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The Gothwyn Alliance
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Gothwyn Alliance

Midsummer Day, 3019

“I wonder,” said Lady Mirieth, “if she still has blood under her fingernails!” She leaned back to allow a servant to whisk away the remains of her place setting, now that the feast was over in Merethrond.

“I wondered if she’d show up wearing breeches instead of a skirt like a proper woman,” another noblewoman, Lady Milandorga said. “Doubtless she will not dance with any grace, and if she does, it will be some rustic romp!”

As those ladies and their cronies tittered a few feet away, Ėowyn bit her lip and resisted the urge to hide her hands or look at them. Her brother had warned her not to let her temper show, as a poor reflection upon him and their country, but she was heartily tired of these hypocritical females. She had more discipline than many gave her credit for, but tonight she felt unexpectedly adrift. Soon she would return to Rohan to be her brother’s chatelaine for a year before her marriage to Faramir, much as she had for their uncle King Theóden. But life in Edoras would not be the same, not after the rigors of the war and her changed prospects. Once she had ardently longed to escape. She had done so, but while the Men of Gondor named her as the Wraithbane, praising her for killing a Ringwaith upon the field of battle, they did not seem to see the price she had paid. She had escaped—at the cost of disobeying, of abandoning her duty and people (as many of them saw it), and thereby forfeiting their trust and respect. The Rohirrim would not mince words in telling her so, either! Absently she rubbed her shoulder. It didn’t really ache, but that had become a habit when she was uneasy. Unwelcome in her own land, would she be happy as the foreign wife of the Steward of Gondor, living most of the time in this stony city, among these simpering fools? Or would she be a misfit, lonely and unhappy all her days, being a hindrance instead of a helpmeet?

A small hand slid into hers, and she glanced up. Standing beside her was Silma Lady Cormallen, lately returned from her wedding-trip. Like Queen Arwen, she had chosen to loose her hair from the braided and coiled coiffures fashionable in Minas Tirith among the Highborn, her delicately pointed ears visible through the pale chestnut waves beneath a wreath of copper-and-gold leaves. “Come and wish Arwen well with me,” she urged.

A few empty seats separated them from the newly-crowned Queen; with Faramir and King Elessar temporarily speaking aside on some matter with Lord Elrond and Prince Imrahil, the Peredhel newlywed sat alone. She smiled at them as they approached.

Both of them curtsied; she inclined her dark head. Unseen, Silma prodded Ėowyn, who blurted, “I hope you have much joy here, Your Majesty.”

“I hope the same for you, Princess,” Arwen replied. “Please, join me.”

Ėowyn blinked in surprise. Technically, she was a princess, although the Rohirrim put little stock in bowing and scraping; to them, deeds were more important than rank. And now that Aragorn—no, she must accustom herself to thinking of him as King Elessar—had named Faramir Prince of Ithilien, he was now the same rank as she.

“So here we are, three royal women out of our accustomed places,” Silma said cheerfully as they sat down.

“Pardon?” asked Ėowyn,

“Well, now that Dalfinor’s father is King Under the Mountain in Erebor, that makes him a Dwarven prince, and so I am now a princess by marriage to him. Considering that I had put my title of lady aside when I fled my first spouse Ornamir to be a lowly country Healer, Aragorn restoring it and then being elevated (as some would call it) to being a princess, I feel as if I’m riding a wind-tossed swing!”

Arwen nodded. “I feel a kinship with you, Cousin, since like you I’ve married someone from another Kindred.”

“As to that—“ Silma shrugged one shoulder. “There have been other marriages between Elves and Men, if not recently, but never one between a Peredhel and a Dwarf, nor one between a Mannish woman and a Dwarf either. I have only recently begun to accept my Halfelven heritage from my mother.”

Arwen said, “I had heard from both Bilbo and Legolas that a captain in Lord Thranduil’s forest guard, Tauriel, once loved one of Thorin’s company. Alas, he fell in the Battle of the Five Armies ere they could decide their futures. She was sorely wounded, both in body and heart.”

Ėowyn was startled. “She? An Elf-maid was a shield-maiden?”

“The word in Sindarin is Gothwen; the plural is Gothwyn,” Arwen told her. “Rare, as in your land. You can tell us by the way we sometimes wear our hair for battle, braided into a crown. Methinks the style evolved to keep it up under our helmets, a cushion against head-blows, and out of our eyes!”

“'We’?” Ėowyn echoed.

“Something else we have in common,” Silma laughed.

Arwen reached out and took Ėowyn’s hand for a moment in one of hers; Ėowyn felt familiar sword-calluses on the slim fingers and palm under hers, similar to her own. “You can wield a sword?”

“I was hoping we might spar together. Both Silma and Lothlíriel have told me about training with you at the House of the Swan. I am hoping that Hethlin Blackbow will join us ere she leaves as well.”

