A Lord of the Rings fanfiction
By Sarah Levesque
Author’s note – As this story overlaps Tolkien’s original work quite a lot, I have used many quotes from The Two Towers and The Return of the King (starting in my Chapter 8). For Maebh I’m indebted to my good friend Killarney Traynor, who wrote of Eowyn from Maebh’s point of view in “The Lady of Rohan” (https://fellowshipandfairydust.com/2019/05/13/the-lady-of-rohan/ ).
To the Reader – If you notice any problems, please contact me or drop a comment telling me what and where the problem is so I can fix it. Thanks!
Part One: Aldor
Eowyn stood at the top of the stair to Edoras, watching the company of horsemen grow smaller and smaller as they rode to protect yet another village attacked by orcs. Any who looked upon the White Lady had their spirits lifted by the show of grace, inner strength and devotion to her brother Eomer and cousin Theodred, riding again into the distance without her. But Eowyn’s thoughts were not about her relatives, but with one of the men riding beside them. Aldor he was called, named after the great king of old.
Eowyn had noticed him the previous year, when he pledged his loyalty to the king, as was the custom when a man came of age. Théoden King had heard his oath without comment, without feeling, without thanks. Eowyn had felt sorry for the young man, as she had felt sorry for many another warrior who pledged his loyalty to the weak old man who cared not. But these men found able leaders in her cousin Theodred, in her brother Eomer, and in their friend Elfhelm. The riders of Theodred and Eomer were making a name for themselves, bringing succor to beleaguered villages and death to all orcs that crossed their path. Despite the differences in age, the two cousins were extremely close and often joined their éoreds together. Aldor, like many another young man before him, found a place among them. Eowyn would have taken no more notice of him than any other had it not been for a chance meeting.
She had been practicing her swordplay in a dark, quiet area in Edoras. She had dulled the shine of her blade so no light would reflect from it and attract attention, as no one knew she had it. All she knew she had learned by copying others in secret, especially her brother, and fighting in secret with her friend Maebh in childhood. Daily she went through the exercises Eomer had been taught as a child. She had been going through them when suddenly a man’s voice from behind her said, “You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times.”
Before the speaker had said three words, Eowyn had whirled around and found herself pointing her sword at the young man who had made his pledge a month before. She looked to see signs of mockery in his face, but found none. She sighed.
“I thought that I was good at being aware, at least. Apparently not.”
“Or perhaps I am not one of your cousin’s scouts for nothing,” he returned.
She inclined her head, accepting the words as a balm to her ruffled pride.
“Aldor at your service, my lady,” he said, bowing. “Would it be an accurate guess to say that no one knows about this?” He nodded at her sword, and she realized that she still had it pointed at him. Suddenly flustered, she lowered it, shaking her head in answer to his question.
“Not even Lord Eomer?”
Again, she shook her head. “They want me to be a lady, not understanding that the blood of warriors sings in my veins too.”
Aldor nodded solemnly. “Why should you not be both, as the shieldmaidens of old?”
Eowyn found herself smiling at him. “That is my thought, too, which I argued as a child. But no one would hear me but my friend – not my uncle, nor my brother, nor my cousin. So I have practiced all these years, watched boys training in secret all these years, hidden all the books I could find on the subject all these years. But it seems for naught, as you startled me so easily.”
“It was not all that easy,” Aldor admitted. “I confess, this is not the first time I’ve tried to meet you this way, but you always kept your guard up so I could not surprise you, until today.”
Years of training for the Hall kept Eowyn’s face nearly blank, but her eyes widened fractionally in surprise, and her cheeks turned a shade more red.
“Thank you for your kind words,” she said, wondering how her voice could be so steady.
He bowed slightly in response, then said, “Perhaps my lady could use a tutor, or perhaps a partner, as she practices?”
“I would welcome your company and advice,” Eowyn said boldly. “I have long yearned for a way to learn more than these boyish exercises, despite their necessity.”
And thus began Eowyn’s lessons in swordplay, held nearly every day that Theodred’s éored stayed in the great Hall. As Eowyn had long made it her habit to ride out each morning and each afternoon, it proved fairly simple to meet away the walls and the eyes of Edoras. And under Aldor’s tutelage, Eowyn became stronger, faster, and better and wielding her sword. She was more confident and bold, and even began laughing with Aldor.
One morning, after the éoreds of Eomer and Théoden had ridden off to aid yet another village attacked by orcs, Eowyn sat sewing in a common area, humming a jaunty tune under her breath and thinking of Aldor, when she felt the air shift and sensed a cold presence. She wished for the comforting grip of her sword, but settled for drawing together her courage and her dignity and looking around. There, nearly behind her, but slightly to the left, stood a man in the shadows. She recognized Grima, her uncle’s snake-like advisor, called Wormtongue behind his back. She realized that they were the only two left in the room and resolved instantly that she would always keep a lady with her from this day on, unless she was with Aldor, Eomer or Theodred.
“Has my uncle need of me?” she asked, keeping her voice calm despite her sudden fear.
