The waving hills of golden grass rose and fell beneath them as Arod surged tirelessly onward beside Hasufel and Shadowfax.
Legolas reached down, patting a hand against Arod's neck, damp with froth from the length and the pace of his hard run. Surely life as a horse of the Rohirrim was not an easy one. And too often, it was cut short before its time. Arod responded to the gentle touch with a lift of his head and a toss of his mane. He whickered into the wind as the riders and their mounts surged up the side of a gentle slope, and drew at last to a stop, as the great mound that was the city of Edoras appeared, rising majestically before them.
The mound was less a large hill than it was a small mountain, set upon the crags of weathered ancient rock. Houses of somber weathered wood rose up the sides of the crags to the great hall that tiredly, yet proudly adorned the crest, like a king weathered and aged by time and battle, but still strong and enduring, unbeaten. A tall picket wall of sharpened tree trunks surrounded the city, broken only by watchtowers, and the gate set within the wall.
"Edoras and the Golden Hall of Meduseld." Gandalf said as the four riders gazed upward at the rising crown of proud, enduring stone. "There dwells Théoden, king of Rohan, whose mind is overthrown." His voice grew sober, and somewhat sad as he continued, "Saruman's hold over Théoden is now very strong."
Gandalf's voice regained strength as he added, "Be careful what you say." He urged Shadowfax forward, "Do not look for welcome here."
These words brought a sobering weight to Legolas' mind as he gently nudged Arod's sides, and the horse broke into a swift canter behind Shadowfax.
The narrow hall of the king's private living quarters was dark, shadowed and cold. No torches burned in the brackets on the walls. A grieving hush had fallen over the corridors, and as Greta moved quietly along, a thin thread of a smile touched her lips.
She had not heard the news yet, but she guessed at it: Théodred was dead.
She remembered watching him coming, already half dead as his cousin Éomer carried him in. And she knew he would die in spite of Éowyn's care. And she was glad.
Théodred had never been of any use to her. There had been a time when she had thought she might be the next queen of Rohan. After all, her brother was the king's chief counselor. But Théodred had proved impossible to snare. With a wane twist of her lips, Greta remembered the last time she had spoken to him.
He had been in the stables alone, currying his own horse like a common stable hand when she had come sweeping in, silent, like a shadow.
"Aren't you going to kiss me goodbye, Théodred?" She had purred, drawing close and running her hand lightly along his back.
"Get away, Greta." He had muttered, not even bothering to turn. "I would rather kiss a horse. They at least, are loyal to Rohan."
"Indeed?" She had queried smoothly. "Well, perhaps you will learn to love me. My brother has been speaking to your father about us."
Théodred's back had stiffened at this, and his hand paused in its work. Greta smirked, continuing to run her fingertips over his stiffened muscles. "You father is favorable to the idea of arranging a marriage between his son and the sister of his most trusted advisor."
"That man-," Théodred had spat, turning then, his expression livid, pulling away from her touch as he pointed up at the great hall she could see through the stable doors, "that man is not my father! Your brother has taken his mind, somehow. Trusted advisor! Pah!" He spat hard upon the floor of the stable. "Your brother is a worm."
"And what of my brother's sister, my prince?" She had purred.
Glancing quickly away from her eyes, he had muttered, "You are truly Gríma's sister. Your heart is as twisted as his is, but you are more devious. He, at least, has a hideous face to go along with his traitorous heart."
"Oh." She had murmured softly. "Are you saying you think I'm beautiful?"
"Get out." he seethed slowly, turning back to his horse, "Now. I will not be taken, as my father has been."
"As my lord wishes." She said, feigning a humble curtsey as she turned and swept blithely out of the stable.
Greta stifled a laugh. And now the fool was dead! For what? A dying kingdom. Had she not been pretty enough for him? She paused at a polished mirror, and admired herself within its reflective surface. Her gown was a deep green, almost black, with a train that swept silently behind her, her sleeves long and open, exposing her smooth white hands.
Her eyes trailed upward over herself, over the slender curves of her form that had pleasured more than a few men in her life. She smirked, remembering one of them, one of the door watchmen she had had her eye on for a long while, a married man who had felt such guilt over having given in to her, that he had hung himself. She shrugged the thought away. He was of no consequence. He hadn't been very memorable, anyway.
She admired her smooth, waist length hair, black and glistening as a raven's wing, and her pale face, as exquisite as polished stone. Her eyes were searingly blue like her brother's. But unlike his, her eyes had the ability to appear soft and warm, and caring, she smirked, if she wanted them too. She gave herself one last admiring glance, then turned and continued to glide down the silent hall.
Théodred was right. She was far better at this than her brother, Gríma. The fool! She paused. She could hear his voice now, not far away, coming from within the room where Théodred had died. Éowyn had not left the room for hours. Perhaps he was speaking to her.
Greta paused beside the open door to listen. Her brother's voice was too soft to hear all but his low, hissing tone until she heard a flurry of movement, followed by Éowyn's voice, thick with emotion as she exclaimed, "Leave me alone, snake!"
"Oh, but you are alone." Gríma's voice returned in a low, vicious hiss. "Who knows what you've spoken to the darkness in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink. The walls of your bower closing in about you. A hutch to trammel some-, wild thing."
