Through Shadows

Thanwen

Chapter 005

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Chapter 5


Hemlock

And so Merry was sent to Faramir, and while that day lasted they talked together, and Faramir learned much, more even than Merry put into words; and he thought that he understood now something of the grief and unrest of Éowyn of Rohan.

quoted from:The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book Five by J.R.R. Tolkien.


Minas Tirith, 20th March 3019, Third Age

„Lady Éowyn?" A soft voice woke her, and opening her eyes, she noticed the Halfling's worried face hovering over her. The room was dim, the sunlit square of the window having turned to dull grey. She tried to sit up, which proved difficult, as her limbs were entangled in the heavy robe. Her broken arm was throbbing painfully and she realised that she must have lain on it at an awkward angle. Managing finally, she frowned. It could not already be evening, could it? Then she noticed that Merry was standing on a footstool beside her bed. Had she dreamt smashing it? Had she perhaps also dreamt her meetings with the Warden and with that...Steward? Had the young Rider's death been a dream, too? Seeing her bafflement, Merry hurried to explain.

"I'm sorry to come so late, Lady Éowyn. Prince Imrahil's manservant already came in the afternoon and brought some sweetmeats and those shoes." He pointed over to the chair where a pair of straw-soled shoes lay. "But the Lord Faramir summoned me, and I have been together with him till now."

"The Lord Faramir?" She did not manage entirely to keep the pungency out of her voice.

The Halfling nodded, blushing deeply. "Yes, he sent for me, and he asked me about how I came to Minas Tirith and about you and Gandalf and simply everyone and everything. But most of all he wanted to know about Boromir."

"That can surely be understood, as you were one who saw him die," Éowyn nodded. "It must have at least been a comforting fact to learn that his brother died fighting valiantly."

Merry shrugged. "He already knew. I first thought that one of the others, I mean the members of the Fellowship, had told him, but he seems to have had some kind of vision of his dead brother." He gave Éowyn an insecure glance. "I'm afraid I don't really understand, my lady, but he was convinced that he had died well."

Skidding to the edge of the bed, Éowyn let her legs dangle. Wordlessly Merry stepped down and shoved the stool under her feet. "The healer told me not to disturb you and that you needed your sleep, but you have not eaten since breakfast and it is past supper time now. That cannot be healthy. And I promised your brother to make sure that you eat. I had better get you some soup and then you can have some of the sweetmeats as dessert."

Before she could stop him, he scurried out of the door. With a groan Éowyn stood, walked over to the window and opened it with the help of the stool. Evening had obviously come, and dusk was already obscuring the low hedge in front of her window. She must have slept for hours. Shifting uneasily, she tried to arrange her broken arm in a less painful position, but to no avail. Cursing under her breath, she went back to sit on the edge of the bed. She would have to ask the healers to reposition the splints. And with embarrassment she realized she would have to use the chamberpot.

A knock at the door caught her attention, but to her surprise it was not Merry coming back but Ioreth, carrying a jug of steaming water. Looking her over with a quick movement of her head, the old women smiled hesitantly. "I hope you slept well, my lady. I did not want to wake you for any meals as you seemed to sleep soundly for the first time in all these past days. And certainly a good sleep does half of the healing. But now you had better refresh yourself a bit before you take a bite. They have a nice chicken soup today, just the thing that mends everything. So, if you would come over, my lady and let me help you. Or would you like to relieve yourself first?"

Éowyn barely managed to suppress a groan. The torrent of words simply seemed to be unquenchable, and Éomer was not at hand to exercise his glare. She stepped over behind the screen, and Ioreth followed her, all the time chattering like one of the magpies that nested in the large chestnut trees below the kitchens of Meduseld. But in contrast to her garrulity all her movements were skilled and to the point and not a single motion was wasted. Grudgingly Éowyn had to acknowledge the crone's efficiency as by the time Marry came back, carrying a tray with a small bowl of creamy soup and a mug of tea, Ioreth had not only helped her to wash and change her garments for a nightgown and that voluminous dark-blue robe, but had also put the splints back to their original position. That woman certainly was an able healer. If only one could gag her while she worked!