“Aye. He desires that you come sing for him.” Grima had a way of breathing his words rather than speaking them, and the effect was quite disconcerting and not at all pleasant.
Eowyn rose, glad to be able to move. She felt like a mouse watched by a snake, waiting for it to strike. She walked purposefully to the throne room, Grima only one pace behind.
“How is my lady today?” he breathed.
Eowyn nearly flinched, but maintained control. “As well as can be expected with my cousin and brother riding to battle.”
“Does the lady fear for their lives?”
“War is no respecter of persons, no matter their rank or ability,” she answered shortly. She was suddenly struck by the truth she had uttered, and was glad to enter the throne room. She hurried to her uncle, holding back a shudder at his sickly appearance.
“Good morning, my Lord,” she said brightly. “Is there something specific you would like me to sing?”
Théoden King turned his head slowly to look at her, and his mouth twitched at the corners in an attempt to smile.
If only he would abdicate to Theodred, Eowyn thought, not for the first time. He could rest easy, and my cousin would put our poor Rohan to rights.
Realizing that she was not going to get a response to her question, Eowyn asked another.
“Should it be a slow song, or a fast one?”
Théoden stirred slightly. “Slow,” he wheezed, the one word barely audible.
Eowyn thought for a moment, then, thinking of Aldor, began an old ballad.
Men ride to battle, men race to fight,
Proving their courage with bold main and might.
We women are left, we women must wait,
We wait for our men, to hear of their fate.
Loolee loolay, why is this so?
Loolee loolay, why don’t we go?
We wait and we weave, we spin and we sew,
Embroider the banners they take when they go.
The banners fly high while sharp swords be wield,
Continue to fly as men die on the field.
Loolee loolay, why is this so?
Loolee loolay, why don’t we go?
When bad news cometh, our eyes must stay dry,
Though when we’re alone we might break down and cry
To think of our men lying still in the grass
Their lives cut all too short in a flash.
Loolee loolay, why is this so?
Loolee loolay, why don’t we go?
As she sang, Eowyn noticed with perverse pleasure that Grima’s face turned colors, and he glowered. Théoden sat quietly, his eyes mostly closed, his mouth uplifted in the best smile he could manage. When the song was over, he opened his eyes.
“Just… sister… sang,” he wheezed.
Eowyn nodded. “You used to like it when my mother sang to you. I sound like her?”
The king nodded his head fractionally, looking more alive than he had when she had walked through the door.
“I’m glad,” Eowyn said, smiling back at him. “Shall I sing another?”
The king’s eyes lit up, but Grima stood and said, “That’s enough singing for now. My lord is tired.”
Théoden’s eyes dimmed again and he nodded. “Yes, tired.”
“Perhaps a rousing song, then?” Eowyn persisted.
“Tired,” Théoden repeated, his eyes closing.
“You heard my lord,” Grima said imperiously. “You have been dismissed, my lady.”
Eowyn stood, incensed at this man’s treatment of his king and princess. She took Théoden’s hand and pressed it to her lips. “You have my love, Uncle,” she told him. But this did not illicit a response, so she turned and strode from the room, only just keeping her fury in check.
The longer that man is with him, the worse he gets, she fumed. I wonder if anyone else has made that connection… surely Eomer, Theodred, Hama or Elfhelm can do something about it. The thought gave her a measure of comfort. Now, to get a dagger… and fix my clothes to hide it… maybe Maebh could help… but no, her father mans the smithy alone while she is helping her cousin on the border…
By the time the men came back – all three Eowyn cared for safe and sound – she had accomplished the second of these objectives, but she had been unable to find an opportunity to acquire a dagger. She had noticed Grima’s eyes following her whenever they were in the same area, and this increased her discomfort and her desire to be able to defend herself.
Eowyn managed to find Eomer and Theodred together the day the two returned, and she voiced her concerns about Grima’s effect on the king. To her relief, both men listened to her solemnly.
“It is not for nothing that he is called ‘Wormtongue’,” Eomer spat.
“This is grave indeed, cousins, if all is as it seems,” Theodred spoke. “If he is controlling my father to the point of foregoing his favorite trifling pleasures, we must find a way to act.”
“Undoubtedly,” Eomer agreed.
“Eowyn,” Theodred said, turning to her, “have you seen any incidents besides this one?”
Eowyn shook her head. “I cannot say I have. But did not my uncle’s illness begin after Grima became his advisor? And now Grima is his only advisor, though he used to have many. And his malady seemed to me to grow worse each time an advisor was dismissed. I didn’t put any weight behind the connection before, but thought it a coincidence or a trick of my mind. But now I feel more certain.”
“More certain, but not fully certain?” Theodred asked. “What more can you tell us?”
“Nothing, save that I get a feeling of cold dread when Grima’s eyes are upon me.”
“Are they often?” Eomer asked quickly.
“More and more often these last weeks, despite my attempts to ignore, to rebuff and to hide,” she admitted, feeling a weight lifted off her shoulders.