“She is very good!” Ėowyn said. “I have heard of her exploits from Faramir. Did you know that she slew several oliphaunts as well as many orcs?”

“I have an even more legendary tale to tell of her.” Silma’s eyes twinkled. “She’s actually wearing a gown tonight, and looks very striking.”

“A gown? Hethlin the Ranger? How was that managed?”

“She is a soldier and follows orders, even the ones that dismay her. She protested, but I helped bribe her into receiving some advice on dress from my béin-naneth, Lady Silwen.”

“What could you possibly give her to gain her agreement?”

“A matched set of assassin’s throwing-daggers and wrist-sheaths,” Silma said.

Arwen arched an elegant dark brow. “What I wish to know is how you came by them.”

“A very prosaic way,” Silma answered. “I had a patient who had been an assassin and spy, and he insisted on giving them to me. I never really had a use for them, although Dalf is talking about crafting me a set of my own. But since we will be travelling a good bit and I cannot always wear my sword—“

“I thought that you had finished your wedding-journey,” Ėowyn interrupted.

“No. It is merely interrupted. We will be setting out again shortly, bound for Erebor and his family. That will give me more time to work on my Khudzal.”

“I do think that Estel’s appointing you as his Ambassador to the Dweorg a good idea,” Arwen remarked.

“It has a nice symmetry to it, since Dalf is Gimli’s Assistant Envoy to Gondor and Arnor,” she noted. “I’m hoping that it will mean his parents must take me seriously. If I have rank and work of my own, why would I seek the reflection of his?”

“If his mother has done that—“

“But the Dweorg place more value on deeds than on rank, as the Rohirrim do. We’ll see. But we three Gothwyn have more in common than our fighting skills, Ėowyn. Arwen is a Healer too. She can help you with your studies after I leave.”

“I should have realized!” Ėowyn’s face warmed with embarrassment. “Faramir says that Lord Elrond is the greatest Healer in Middle-earth and taught the King.”

“And my brothers and I benefited from Father’s instruction as well, although I am not as good as they,” Arwen agreed.

“Surely not—“

“No, Ėowyn, I merely speak the truth. After all, Elladan and Elrohir are almost two hundred years older than I am, and have had much more time to practice. That’s why they are also better warriors than I, for they are much more experienced. Had it not been for my mother, I would not have sought instruction in arms.”

The agelessness of Elves was hard to comprehend, Ėowyn thought, but to mention an age difference of two centuries so casually! “Was she a shield-maiden as well?” she asked.

Too late, from the expression on Silma’s expressive face, Ėowyn realized that this was not a suitable subject. “Forgive me! I never meant—“

Arwen waved her stumbling apologies away. “There is naught to forgive. After all, friends have a right to know of each other. My mother was traveling between Lórien and Imladris, when her party was attacked by orcs in the mountains. She was rescued by my brothers, and Father did his best to heal her, but while he could cure her physical wounds, he could not heal her emotional and spiritual ones. She chose to leave Middle-earth for the Uttermost West. Our family has never been the same. Father….well, he became very protective of me, as did my brothers—when the twins weren’t engaged in their quest to exterminate every orc in Arda.” Her eyes were filled with sadness.

“And what of you, Cousin?” Silma asked gently.

“I…sought to step into her shoes as Mistress of Imladris, and I chafed under Father’s restrictions on my activities outside the vale. Luckily, I was able to speak with Glorfindel, Father’s war-chief—is that the right term in your culture?” she asked Ėowyn.

“His First Marshall?”

“Aye. And I took his counsel, as well as practicing on my own. At last, I asked Father if I might visit my grandmother in Lothlórien. It took much persuasion before he would allow it, with my brothers and a force of his best warriors as escort. After they departed for home, I talked with my Daernaneth about my wish to become better able to defend myself and our people. She was the perfect one to instruct me! In her younger days she too was a Gothwen, and even more recently during the war when she and Grandfather defended Lórien thrice and then cast down Dol Guldur. She can be very intimidating to her foes! Truly was Galadriel once named Nerwen, which means ‘manly woman,’ for her height and strength! Father was not very pleased after I went home and he found me one day clad in the armor she had had made for me, but he consented to giving me a sword and a bow, instead of my brothers’ old ones, and instructed me further himself when they and Glorfindel were away. But tell me, please, how did you seek this path?”

“My father was killed by an orc,” Ėowyn told her, “and Mother died not long after of a broken heart. Uncle Theóden adopted Ėomer and me. I was learning the usual women’s crafts, although I always preferred being outside and doing more vigorous activities than needlework. I’d far rather curry a stableful of horses than embroider one flower that would look more like a colourful blob no matter how I tried. Later, when Grimá Wormtongue tried to prey upon me, I realized I needed to defend myself. A retired shield-maiden who had come from the Westfold to care for her dying mother agreed to teach me. Frejwyn was kind enough to say that I was doing her a favour, enabling her to keep up her skills but it was really because she saw what was happening. Uncle was already falling under Gríma’s spells, and Ėomer and Theódred were often away—not that I wanted someone else to protect me, once I saw I could do it for myself! Later, as you know, I used those skills to become Dernhelm the Rider.”