Greta smirked. She had hated Éowyn for as long as she had known her, and she rejoiced to hear that the king's niece might be living a bitter life now, with her brother banished, her cousin dead, and her uncle's mind steeped in Saruman's poison.
"So fair." Gríma continued beyond the doorway in a voice that was almost gentle. "So cold. Like a morning of pale spring still clinging to winter's chill."
A long silence passed before Éowyn voice, low and angry seethed, "Your words are poison."
A flurry of skirts told her that Éowyn was coming near, and Greta calmed herself appropriately as the king's niece came rushing through the doorway, clad in a gown of flowing white, her long hair left unbound, her fair face, lightly sprinkled with a dusting of freckles was filled with terrible grief and anger, her eyes shining with tears.
"Oh, my- my lady!" Greta cried, feigning surprise as Éowyn brushed past her, ignoring her. "What-, is wrong?"
Éowyn paused, and gave a glance to Greta over her shoulder. A cold glance, almost as if she knew her for what she was. The doubts flew through Greta's mind, but did not show on her face which had taken on the expression of a caring, long suffering friend.
"My lady." She murmured, pushing tears to her eyes that fell prettily from her black lashes onto her pale cheek. She hurried forward, and grasped Éowyn's hand. "It is your cousin. The prince. Théodred. He is-," she curved her face into an expression of terrible sorrow. "He is dead, my lady?"
"Save your tears, Greta." Éowyn grated through her trembling lips, her own tears speckling her fair cheeks as she jerked her hand away. "I do not wish to see them shed by anyone to whom Théodred meant nothing." She finished with a look of sickened disgust upon her face, "No more than any of your other men."
"My lady!" Greta cried, her voice one of shocked and sudden pain. "How can you speak thusly? You are too wise to give heed to what were naught but idle rumors. Please!"
Wordlessly, Éowyn turned and stormed away, out of her living quarters and through the Great Hall, where her uncle sat upon his throne, grey and aged before his time. She glanced at him once, as if hoping to see some sign of recognition in his face, some hint of life in him. Coming from behind her, Greta smiled at Éowyn's pathetic hopeless pleading as the king's niece turned away with a soft groan of hopelessness and darted through the great hall, flinging the doors open, and flying out upon the porch as if she were running from something. Light streamed in upon Greta, and a gentle breeze puffed in, and sifted through her dark hair.
A smirk touched Greta's face at Éowyn's obvious frustration. Though she clearly wished to be free of something, the lady had nowhere to go. She would pace about as a trapped animal for a time, and then knowing she had no other recourse, she would have to return. She could not save Rohan. Not on her own, at least. And there was no one who would ever save her.
"You are a fool." She mumbled beneath her breath to Gríma as he came slowly from behind and paused, seeing his sister standing in the hall, watching after the departed maiden. "You think you can win her with pretty words? She will always despise you."
"Silence, wench." Gríma hissed at her, grasping her arm in a pinching, painful hold.
"Does it matter? Rohan is mine. It is only a matter of time when she will be, as well."
"Is Rohan indeed yours?" Greta laughed bitterly, pulling her arm away. "Then I am terribly mistaken, dear brother! I thought it was Saruman's!"
At that, Gríma slapped her harshly before he took her by the throat, and sneered into her face, "Someday, Saruman with writhe beneath my heel." He finished in a bitter whisper. "And so will you."
"I think not." Greta smiled, wrenching her face away from his hold. "But it is you who will be beneath mine."
She turned away from him, and with proper humble step, slow and subdued, she walked away from him, out onto the windy porch lined with ruined, tattered flags, beneath the somber grey sky where Éowyn stood, gazing out over the empty plain as if for help that would never come.
"My lady, please." She pleaded, drawing near and touching Éowyn lightly on the wrist. She fought a sneer that was coming to her face envisioning herself pushing the king's niece over the steep ledge of stone. But with so many guards looking on, she dared not. "Surely you know how I felt about him. That he did not return my love does not lessen the pain for me, now that he is gone."
"No more of your lies, Greta." Éowyn snapped, turning quickly, her eyes flashing with angry fire. "Your brother may have claimed my uncle's mind. But you could not claim Théodred. And you will not defeat me."
Without another word, Éowyn turned away, and continued to gaze out over the vast plain. Éowyn, perhaps knew of the darkness in Greta's heart. But Greta would never admit her defeat.
Greta drew back a step, subdued, her hands clasped before her with the air of an unhappily wronged, though still faithful friend, and she followed Éowyn's gaze across the vast, wind swept plain, her eyes stopping suddenly upon a group of three horses, two white, and one a copper brown, drawing near toward the gate.
A cold fear gripped her heart. Gandalf was one of the riders. A deep, sudden terror tore at her shaking her to the center of her being, and she almost turned to dart back inside. But then she stopped, for her eyes had fallen on the rider beside Gandalf. An Elf, he appeared to be. Yes, he had the fair features, and the tipped ears that marked his race.
He had a passenger with him, a Dwarf, but her eyes did not linger long on that ugly, stunted one, and her eyes flashed hungrily back upon the Elf. His flawless face was ageless and innocent, yet the wisdom of centuries lay within his eyes, his studied, sober gaze at once both frightening and alluring. The Elf's hair was long and golden, not like the dirty, stringy straw-hair of the Rohirrim. His exquisite body was lean and strong, taut, like a drawn bow, magnificent yet deadly. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Not even Théodred could match him. He was perfect. And she wanted him.