Éowyn took a seat in the chair, the tray on her knees, and when they were finally left on their own, Merry sat down on the stool. The soup smelled tempting, and with sudden surprise Éowyn realised that she was hungry. She frowned. For how long had she not felt the urge to eat? She had eaten nevertheless, knowing she needed to eat to stay strong to face and master the dangers that surrounded her, but she had not cared about the taste or smell of food. Dipping the spoon into the creamy contents of the bowl in front of her, she grimaced. What a paradox that just at the moment when any chance of an honourable life in Middle Earth was drawing to a close her body decided to turn back to the enjoyment of petty pleasures like food and sleep.

"There surely is no need to spurn this soup, Lady Éowyn. Just have a taste and you'll see. There is nothing like a good chicken soup. My mother always says it can even revive the dead." Realizing what he had said, Merry blushed, but Éowyn just gave him a grin.

"I'm afraid if it was that easy to reach eternal life, chickens would have become extinct long ago. But certainly a hot soup is something good." She started eating, and if the smell already had been nice, the taste was even better. Watched closely by Merry, she slowly emptied her bowl, leaving but a few spoonfuls of the soft rice that was making the dish more filling.

Merry cocked his head. "Don't you like it? I first thought it was some kind of pearl barley, but they told me it's called rice. "

Smiling, she shook her head. "No, quite the contrary. I like it, though up to now I have only had rice as a kind of sweet dish, cooked with milk, honey and spices. My mother used to make a kind of pudding from it in winter, a tradition her mother had brought to the Mark from Gondor. But I'm full. I certainly have eaten more than at any other meal for quite a time."

The hobbit grinned happily. "I wish your brother could see you, my lady. Whatever he has to face out there, this would certainly ease his worries."

"I wonder where they might be now. I wish I had a map and could talk to someone who knows the lay of the land." With a sigh Éowyn rose and put the bowl on the bedside table. Only now she spotted the small earthenware pot that stood on it. Curiously she opened the lid. It held what seemed to be cubes of orange and yellow fruit and a number of small red, cherry-like orbs, all of them looking as if glazed.

"That's the sweets they brought from Prince Imrahil's house today," Merry explained. "Crystallised cherries, pumpkin, and ginger."

"And what are they like? Or am I wrong and you did not sample one?" Merry met her wry gaze totally unabashed.

"I certainly tried them. I need to be able to counsel you, don't I?" Grinning, he pointed at the cherries. "They look nicer than they taste. They are very sweet, but there is not much cherry taste left in them. The pumpkin is quite nice, crunchy on the outside and mellow in the middle, but those ginger cubes..." He shook his head, shuddering with abhorrence. "I have never tasted anything that disgusting."

Smiling, she handed him the pot. "Have some pumpkin as dessert then, King's Squire." While the hobbit eagerly complied she walked over to the window again. It was almost dark by now, and there was not really much to be seen anyway, but the draft of fresh air gave her at least a faint impression of being in the open. She squared her shoulders. If she was going to meet that Gondorean again the next day she had better prepare herself as well as possible. Without turning, she addressed the hobbit. "So tell me, Master Holdwine, what is that Steward like?"

She felt Merry's hesitation, and a wave of anger swept through her. So that was the way it would go. The king's squire had spent one day in the company of that man, and already he was wavering in his sense of duty. Swivelling round, she glared at him, but to her surprise she did not see any awkwardness on his face, only deep thoughtfulness.

Finally Merry scratched his head and spoke. "I'm not sure what to say, my lady. I found him quite...well, overwhelming." He shrugged. "Not in a negative way, though, mind you. Quite the opposite. Though he certainly is a high lord and most noble, and as Pippin told me an able captain who is much loved and admired by his men, he... Well, he did not lord over me, if you get my meaning. I mean, I felt most awkward, even somehow afraid when they told me the Lord Faramir had summoned me. You see, his brother died, defending Pippin and me against those monsters, and Pippin told me about being interviewed by Lord Denethor, which had not been agreeable at all... So I expected things to be...well, more stressful and demanding."