Eomer muttered a curse. “That slimy worm! Theodred, we must do something.”
“Agreed,” Theodred answered. “But first we must decide what it is we are doing. I am heir and Marshal, but it is yet my father’s word alone that is law. We shall speak to Hama and to Elfhelm and see what they know, and if they have any ideas.”
Eowyn could not stay until they had found a solution – she had to return to her ladies quickly. She was hoping to train with Aldor later, and one long absence might be overlooked, but two would surely be noticed.
Later, Eowyn smiled when she saw Aldor riding toward her on his war horse, Windfola. She had smuggled her sword out of Edoras with her and was practicing in a dell out of sight of the city. Her horse munched grass nearby, unconcerned.
“My lady,” Aldor said by way of greeting. “I trust you are well.”
“I am. And you?”
“Well enough,” Aldor said, but Eowyn caught his quick hesitation.
“Were you hurt?”
He shrugged. “I’m fine.”
Eowyn gave him a disapproving look. “So you were hurt, then.”
“Just a scratch. I’m fine. Now, what are we working on today?”
“Daggers,” she said, allowing him to change the subject. “But I don’t have one.”
“Here,” Aldor said, unclasping his dagger sheath from his belt and handing it to her. “I can get a new one easily enough.”
“Really? You’re… you’re giving me your dagger?”
“Aye. Can’t say it’s anything special, but I’ve had it for awhile and it’s never let me down.”
“I can pay for it, of course,” Eowyn said, grateful.
“No need,” said Aldor, raising his hands as if to ward off compensation.
“You’re too kind.” Eowyn was not sure what to do next.
“Now,” Aldor continued, before it got awkward, “let’s teach you how to use it.”
He showed her some moves, both offensive and defensive, then they practiced. Eowyn did not consider stopping until she noticed Aldor was breathing hard, and she remembered his injury.
“Hold,” she said, panting. Aldor looked relieved.
When they had caught their breath, Aldor asked conversationally, “So, why did you want to learn to use a dagger all of a sudden?”
“A dagger can be concealed in my garments and still be useful.”
Aldor raised an eyebrow. “Have you been having trouble with someone?”
“Not yet,” Eowyn answered truthfully.
“Who is he?” Aldor was deadly serious now, and Eowyn was glad she was not on the receiving end of his anger that suddenly shimmered under the surface.
“Does it matter?” she asked, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yes,” he said simply.
Suddenly Eowyn had butterflies in her stomach and she wanted to tell him everything. “Grima,” she said. “He always seems to be watching me, and it makes my blood run cold. He’s never actually done anything or even said anything, it’s just that feeling.”
Aldor nodded. “I see. If he does do or say anything, would you tell me?”
Eowyn found herself nodding. “Eomer and Theodred already know, and they’re trying to come up with something, though Theodred, at least, is more focused on getting him away from the king. The king had been in fine health before Grima came, and his health declined as he dismissed his other advisors and now… well, you’ve seen him. And that man is practically running Rohan. If you can even call it that…”
Aldor was nodding. “That does make sense.”
Eowyn sighed. “Anyway, I need to get back. Someone has probably noticed my absence by now.” She whistled for her mare and she trotted up. Eowyn strapped her sword and new dagger to the saddle, covering them with a fold of the saddle blanket. In one smooth motion she mounted the horse, sitting astride easily in her long dress thanks to a clever system of slits and pleats in her skirts, common in the dresses of the women of the Mark.
“Until tomorrow?” she asked.
Aldor nodded. “Until tomorrow, my lady.”
Had she imagined it, or had he put a slight emphasis on the word my? There was no way to be sure, and she certainly could not ask him, so she nodded and turned her horse toward Edoras.
A few days later, Eowyn was talking with Eomer, and when she laughed at a joke he made, he looked at her in surprise.
“My sister laughs again, does she? It’s been far too long since I’ve heard that sound.”
“There has been no reason to laugh in an age, it seems,” she replied.
“And now there is?” Eomer looked confused. “What is it?”
Eowyn ducked her head to hide the blush she could feel heating her cheeks, but Eomer saw it anyway.
“A man, then!” he said, laughing. “It’s about time! Do I know him?”
“I think not,” Eowyn said quietly.
“It is possible.” Eowyn raised her head to meet her brother’s gaze.
“One of his éored, then?”
She nodded, a slight smile creeping to her face.
“Well, he does take the best of the lot, so as long as this man makes you happy. And it seems like he does.”
Now that Theodred, Eomer and Aldor knew of Eowyn’s discomfort around Grima, she noticed that at least one of them was either near her or near the advisor whenever the two were in the same room. Theodred was never anything but polite to Grima, but there was a disapproval in his every word. Eomer was nearly frosty in his treatment of the man, while Aldor never had any reason to interact with him, and could often be found sitting or standing between Grima and Eowyn, doing something so perfectly normal that he was invisible among the other men in the room, unless one was looking for him. Then what he was really doing seemed obvious.