“And I was given Orcsbane, to my dismay,” Silma said ruefully. “I argued against the bond between us for some time before I surrendered to it.”

“Does she speak to you?” Arwen asked.

“Why do you say ‘she,’ my lady?” Ėowyn inquired, curious about what an Elven Gothwin would say.

“Surely it is feminine, crafted for a woman’s use?”

“I do have a sense of that, as Ėowyn noticed before I did,” Silma admitted. “And that Orcsbane was…asleep before I picked her up. Luckily for me, or I would have died in those tunnels! I hope I never have to slay even another orc.”

“But it is well to be able to at need,” Ėowyn said firmly. “Certainly, I believe that she has helped you learn more quickly than one might expect.” She added factually, “You are almost as good as I am, who have sparred much longer.”

Silma nodded. “You may need to use those skills, aiding Faramir in making sure that the northern reaches of Ithilien are free of orcs, brigands, and Easterling renegades, and possibly even beyond, in Mordor.”

Suddenly Ėowyn felt more cheerful. She didn’t particularly want to go to war again—she still woke with nightmares from what she had seen, heard, and smelled in the battle before the city—but it was a more attractive prospect than pretending to like embroidery under the scrutiny of gossips!

“There is much to do for all of us,” Arwen said. “My days will be lightened by having two sisters of the sword as my friends, and looking forward to when you will be here. I have heard that you both know a system of combat with the hands and feet from the distant East.” She spoke the last words in a questioning tone, glancing from one to the other.

Ėowyn grinned. “The baritsu that Silma is teaching me. Even Prince Imrahil’s Armsmaster Andrahar asked for instruction in it, and fully approved Lothlíriel’s learning.”

Silma said sedately, “It also has the benefit of providing good exercise.”

“And it teaches how to make almost any object into a weapon,” Ėowyn said with relish.

“Perhaps the ultimate weapon is persuasive words,” Silma murmured.

“I’m not that advanced!”

The Queen said, “But it is an interesting concept, and one I will need to use as a queen, helping Estel. Ėowyn, will you help me choose a horse tomorrow?”

“You will not have an Elvensteed?”

Arwen shook her head. “No, the mare I rode here is going back with Father so she can have her colt at Imladris. Besides, since I will be mostly afoot here in the city, I’m reluctant to keep her pent up. She does not enjoy confined spaces.”

“Nor does mine, although she endures it for my sake,” Silma said. “I’ve promised her she will be my mount when we leave. Ėowyn, would you look Moonglow over for me? I would hate to not take good care of her, since Legolas was kind enough to give her to me in place of Apple. You will not find anyone more knowledgeable about horses than a Rohir,” she added.

“So indeed has Imrahil told me,” Arwen said. “I believe that he is speaking with Ėomer about breeding stock.”

“Ėowyn? Are you well?” Silma asked abruptly.

“Oh, aye! I’m more than well!” She was grinning, barely preventing herself from jumping up and dancing. “Just now, I knew what I will do!”

“What?” The other two leaned forward.

“I’m going to have a horse farm,” she said gleefully. “That way, I must be in Ithilien a great deal, and when I accompany Faramir here, I can continue studying at the Houses and with you so that I can heal any of our folk who need me when we are home again.” For the first time, she believed that it could be home.

“And we shall visit often,” Arwen said. “That will be good for Estel, who also prefers less civilized places. Our two Rangers will be happier if they are not always caged about with ceremony and duty.”

“Dalf as well,” Silma said. “He enjoyed being a Business-Dwarf, able to craft things in different forges and trade them on his travels. I too always enjoy being outside cities, even though I like having Minas Tirith as my home, with good work to do and friends about me.”

Arwen’s eyes sparkled as she held out a hand to each of them. “I shall feel much less out of place here now amidst all this stone.”

“So will I,” Ėowyn said from her heart.

“And I will think of you both, in the gardens and in Ithilien’s glades and groves, when I am underground with my Dalf,” Silma said, “until we come back again.”

“May we join you ladies?” asked a male voice, and they looked up at the King, his Steward, and the Assistant Dwarven Ambassador. Instantly, Silma and Ėowyn changed seats.

“What were you talking about?” Dalfinor asked as he sat down beside his wife.

“Lady Silma has forged an alliance,” Arwen laughed.

“And Ėowyn has found her life’s plan,” Silma said.

Ėowyn added, “Would you like to come with us tomorrow? I’m going to help the Queen choose a mount, and check over Silma’s mare, and then I’m going to talk to my brother and your uncle about breeding stock.”