Rising, Merry put the pot back on the bedside table, before continuing. "But the Lord Faramir was totally different. I don't know how to put it, but he reminded me..." He hesitated, and Éowyn braced herself for the inevitable comparison to him, the heir of the most noble Númenorean line. Merry grimaced. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but he reminded me of Gandalf."

"Of Gandalf?" Éowyn found it difficult not to gape in surprise. What in Béma's name had the lord and warrior she had met that morning to do with that old wizard?

Merry nodded, a sheepish expression on his face. "I know it sounds all wrong. He's young, and I think people would call him handsome, and he's a lord and all... And there certainly are facial similarities with Boromir, though his stature resembles much more that of Strider, Lord Aragorn, I mean, but somehow they are totally different." His hands deep in the pockets of his worn-out trousers, Merry started to pace the room, obviously in an attempt to order his thoughts. Intrigued, Éowyn waited, surprised that the mentioning of the name had not hurt as much as she had expected. Finally Merry stopped and turned his face up to her.

"When I met the Lord Aragorn first, he was disguised as a Ranger, but still I could not help the feeling that he was... No, I should start differently." He grimaced. "You see, the Lord Boromir was all nice and friendly to us, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude, but there always was some difference between us hobbits and him. He so obviously was a lord and warrior, and after Rivendell I could not help noticing the like in Aragorn, and though I certainly love him dearly, and not only for all he has done for us hobbits, I know he is... Well, he lives on a different level than me, if you get me. I know that there never can be the closeness and unquestioned confidence that I would have with a fellow-hobbit. Not so with Gandalf."

Éowyn shook her head. "But that does not make any sense, for certainly the difference between a hobbit and a wizard is even greater."

Merry nodded. "It certainly is, but it does not seem to matter. With Gandalf I always knew he was someone exceptional, someone who is a member of this world and yet part of a greater, a divine power. I knew, or rather sensed it. He is much greater than we hobbits can comprehend, but he nevertheless seems to understand us. Not only our thoughts, mind you, but rather all of us, our entire being. He knows our strong points and our weaknesses, our boons and our flaws, but he does not judge us." He shrugged helplessly. "I'm afraid it doesn't make much sense."

Éowyn frowned. "I would not say so. As far as Greyhame is concerned it certainly makes sense, but I do not grasp how the young Steward of Gondor can resemble that mighty wizard, for certainly he does not have divine powers."

"He certainly has not. But he has the same attitude. This ability to make you feel understood and accepted." Merry raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I have to admit I felt lonely without Pippin. Lonely and worried. And when they summoned me to the Steward I expected to be interrogated. And then he spoke to me, and after a short time I felt at ease and I just talked." He gave Éowyn a sheepish glance. "I know he selected the topics, steered my talk, and yet he left me enough...well, enough room somehow. He did not press me, even when he might not have been satisfied with my answers, and he did not try to corner me, he just let me talk. Only now and then he asked for more details, but always in a way that made me feel I had a choice. And yet I am sure I told him more than I myself realised. He understood more than I said. And that is what Gandalf did."

"So certainly he's a dangerous man if he can give you such a profound false sense of security."

Merry shook his head. "Don't get me wrong. I am sure it was no way a false sense of security. I am convinced I really was safe with him, like I was with Gandalf. I trust him." He scratched his head. "I suppose you are right and such powers could be used for evil purposes. Why, I saw Saruman and I heard his voice. Certainly that wizard managed to touch the minds and hearts of the people listening to him, but different from Gandalf, he did not let them be. He tried to plant his will in them to master them." He shook his head. "Hearing Saruman's voice I felt as if his thoughts were worming into my brain. Gandalf would never do anything like that. Though he'd push you to get yourself going." He hesitated. "You see, we all have things that are occupying our minds, troubling our hearts. And if we cannot open ourselves to anybody in confidence, it's getting somehow overcrowded inside us. At least that's what it is like with us hobbits," he added with a blush. "Well, and that Lord Faramir... He certainly wanted to get certain news, but he must have sensed how awkward I felt, what with Pippin gone and all that." He shrugged. "It was as if I had all these thoughts and worries running wild inside my head, but I could not let them out to get rid of them. I could not talk about them, as if the door was shut and I could not open it. Mind you, he did not force me to open up, did not even ask me to, but he talked to me and it felt as if he just gently opened the door a small crack, just helped me at the point where it was stuck and then left it for me to decide if I wanted to open it or not."

