That's hardly the behavior of a warrior, sister," her sparring partner
chided, casting a glance down at the cast-off weapons. "And hardly the way
to treat a birthday present."

"I'm sorry, Éomer," Éowyn said with a sigh, then leaned down to pick the two
up. "I simply grow tired of making foolish mistakes!"

"Éowyn, it's been two days!" Théodred exclaimed. He hopped down from the
wall and strode over to the siblings. "And I would say for a novice you do
your name proud." He took his younger cousins by the shoulders and moved
them a bit farther apart. "Now give me your weapons, Éowyn, and watch as I
show you what you just did. Come on this side and see how you gave Éomer
such a prime target."

On a balcony overlooking the courtyard, two observers kept a keen eye on the
lesson below. "I am still amazed that you allowed him to give his sister
such a gift. A girl of sixteen has no place bearing a sword--especially a
girl of her standing, if I may say so, Majesty."

"As you have told me many times, Gríma," Théoden replied to his advisor, as
his son and nephew worked through a sequence in slow motion. "There can be
no harm in it. It does my son good to instruct a novice in the martial
arts."

"So get him a squire! There are many who would gladly give their son to such
an honor. Éowyn is now sixteen, and should be looking toward marriage, not
toward making war!" Gríma stepped closer to the railing and gripped it
tightly, his gaze intent upon Éowyn as she took her weapons back from
Théodred and poised to engage her brother once again.

"She has her brother's talent with the sword--see how quickly she learns!"
Théoden mused, seemingly ignoring Gríma's comment, as the siblings began the
sequence of moves again. He keenly concentrated on Éowyn's technique,
mimicking her movements and acting as though coaching her himself. Without
taking his eyes from his niece and nephew, he remarked, "An unknowing eye
would wager them twins, so alike do they move and act."

"If your words are true, Sire, then when she is twenty you will have two
strong-willed, hot-headed warriors in your house, aided and abetted by an
older cousin who seems to think that life is indeed one long game!" Gríma
shrank suddenly when Théoden turned to him in irritation.

"Perhaps in due time we will be glad to have as many 'strong-willed,
hot-headed' warriors as possible," Théoden retorted. He then fell again into
silent observation as Éowyn and Éomer shed their bucklers and began to
circle each other for closer combat with their swords. Éowyn's hair
glittered and shimmered as the wind tried to free it from the confines of
the bow at the nape of her neck, and her dress fluttered in the breeze,
although she seemed to not even notice. She was quite tall for her age, and
frankly gangly, fair, and almost fragile looking to the casual eye, but when
empowered with a blade her stature was seemingly increased so that it almost
seemed she was a match for Éomer.

Éomer gave an encouraging nod to his sister, who after a brief pause charged
at him with a determined cry, and they exchanged a flurry of blows that
brought a smile of surprised delight to Théoden's face. He continued to
watch the practice, and spoke distractedly. "I know your mind, Gríma, but my
heart tells me it is too early for her. She has no desire to be a wife."

"Women must be trained in such arts, my liege, just as men must be trained
in the arts of warfare--as your son and your sister-son are--and if I may be
so bold, I would say such training has been negligent in her upbringing.
Instead you allowed her to mimic her brother, who seems to be doing
everything he can to change her gender! Soon you'll have two nephews!"

"You read too much into this, Gríma." His advisor's nearly obsessive nagging
was giving Théoden a headache, one only worsened by the constant crashing of
metal against metal in the courtyard below.

"They are rarely apart when he is at the castle, Majesty, and I dare say
that as soon as Éowyn gains enough prowess with the blade, she will want to
ride with her brother's men. Then what?"

"Then we shall see when that day comes," Théoden replied with forced
evenness, struggling not to lose his patience. "Éowyn has had a harsh, sad
life, and if this can bring her some measure of happiness, then I will allow
it. I will speak no further on the subject. It is a closed matter."

Gríma merely snorted, and they both returned to silence as they watched
Éowyn and Éomer continue their sparring. Both were now flushed and sweaty,
and exhaustion was beginning to show, although by the smiles on their faces
they seemed to be having too much fun to want to stop. Éowyn had taken the
instruction of her cousin to heart and had begun to pose quite the challenge
to Éomer, who seemed to be using all of his faculties to fend her off.
Théodred then stepped between them again to allow them a moment to breathe,
and he took up Éowyn's blade to demonstrate a technique for disarming an
opponent.

"She'll get hurt," Gríma muttered, but Théoden did not reply. He watched as
Éowyn tried the maneuver a few times--she dropped her sword more than once
and winced as she apparently did hurt her hand, but each time she picked the
sword back up, despite Éomer and Théodred fussing over her. Even when her
knuckles were bleeding and she had to wear a handkerchief wound around her
hand to keep the blood from interfering with her grip, she refused to stop.
Her face was set with determination, and she grew more aggressive with her
moves. Her sweat-soaked hair had long since come loose from its bow, and her
dress was stained with grass and a bit of blood. Still, she would not give
up, and made one last, desperate lunge toward Éomer.

"Alas, what would good Théodwyn say?" Gríma lamented quietly. He turned his
back to the scene as Éowyn gave a triumphant cry upon finally succeeding in
disarming her brother, then jumped on him and straddled his fallen body.
Théodred laughed as well, pointing in playful mockery at the fallen Éomer
and applauding Éowyn as the siblings wrestled playfully on the ground.

"Alas indeed," Théoden murmured bemusedly. He watched as the struggle
finally ceased--with Éowyn on top--and she leaned down and nuzzled Éomer's
nose. Both went still for a moment as their eyes met and their mouths
hovered near each other, almost touching. Théoden then turned away as well
and slowly followed Gríma into the study. He had no need to witness any more
of what he already knew about--something he understood more deeply than
Gríma Wormtongue ever would. "What *would* she say?"