Eowyn was greatly comforted and felt much safer. Grima found less opportunity to haunt her steps, between the men’s interference and the presence of all the other men in the two éoreds. When the Riders were away fighting, Eowyn didn’t feel as safe, and only the anticipation of their return, the presence of Hama and Elfhelm – men she had known her whole life – and the weight of Aldor’s dagger bumping at her side kept her anxiety over Grima at bay.
A year later, very little had changed, though Aldor and Eowyn had continued to train and to grow closer. Aldor had proven himself in battle many times over and was quickly moving up the ranks of Theodred’s éored. He was good friends with both Theodred and Eomer now, and Eowyn nearly always felt safe when they were in the city, as one of the three was always sure to be nearby. When they were gone, however, Grima was still slinking towards her too often to whisper chilling words of darkness and despair.
She would watch her men ride off, standing on the parapet of the Hall, replaying their words over and over to give her strength. Twice a day she rode out for exercise and to practice with her weapons. Every evening she watched the horizon from the walls, bolstering her courage with the thought of theirs.
One day, while waiting for Aldor to join her in the dell they often practiced in, Eowyn was practicing with her sword, as she was accustomed to. After a year of training, her movements were purposeful, powerful, and yet graceful. She did not stop practicing when she heard hoofbeats, recognizing them as belonging to Aldor’s horse Windfola. She permitted herself a smile and refocused on her routine. A few more minutes went by before she realized Aldor should have hailed her by now. She looked up to see him sitting on the grass close at hand, watching her with an air of peaceful contentment.
“Whatever are you doing?” Eowyn asked, slightly annoyed and yet flattered.
“Just watching,” Aldor replied with a lazy grin.
“Why don’t you make yourself useful and teach me something?” Eowyn retorted, unable to keep a teasing tone out of her voice or the blush off her face.
“Nay, I’ve a better idea,” he said, rising to his feet. “Put your sword away and come here.”
Mystified, Eowyn did as he asked, walking to her mare and placing her sword in its hidden sheath in her saddle.
“Put the reins over her head,” Aldor added.
Eowyn did, then walked over to him.
Aldor mounted his horse. “Do you trust me?” He had a mischievous glint in his eye.
He held out his hand, kicking his foot out of the near stirrup. “Then ride with me.”
Eowyn looked back at her horse, knowing full well Aldor wanted her to ride double.
“You whistle, she’ll follow,” Aldor reminded Eowyn. “And Windfola is easily strong enough for both of us, since I don’t have my armor or pack.”
Shrugging, Eowyn threw her cares to the wind and clasped his hand, mounting his horse behind him. “Follow,” she told her mare. “I haven’t ridden like this since I was a small child,” she added to Aldor’s back, carefully keeping a few inches between them.
He turned slightly and grinned in answer, then clicked to his horse. They began to move, faster and faster. Eowyn was soon having trouble. Not with keeping her seat – she was far too experienced of a rider for that – but with not touching Aldor. Then, when they were nearly at full gallop, she found her wrists clasped gently and her arms pulled around his waist. Giving in, she leaned against him, suddenly happier than she had felt since the death of her parents many years before. She relaxed against his back, a small portion of her mind registering surprise at the realization that she hadn’t felt relaxed as far back as she could remember. If she could have seen Aldor’s face, she would have noticed his elation, his pride and excitement. She would not have been able to identify another emotion she would have seen there – that of a fierce love.
The ride was timeless, stretching out into a glorious eternity, yet ending too soon. For eventually they began to slow, and finally they stopped.
Eowyn looked up. Aside from the two horses and themselves, there was nothing in sight but grass.
“What are we doing here?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Aldor said. Eowyn felt his shoulders rise and fall in a shrug, but he turned his head to grin at her. She smiled back without reserve.
“Whatever you say, Aldor,” she murmured.
“You know what I say?” he asked. He disengaged her arms, swung down from Windfola and looked up into her eyes. “I say I love you.”
“You do?” Eowyn was surprised. No one had said that to her before except her mother, long ago.
“I do!” Suddenly Aldor’s voice changed from confident to almost pleading. “Do you love me?”
“I don’t know,” she answered slowly. “I don’t think I know how to love. I’m not even sure I know what love is.”
Aldor nodded thoughtfully. “Love is when you miss someone you left only seconds ago. Love is being worried about someone. Love is about always wanting to be with someone, to help them, to put them first, all of the time. Love makes you want to hold a person in your arms. Love makes you want to smile, to laugh at nothing, to sing. It makes you feel like you could do anything.”