Shaking her head, Éowyn looked at the hobbit in surprise. How could someone talk about his feelings in such a direct way? Admit his fears, his needs? And what was more, to a total stranger. Well, she was warned, and she would certainly be wary of the Steward's cunning should she meet him the next day. Inviting Merry with a motion of her hand to take a seat in the wicker chair, she sat on the edge of the bed, determined to learn as much as possible of what the hobbit had told that Gondorean, and what was more, what that man had directly asked about.

"Well, Master Holdwine, but you said he asked for information about certain people, didn't you? And if I remember correctly, you said that he wanted to know about me, was that right?"

The room was nearly dark by now, but she could see the colour of a fierce blush rising in his face.

"Yes, he did ask. He wanted to know how it came that I was on the battlefield in your company, for he had already heard about you killing the Witchking." The hobbit wriggled uncomfortably in his chair. "I told him that Aragorn had left me in the king's care and that King Théoden had refused to take me with his army to Minas Tirith, and then how a young Rider who called himself Dernhelm had offered to take me with him secretly, and how I had not realised that it had been you, even though I had seen you before and even had talked to you." He shrugged. "It just had not occurred to me that any woman might ride into battle, and so I did not see a woman because I did not expect to see a woman. Well, and then he told me about the tradition of the Shieldmaidens, and how that went back far into the years when the realm of the Northmen in Rhovannion was overrun by the Wainriders who came out of the east. And he told me about their long resistance against the Easterlings and how their women fought alongside the men, until they finally moved over to the upper vales of the Anduin to become the Éotheod."

"He seems to be quite a scholar, that Steward. I just wonder why he took such an interest in the history of the Eorlingas."

"Oh, he told me that between his brother Boromir and Prince Théodred there had been great friendship. And his brother had been eager to learn as much as he could about his friend's traditions and history, but he could not be bothered to open a single book. And therefore the Lord Faramir had read any book about Rohan in the library of Minas Tirith he could lay his hands on, and whenever they met, he reported what he had found out. He asked me about Prince Théodred too, as he had never met him." The hobbit shrugged. "I suppose, he somehow wanted to find out if Boromir had done right to like him that much. But as you know I have never met the prince, because he fell when Pippin and I were still in the hands of the Uruks."

If Boromir had done right... Staring into the gathering darkness of the room with unseeing eyes, Éowyn heaved a deep breath. "If ever there was a thing that Boromir, Denethor's son, did right while he lived it was to cherish the friendship of Théodred, for there are few men who would love their friends that true and wholeheartedly as Théoden King's son. Alas, great hearts and great warriors they both were, but it eases my heart to know that they now will ride side by side in Béma's éohere."

Just when Merry was about to answer, Lhindir entered to bring them one of the typical Gondorean oil lamps and collect Éowyn's bowl. Putting the small earthen lamp on the bedside table, the young healer's eye fell on the still opened pot with the sweets, and though he did not utter anything, Éowyn saw his mouth form an O in utter surprise. "Feel free to take them with you, Lhindir. Though perhaps it would be kind if you left the pumpkin pieces for Master Merry."

"But you have not even tried them," protested the hobbit.

Lhindir turned towards Éowyn. "Oh, but that you really should, my lady. These are no simple sweetmeats, these are specialities of Dol Amroth. There is nothing like those cherries, and the ginger is said to be very good for convalescence."

"Ah, well." With a rakish grin Éowyn reached for one of the yellow cubes and bit it in half, delighting in the hobbit's horrified face. The first impression was one of nearly cloying sweetness, but as she started to chew a sudden piercing hotness assaulted her mouth, adding to the spicy taste of the ginger. She opened her mouth slightly and drew a deep breath, relishing in the sensation of the contradicting feeling of cool and hot at the same time.