“Breeding stock?” Faramir repeated.

“I thought I could have a horse farm in Ithilien,” she said tentatively.

Faramir smiled. “What a good idea! Uncle Imrahil could do with some competition. Do you agree, Sire?”

“An excellent plan!” Elessar exclaimed. “We shall have to visit you often.”

“You must promise to have it near Cormallen,” Dalf suggested. “That way, when we are home, we can see you frequently. Have you thought about the buildings you will need?”

“Stables and paddocks,” Ėowyn said at once. “Barns, tack-rooms—“

“A house might be useful,” Faramir teased as he squeezed her hand.

“What style?” Dalf pulled out his tablets, selecting a fresh leaf, and poised his stylus. “How big? How shall it be orientated?”

“You should ask Lord Marpol for help in the design too,” Elessar suggested.

“The Warden of Roads?” Ėowyn felt her brows rise. “I suppose we’d need to have a road, but—“

“No, no, he is a noted architect,” Faramir said. “That’s why part of his charge is to rebuild Annúminas.”

“He is also good at devising new things,” Silma told her. “It’s why he and Jehan were such good friends.”

“New things?”

“Well, people always cite that floating dock at Dol Amroth,” Dalf said, “although I prefer some of his smaller devices.”

“A floating dock?” Ėowyn’s eyes widened as she thought of something. “I wonder if he could help with making something similar for us.”

“Why would you need a floating dock?” Elessar asked.

“Not a dock, but a—a sort of tank, where we could heat the water, and a method to safely get injured horses in and out of it. The Healers use hot baths for some patients—“

Silma laughed in delight. “There you are, Gothwen! A new weapon in your Healing war on behalf of horses!”

Arwen was nodding. “You are advancing, Ėowyn. Surely applying one thing to another part of your life is a worthy use of both.”

The White Lady of Ithilien, Wraithbane, formerly Dernhelm of the Riders of Rohan, joined in a lively discussion, excited and happy. Forgotten were the snide remarks; gone was feeling adrift. This shield-maiden was firmly seated where she belonged, about to ride to her true destiny.


The House of the Steward, Minas Tirith, 26 Lótessë, F.A. 58

Lady Olpessa, wife of the new Haradrim ambassador, seated beside Ėowyn at a tea, looked at her shyly. “Forgive my ignorance, my lady,” she said. “Before we came, I received a letter of counsel and advice from Lady Tahar. She advised me to ask of you if I might join the Gothwyn Alliance. What is this, please?”

Ėowyn smiled. “It is a group of friends, and you would be most welcome to join us,” she said cordially.

Lady Gilannis leaned forward from her other side. “It all began when Princess Lothlóriel invited the White Lady and Lady Cormallen to see and use the salle at the House of the Swan, and they invited other women, including me, to come. So soon after the War of the Ring, many of us wanted to be able to defend ourselves.”

“Women fighters? As the Amazôn-lâi?”

“Lady Ėowyn was a Shield-maiden of Rohan, and Lady Arwen one of the Elvish ones,” Gilannis said.

“In Sindarin, one of the Elvish languages, they are called Gothwyn,” Ėowyn explained. “Lady Cormallen pointed out that the three of us had that in common, as well as being from other lands and all of us were or were becoming Healers. In time, the group came to be women who liked to exercise together in archery, riding, swordplay, baritsu, and apply what we knew in those disciplines to our changing lives. You do not have to be a fighter to join; in fact, we realize that the most advanced kind of fighting is to use persuasive words as weapons.”

“Please tell me more,” Lady Olpessa requested. “I think my lord would like me to try this.”

Arwen caught Ėowyn’s eye and winked. Who knew: perhaps the Gothwyn Alliance would spread to all of Arda, in time!




~~~

1. I thought it likely that Ėowyn would have felt uncertain in Gondorian society, and that it would be useful for her to see similarities as well as differences with Arwen (and my character Silma) as they begin dealing with the challenges of their new roles in Gondor.
2. Bartitsu was mentioned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” in which Sherlock Holmes explains to Dr. Watson how he escaped his “death” at Reichenbach Falls; it was actually invented in the late 1890s by E. H. Barton-Wright, an early proponent of hybrid martial arts in which he combined two schools of jujitsu, British boxing, French savate, and Swiss la canne (stick-fighting). You can see many videos demonstrating it on Youtube. How did it get to Middle-earth? It seemed reasonable to me that there would be some cultures that had hand-to-hand methods of combat, perhaps in the Far South of Endor. Andrahar, as an Armsmaster in Gondor who was from Harad, might have heard of it but not had the opportunity to study it earlier. How Silma learned it is detailed in Chapter 25, “Preparations,” of my novel, Tree & Stone. And yes, I dropped the first "t," then decided to leave it as baritsu.


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