Eowyn nodded slowly. “Well, you make me smile, and laugh, and feel like singing. I do miss you when you’re not around – it’s like a gaping hole is missing from my core. You make me feel happier and safer than I’ve felt since I was a girl. I don’t think I’ve ever been more comfortable then during this ride.” With every word, Aldor’s face brightened until he was smiling infectiously, and she had to smile back. He put his hand out and she dismounted and took it. “So I guess I must love you,” Eowyn finished. Wordlessly, Aldor pulled her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him in return and wondered at how right it felt. He was the taller and she could just see over his shoulder. She closed her eyes and felt joy wash over her as she saw nothing but Aldor, felt nothing but him, smelled nothing but him, heard nothing but his breathing. And it was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her. She was sure he could hear her heart pounding, but she did not mind. After a time, she loosened her grasp, stood back and looked up at him. He smiled delightedly down at her, then bent slightly and kissed her. It was amazing and terrifying, tumultuous and peaceful, forceful and gentle all at one. Then it was over and he was grinning down at her again.
“Ever done that before?” he asked. Eowyn ducked her flaming face, shaking her head, and allowed him to pull her back into a hug.
“Shall we do it again sometime?” he whispered near her ear.
She nodded slowly, keeping her face buried in his shoulder, and smiled contentedly as he laughed in delight.
By winter solstice, Eowyn and Aldor were formally betrothed and Grima troubled Eowyn no longer, as Aldor had threatened him, saying, “If I hear that you have been near my betrothed, you shall be made to accept my challenge, as is customary and rightful. And that duel would be short indeed.”
Eowyn was deliriously happy, and nearly fearless without Grima haunting her steps. Caught up in planning her trousseau and wedding, she did not notice that her brother and cousin were also happier without her unconscious seriousness and fear hanging over them. They had still not found a way to wrest control of the king and country from Grima, but with Eowyn’s good fortune and Aldor’s warning, the atmosphere was lighter. Even the king felt it, and he revived somewhat. All was ready for a spring wedding.
The Wild Men of Dunland had been encroaching on Rohirric land again, and Eomer and Theodred were each obliged to take action on more than one occasion. Eowyn made a habit of watching from the top of the long stair for the return of the éoreds and running down to reunite with Aldor when they returned, unconcerned with the whispers of imprudence and anxiety. Though spring was not yet come, the Wild Men were undeterred by the small amount of snow remaining in the hills. Theodred’s éored pushed them out again, but the Wild Men continued encroaching on Rohirric lands. Eowyn watched as both éoreds rode off to fight together, and continued to watch as often as she could until she saw the dust kicked up by the returning horses. She ran down to the spot near the great stables where she always met Aldor, Eomer and Theodred. Men and horses milled around as they waited their turns to enter the stable. Eowyn watched and waited patiently. The activity around her slowed then stopped, continuing in the stables out of her sight. Still she waited, watching the horizon. Finally, she was rewarded by dust rising up. It turned into three horses and two riders. Eowyn was gripped by fear. Still she waited. There was nothing else to do. The minutes passed by slowly as she watched the small group come closer, straining to discover who was missing. Finally they were close enough to be recognized. Theodred was leading Windfola with Eomer beside him.
“No,” Eowyn breathed. “No, not Aldor. Not my Aldor.”
Her mind was numb, and she was unaware of having spoken and unaware, too, of the tears streaming down her cheeks. She stood immobile until her brother and cousin were nearly upon her. They stopped and dismounted in front of her.
“It is with deep regret,” Theodred began formally, his voice husky, “that I must inform thee that thy betrothed, Aldor, has fallen. He fought bravely, defending a brother in arms.” He held out the reins of Aldor’s horse to her. “He died with honor.”
Eowyn took the reins, wrapping them around both hands, using them to anchor her to reality. She nodded in answer, unable to speak.
More words were said, but she didn’t hear them. She barely felt it when Eomer squeezed her shoulder in solidarity. Somehow she found herself walking Windfola into his stall and removing the saddle and bridle. There was less noise than normal, perhaps because many riders and their families had already finished and left, or perhaps because Eowyn’s wet, stony face dissuaded talk. But she was oblivious to everything except the constant thought that Aldor should be here, and she should only be helping him as she had done many times before. Brushing the horse was repetitious and soothing. He nuzzled her for treats, and she gave him some automatically, having brought some for that purpose. She brushed him thoroughly, and for far longer than necessary, but Windfola did not mind and Eowyn did not know what else to do. Finally she realized how much time had passed, and she moved on to the saddle. She cleaned it meticulously, then followed it up by giving the bridle the same treatment.
Suddenly, Eowyn realized that she was crying. Perhaps she had been crying the whole time; she did not know. Windfola bumped her gently from behind, and she turned back to him, rubbing his big nose.
“We’ll get through this somehow, Windfola,” she whispered to him, barely able to make the sound come out around the lump in her throat. She gave the big horse a long hug, then left him and went to her rooms. Realizing suddenly that Aldor would never share them with her as planned, she collapsed on her bed and sobbed until she fell asleep.
Somehow she made it through the next day, and the day after. She refused to speak to anyone, even her best friend Maebh the blacksmith. The week dragged by, then the month. She began speaking again, though only as necessary. The ache never went away – the wound was too wide, too deep – but she learned how to control her tears while others were around. Many a time Eowyn played with her dagger – Aldor’s dagger, the first of many presents he had given her – considering joining her love in the afterlife, but the thought of what her death would do to her brother and cousin always stayed her hand. She rode Windfola each morning, now, and her own mare in the afternoons. She attended her uncle, but spoke even less than before.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, a year passed, then another. The pain never left, but it became so normal, Eowyn noticed it less and less often, though she still thought of Aldor every day.