"How can you endure that horrible taste? Nay, even enjoy it?" Merry shuddered with disgust, much to Lhindir's and Éowyn's amusement.

"Well, Master Holbytla, how about sharing the prince's gift according to our tastes? You take the pumpkin, Lhindir the cherries, and the ginger is left to me."

Even in the dim light of the lamp Éowyn could see the young healer blush. "You are very kind, my lady. But those cherries..." He stopped, looking embarrassed and even younger that his actual youth.

"Is there anything special about them?"Merry piped in.

"Well..." Lhindir hesitated. "They are often given as a special treat amongst lovers, and..."

The hobbit chuckled. "That's the same in the Shire. Though we use the fresh ones, and pretending there was a drop of juice to be caught that threatened to stain ones sweetheart's garment is a favourite pretext to steal a kiss. Give them to your sweetheart and spend a nice evening."

Seeing Lhindir's cheeks glow with embarrassment, Éowyn came to his rescue. "Is there any news from Marshal Elfhelm's advance in Anorien yet, Lhindir? I heard Mareth say last night that wounded might come in ."

The young healer shook his head. "No, my lady. There is no news yet and no wounded either. But Captain Grimboern said that did not mean anything, as he was sure that even after a successful battle Marshal Elfhelm would not risk any wounded being transported back to the city without cover, and he would need every man to make sure that even the last dispersed orc-bands were hunted down. And we did send healers with them", he added after a pause. "Skilled men who would perform the most necessary treatment so the wounded could be transported back to the city later." With a wry smile he shrugged. "I would have liked to go, but I cannot even sit a chair properly with my mangled hip, let alone a horse."

"But how then can you do the arduous work here in the Houses with such a severe handicap?" Merry blurted out.

Lhindir shrugged. "I have no problems standing and kneeling, I can walk sufficiently and if I take certain precautions when lying down, I manage to sleep quite undisturbed. So all in all I'm fit to perform a good job."

"You certainly perform more than just a good job," Éowyn assured him, "And the Eorlingas will not forget yours and your fellow-healers' commitment. And now just go and fetch something to carry the cherries in, Lhindir. It would be a pity to let them go waste."

The young healer nodded, and taking Éowyn's empty bowl with him, he hurriedly left the room.

Merry sighed. "I did not mean to embarrass him, my lady. It just is so...frustrating that all around me people are doing so much, even being hampered, and I am sitting here, like a forgotten piece of luggage and... Oh!" His eyes going wide, he covered his mouth. "I'm sorry, my lady, I did not mean..."

With a crooked smile, Éowyn shook her head. "No, you certainly did not. But you should think before you speak, Merry."

He hung his head. "I know, my lady. But I miss them all so much, and Pippin the most of all." He sighed. "And to know that they are out there, facing incredible horror, perhaps suffering pain... And I cannot help them, or at least be with them and share their fate..." Averting his face, he wiped his eyes.

"They do what needs to be done and we should be proud of being their friends. And it is our duty to strive in their honour and prepare ourselves for a last stand should the enemy overwhelm them despite their commitment and courage. We owe them, King's Squire."

Merry nodded. "That's exactly what he said."

"He?" Éowyn frowned.

"The Lord Faramir. He said, we who have to stay behind have to do what we can, and I believe you are right. I had better stop whining and look for a task I can master." Slowly a grin stole into his face. "Perhaps I should start running errands for the healers like that young son of Beregond."

"There are not only boys doing such jobs, Holdwine. A number of lightly injured Riders are staying in the houses to assist the healers and make their comrades more comfortable. So if you want to, you may accompany me tomorrow on a visit to the wounded, and we'll see what there is to be done."

The hobbit nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, my lady, I certainly would like that. At least it would take away this terrible feeling of uselessness." Giving her an uncertain glance, he shrugged. "I always thought it was terrible to leave loved-ones behind, but certainly being left behind is much more terrible. And how terrible must this feeling be for someone who has to see her sweetheart march off to battle."