Grima Wormtongue began shadowing her again. She barely cared, barely noticed, as a shadow began creeping over her heart. Another year passed, and Eowyn began trying to avoid the whisperings of the snake-like advisor, to little avail. Theodred, Eomer, Elfhelm and Hama had tried everything they could think of to remove him from the throne room, also without success. The king sunk deeper into the oblivion the cousins were now sure was caused somehow by his devious advisor.
Part Two: Aragorn
The third year after Aldor’s death began without turmoil. It was 3018 of the third age, the 38th year of King Théoden’s reign. Soon, orcs were seen in Rohan, but such orcs as had never been seen there before. These orcs were larger than average, seemed more intelligent, and were marked with a white hand. Eomer and Theodred had many a discussion about the origins of these orcs, and sometimes Eowyn joined their musings, but the answer proved difficult to find.
That summer, Saruman, the White Wizard of Isengard, claimed lordship over certain Rohirric lands on his boarder. He had enlisted the Wild Men of Dunland to help him, and the éoreds were often busy trying to protect the people of that area.
Then, one evening in September, a strange thing happened. Eowyn was in the throne room, glad that Theodred, Eomer and their men were home, providing a barrier between her and Grima Wormtongue. Suddenly, a stooped man in ragged grey clothing entered.
“Greetings, Théoden King!” he cried in a deep voice. “I bring you ill tidings, I fear.”
“Who are you?” Wormtongue asked from his place near Théoden.
“I am known by many names. Many call me Mithrandir; others call me Gandalf the Grey. I have just come from Orthanc, where Saruman is building an army to march against you. He imprisoned me, but I escaped to warn you.”
Grima laughed, and all heads turned in surprise and the horrid sound. “Pah,” he said. “What are you but an ill-kempt liar and vagabond.”
“I am many things,” the stranger said calmly, his blue eyes piercing the room from under his projecting grey eyebrows. “As are you, I think.”
Theodred shared a glance with Elfhelm and strode forward before the situation could deteriorate further. “Greetings, friend. I am Theodred, Marshal of the Mark. Walk with me and tell me what you saw.”
“I would accept, my lord,” the stranger said, “But that my escape and journey hither have taken all my strength, and even now I can barely stand.”
Eowyn turned to one of her women. “Prepare a room for this weary traveler.” Walking towards him, she said, “Allow us to give you a room until you are rested.”
The grey-bearded face bobbed. “Thank you, my lady. I will accept.”
“Two days,” Théoden king said suddenly. Again, all heads turned, for the king had not spoken so loudly and distinctly in some time. “Begone from my hall in two days.”
Everyone gasped. Such discourtesy was unheard of in Rohan.
“Father,” Theodred said carefully, “in his state, he would not be able to leave Edoras without collapsing.”
Théoden was unmoved. “Two days,” he repeated. “After that, choose any horse, but leave my land before the end of the day tomorrow.”
There was another collective gasp. Rohirric horses were too valuable to be given even as gifts, unless the receiver had done the king an incredible service. And now, Théoden was telling this stranger to pick any horse he wanted, just to get rid of him – the very idea was unheard of.
“This way, sir,” Eowyn said quickly, collecting her wits. The stranger followed her out of the throne room. At the door to the room prepared for him, she stopped, and gestured for him to enter without her.
“You are very kind, my lady, though there is a shadow over you,” he said.
“There is a shadow over us all,” Eowyn returned.
“Aye, and I fear it will get worse before it is driven out.”
Eowyn sighed. “If it is ever driven out.”
The old man looked at her closely, his blue eyes unfathomable. “Such a view is rare among the young.”
“Though young in years, perhaps, I am far from young in experience.”
He nodded. “I shall bid you goodnight, and a brighter new day.”
Eowyn curtseyed. “And to you.”
Eomer and Theodred spent much of the next day with the old man. Just before the end of the day, Eowyn happened upon him, alone.
“Thank you again, my lady, for your welcome,” he said.
“It was my pleasure,” she replied. “What are you going to do now?”
“I will go and find a horse on the plains, as they are the fastest, and I have need of haste. I must ride to warn another friend.”
“But the plains horses are untamable!” Eowyn exclaimed.
“For men, perhaps.”
“And are you not a man?”
“I am a wizard. The men of Gondor call me Mithrandir, as I said yesterday. In the Wizard’s Council, I am known as Gandalf the Grey.”
“A wizard? Perhaps you can help rid us of the vile Grima.”
Gandalf shook his head. “I regret that at this time, I cannot. Perhaps the next time I come. The shadow grows. Here, in Osgiliath, in the East and in other places. I must ride to stamp out the shadows’ creator. Now I must bid you farewell.”
“May Bema be with you,” Eowyn said, and watched him go, puzzled by his words.
Later, word came that Gandalf had somehow managed to tame the great horse-lord, Shadowfax. Théoden and Grima were outraged, but Theodred, Eomer and Eowyn agreed that if the old man could tame the great horse, he deserved to have him.
(Author’s Note: This chapter contains quotes from “The Lady of Rohan” by Killarney Traynor. See fellowshipandfairydust.com/2019/05/13/the-lady-of-rohan/)
That winter was hard, and the king declined further, until he was little more than a corpse. Orcs came down from the Emyn Muil, and the new orcs branded with the white hand were among them. It was discovered that these new orcs came from Orthanc, the stronghold of Saruman. Theodred, Eomer and Elfhelm took all three of their éoreds out together to the Westfold to fight them. After the battle was won, Elfhelm returned to Edoras and Eomer stayed in the Westfold hunting stragglers, as he had been ordered by the king, while Theodred continued to the River Isen to guard the ford from any orcs that might try to cross.
The day after Elfhelm returned, a messenger came.
“My Lord King,” he said, “My Lord Eomer has disobeyed your orders to stay in the Westfold in order to reinforce the position of your son Lord Theodred, whose position, we have been told, is tenuous at best.”
The king nodded minutely.
“My lord,” Grima Wormtongue said, “surely Lord Eomer should have heeded your instructions. This insubordination should be punished. Banishment would be a just action.”
Eowyn could keep still no longer. “With all due respect,” she cried, rising to her feet, “you would have the king banish his nephew for the crime of riding to the aid of the king’s own son and heir?”
The advisor opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing, apparently at a loss for words.
“The idea is preposterous,” Eowyn continued. “The consequences would be grievous indeed – without Lord Eomer’s support, Lord Theodred and his éored could all fall. With Eomer banished, I would be the remaining heir. I know very little of the art and strategies of war. And then there’s the question of how many men would listen to me. You, Grima, have never been so inclined. Nay, banishing Lord Eomer would be a poor choice indeed.” Satisfied, Eowyn sat down again, slightly surprised at her own outburst. Realizing Wormtongue was still staring at her – though he had closed his mouth – she calmly met his gaze until he turned away. Pleased at the outcome, Eowyn returned to her needlework. She replayed the scene in her mind, carefully keeping a straight face. When she reached the part where she had said, ‘how many men would listen to me,’ she stopped short, arrested by a new idea. What if that was his plan? she wondered, suddenly fearful. What if Grima intends to rid himself of Eomer and Theodred, so I’m the heir? Perhaps he thinks he can force me to marry him, so he would be the rightful ruler of Rohan! Still keeping a calm outward appearance, she mentally shook her head and squared her shoulders. Never! I’ll die first, she thought fiercely. Or kill him, if I must. Though it would be far easier to kill myself than to kill someone else, even someone as hateful as Wormtongue.
The king broke the silence suddenly, leaning forward. “Eomer shall not be punished, nor reprimanded.” He slumped back as if exhausted by the effort.
“Yes, my lord,” Grima said. But his face twitched, as if keeping it blank was only accomplished by an extreme act of will.
The next day, another messenger arrived.
“My Lord King,” he cried, his eyes wide. He faltered, cleared his throat and tried again. “My Lord King….” He hesitated again, glancing at Eowyn. She was seized with a terrible dread, but nodded encouragingly at the messenger.
“My Lord Theodred has fallen,” the man said, disbelief written on his face.
Eowyn closed her eyes and breathed deeply, as she had learned to when she had first lost Aldor. Opening her eyes again quickly, she saw that the king had not moved, not given any sign of recognition, but Grima Wormtongue wore a look of repressed satisfaction. Eowyn had never hated him more. She looked to Elfhelm, who sat with his eyes closed, grief written large on his face. Keeping her own face immobile, she wept inwardly.
Eomer returned the next day. Eowyn had watched for him, and she ran down to see him, to comfort him and be comforted. Eomer opened his arms and she accepted his hug gratefully.
“I was too late,” Eomer said huskily. “I could do nothing but avenge him.”
“Aye, but it wasn’t enough.” Eomer released her and passed a hand over his eyes, brushing away tears. “I fear I will not long be here; more orcs have been sighted on the boarders. We shall but replenish our supplies and sleep, I think, and ride off again on the morrow.”
“It was not your fault,” Eowyn told him. “You did all you could. I know you too well to think otherwise, brother.”
“So soon?” Eowyn asked sadly.
Her brother nodded. “For your sake, I wish I could stay. But I would grieve our cousin better by slaying our enemies than by singing the funeral dirge. That responsibility must fall on your shoulders, sister, and for that I am sorry.”
Eowyn nodded and squared her shoulders. “We will each do our duties, and perhaps take some comfort there.”
Eomer nodded and looked fondly at her. “You are as brave as any Rider, to bear all these misfortunes unsupported.”
“I do not feel brave,” Eowyn whispered.
“And yet you persevere. That is the truest definition of courage I know. Now I must go to my men; we shall talk more later.”