Éowyn blinked. Having arrived after that cursed morning at Dunharrow, the halfling could not know about her humbling herself in front of him. Could it be that she had given away anything? But his thoughtful mien did not hint at anything like that. Again he shrugged.

"Not that I have a sweetheart back in the Shire. But take the Lord Aragorn. I pitied him so much when I saw him sitting in the yard the evening of our departure from Rivendell, his head bent down to his knees. And certainly he suffered a lot, and I was right to feel for him. But now, being left behind myself, I can only wonder why I never wasted a single thought on the Lady Arwen, who certainly did not grieve less, and who did not have anything in front of her but to watch and wait." The hobbit shook his head. "How wrong I have been."

Éowyn felt her nails digging painfully into her palm as she clutched her hand, carefully controlling her breath and mien, not to give away anything of her agitation.

"Who is she? That lady." She could not help but notice a certain edge in her own voice.

"Lady Arwen?" Merry looked up in surprise. "Oh, she's Master Elrond's daughter. Elrond Halfelven that is, the Lord of Rivendell or Imladris, as the Elves say. The place Boromir went to find the answer to Lord Faramir's dream. I suppose you know about that dream?"

Éowyn nodded. "Yes, I do. The Steward's son came through Edoras on his way north and he told Prince Théodred about it." She moved a bit backwards to keep her face out of the lamplight before she launched the next question. "So why do you think the daughter of an Elven lord should grieve for Isildur's heir?"

Merry avoided her glance, and she could see the blush creep into his face. "Well, he never talked about it, and nor did anybody else. But I noticed that he sat at her and Lord Elrond's side in the Hall the night we listened to the Elvish minstrels. And then... I certainly did not mean to spy or do anything improper, but the day Aragorn was to leave the valley together with the sons of Elrond, I was awake very early in the morning. And I decided to have a look at the maps in Elrond's library." Fidgeting awkwardly, the hobbit looked at his hands. "Well, and when I entered the antechamber, I caught a glimpse of Lord Aragorn and Lady Arwen, standing close to one of the large windows and obviously saying good-bye." He cleared his throat. "They did not notice me, as I retreated immediately and they were too occupied with each other anyway. I mean, they were embracing and kissing."

Éowyn held her breath to keep herself from screaming. An Elven woman! And she had been stupid enough to think she might win his attention! What a fool she had made of herself. Slowly exhaling through her nose, she regained her composure. "So he is married to said lady?"

Merry shrugged. "I don't know for sure, Lady Éowyn. But her brothers, the Lords Elrohir and Elladan have come with Aragorn's kinsmen from the north. You certainly have seen them. Well, and they call him "muindor", and if I am not entirely mistaken, that means "brother"."

"You know the language of the Elves?"

"Just a few words. It was my cousin Frodo who was mostly interested in languages of all kinds, like old Master Bilbo. But I heard them talk about it, and I picked it up because I was intrigued by anything about Strider, the Lord Aragorn, I mean. They call him Dunadan in Rivendell, Man of the West. But to tell the truth, I do not know much about him, and even less about his lady, as I have only seen her a few times."

"What does she look like?" Éowyn cursed inwardly, hearing herself utter the question. So much for speaking without thinking! But the hobbit seemed to be oblivious. He only scratched his head.

"Oh my, that is difficult to describe. She is most beautiful, more beautiful that any woman I've seen, but then she's elvish, so that can be expected. She has dark hair and grey eyes like her brothers, but where they are stern and fierce she is..." He scratched his head. "I don't know if soft is the right word. She certainly is very serious and composed. I have seen her smile but once. And yet there is a certain softness, something like the calm of a summer's night. But I'm no poet, my lady, and a beauty like hers would certainly require a poet to praise it adequately."

She was sure he could not make out her features when he looked up. The light from the lamp fell full on his face. He grimaced. "Anyway, poet or not, such beauty is nothing that could really warm a hobbit's innards. Too ethereal for my taste. But then, being a hobbit I'm closer to the ground so it is no wonder that my taste is more earthy."

Lhindir's coming back spared her any answer, but when the young healer stepped closer to transfer the cherries into a small chipwood box he had brought, one single gaze at Éowyn's face sufficed for him to notice the difference. "My lady?" His scrutinising glance went down to her broken arm. "Are you in pain? Shall I fetch you some remedy?"

She shook her head. "No, thank you, Lhindir. It is nothing. But I suppose I should lie down again and sleep some more."

The healer's eyes narrowed slightly, but he bowed in acceptance. "Shall I send one of the women to assist you, my lady?"

She denied, and he left, wishing her a restful night. Merry too had risen, and now stood abashed, nervously fumbling the hem of his sleeves.

"Lady Éowyn..."

She shook her head. "No, Master Holbytla, don't you worry. Nothing in what you said should have caused me pain, and I do not doubt your good will. But I would like to be alone now."

He bowed and left, the worried expression never leaving his face. Slowly Éowyn doffed the robe and let it fall across the chair. How ridiculous must she have been in his eyes, a mere child compared to his years, a waif compared to the standing and beauty of his lady. And how could she not have thought that a lord like him, of his standing and age, more than certainly would be married? Who knew if not amongst the Grey Company that had followed him so fearlessly to the Path of the Dead had been his sons, acknowledged warriors, and most probably themselves more than twice her own age? How could she have been that blind, that stupid?

And yet, would it have stalled her admiration for him had she known? What had it been except admiration that had caught her like a jumping salmon in an invisible net once she had set her eyes on him? What had she seen in him that day he rode into Edoras in the company of wizard, elf and dwarf? What had he been but a stern-faced, dour warrior? Oh, she had soon come to know the claim he had made when setting down his sword at Théoden King's threshold, and seeing the man at once she had realised that the claim was true.

Crawling under the covers, she stared at the ceiling where the light of the lamp drew circles, rippling across the painted wood as the flame flicked in the draught from the slightly opened window. How many nights had she lain like this, pondering? And how many nights had she been listening for the noise of steps in the corridor. Steps that stopped in front of her barred door, raising the image of the Worm before her inner eye, as he sniffed her scent like the cursed Hound of Darkness.

And then he had come, like a gale from the north, waking Théoden King from the spell-laden dotage that worm of Saruman had laid on Eorl's House. Isildur's heir. And her pondering had changed, as she had imagined herself the blissful queen at his side. She grimaced. What had that been but childish dreams of escape? And even if he had chosen her, what difference would that have made? Had he not made clear to her that for him a woman belonged in the house? There was no use to fool herself, to try to forget the bitter talk they had had.

To be left behind... To wait for whatever fate would deal out... Helpless, with nothing but dreams of past bliss and the desperate hope that he would return hale. A woman's fate. She gritted her teeth. She was a Shielmaiden of Eorl's House and she had chosen a different path. Perhaps she had neglected her duty, but had not Frithuswith taken over? Frithuswith who had known, had understood, had not asked a single question but had helped her don her armour instead. How she wished to see the old woman once again, to sit in the warmth of the huge kitchen...

She clenched her hand at the thought of her self-inflicted humiliation. Would she really have acted differently had she known him to be bound to a woman back home in the north? She had begged him to take her with him into battle, cried and even knelt in front of him. She had wanted to fight at his side, fall in the sheen of his glory, but would she have acted differently had she known about his elvish wife? Slowly she opened her cramped fist. It was no use to try to cheat herself. She would have wanted to leave, to plunge into battle nevertheless. And nevertheless he would have rebuked her and left her behind. Not because she had desired to be the woman at his side, something his honour demanded to rebuke, but simply because she was a woman. A creature bound to house and hearth, a reward for the victorious warrior returning to his home.

And suddenly Éowyn's heart went out to that lonely woman, left behind somewhere in that hidden vale of the north, and with surprise she realised that she pitied her for the treacherous hope she might be fostering.


Annotations:

Hemlock: (Conium maculatum) a poisonous plant that was also used for medical issues but is deadly if not dealt with carefully


I would like to thank all those who reviewed. I PM everyone who leaves a signed review, so this is an attempt to thank the "guests". ;)

And as always many, many thanks go to Lady Bluejay for beta-reading.

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