Later, Eowyn found her brother in the Great Hall, pacing in front of Théoden King and Grima Wormtongue. She briefly wondered where Elfhelm and Hama were.
“My Lord King,” Eomer said, clearly exasperated, “we have been at war with Saruman’s orcs and Wild Men these many months. We cannot turn a blind eye to his treachery.”
Grima spoke. “The White Wizard has ever been our friend.”
Eomer snorted. “Perhaps he is a friend of yours, Grima, but anyone who kills my people and claims lordship over the lands of Rohan is my enemy. Even now my scouts have brought me news of a large band of orcs coming down out of the East Wall, some marked with the white hand. This strengthens the foul suspicion that Saruman has made an alliance with the Dark Lord.
Grima laughed, and Eowyn shivered at the horrible noise. “The White Wizard aid the Dark Lord?” he sneered. “Preposterous.”
“I should like to be wrong,” Eomer said. “Tomorrow I shall ride out to discover the truth.”
“That choice is not yours to make,” Wormtongue said.
Eomer looked at him hard, then spun on his heel. As he stalked out the door, he spoke over his shoulder. “It is more my choice than yours, and you shall not stop me.”
Silence reigned, and nobody dared move. Then each person resumed their duties quietly, and soon the Hall was its typical bustling place.
Eowyn slipped out to find her brother, and to get away from the glowering of Wormtongue.
“What do you think he will do?” she asked when she had caught up to Eomer.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“He tried to have you banished for going to Theodred’s aid.” Her voice caught on her cousin’s name.
Eomer simply nodded, grim. “I am no longer surprised by his vile deeds. But how is it that I am not banished?”
Eowyn told him the story, and her brother raised his eyebrows. “Our uncle retains that much life, does he? That is indeed news. Surprising, but very welcome.”
“I don’t know if he will stand up to Wormtongue again if he tries again.” Eowyn shook her head. “Be careful. Please.”
Eomer drew his sister into a hug. “I shall be as careful as I may be without maiming my conscience.”
He rode out the next day with his éored, and part of Eowyn was glad, thinking that this would keep him out of Grima’s clutches. And so it did for him. She was not so fortunate: Grima dogged her footsteps, his words, evil and sickly-sweet, flowing into her ears until she was all but filled with despair. When Eomer returned two days later, Eowyn ran down to meet him.
“Well?” she asked.
Eomer was grim. “There is much to tell. Walk with me as I care for my horse.” Eowyn did as she was bidden, and her brother continued.
“When we caught up to the orcs, it was clear that some were from the Black Land, while others were of Isengard. They seemed to have journeyed together from the River Anduin, but any agreement between the two groups had dissolved by the time we found them at Fangorn Forest, as they were brawling when we first sighted them. Then we were upon them, and they dropped their quarrel to fight. More orcs came out of the forest, and we were hard pressed to beat them all. But nary an orc escaped. Fifteen men and twelve horses were buried there, and we burned the orcs. As we rode away from Fangorn, a strange thing happened. We were hailed by a man who was accompanied by an elf and a dwarf, of all folk! And all three appeared as if out of the hill we were riding by. Yes,” Eomer said in answer to his sister’s perplexed expression. “Twas strange indeed. They were hunting the orcs we had so recently slaughtered, as they had friends captured by them. And these friends, we were told, are Holbytla or Halflings!”
Eowyn gave him a small smile and shook her head. “Now I know you jest.”
“Nay!” Eomer protested. “It is no jest. I lent them two horses – one for the Ranger, Aragorn son of Arathorn, one for the elf and dwarf, who ride together with neither saddle nor bridle, though the dwarf looked far from comfortable. And they may yet come here within the day, for I bade them return the horses to Meadowseld when their errand was complete.
“You trusted three strangers with our horses?” Eowyn asked in surprise.
“Aye. They had come far – farther than I would have deemed possible in such a short time – and needed to go further, and their faces were honest. And the Ranger… well, he’s not all he seems, I think. Somehow he’s more.”
“What do you mean by that?” Eowyn asked. But Eomer could give no better answer.
“Did Wormtongue bother you while I was away?” he asked at length.
Eowyn bit her lip and nodded. “His words fill me with dread, and I cannot seem to shake him any more than my shadow, save in my own chamber or here in the stables. There is some relief if I stay near Hama or Elfhelm, but neither has leisure to remain with me.”
Eomer’s face darkened, but he said nothing. Soon, the two siblings climbed the stairs to the great Hall, where Eomer made his report. First he told of the three strangers. Then, “My Lord King,” he said, “We found orcs of Orthanc travelling with others of the Black Land. There is an alliance between their masters, though the orc scum like it not.”
“Lies!” Wormtongue spat the word from his usual place at Théoden’s feet. “All lies.”
Eomer glared at the advisor. “I have had enough of your treachery, Grima Wormtongue. Is it not enough that you have caused the sickness of my uncle, the death of my cousin, the fear and depression of my sister, but now you call my honesty into question? I will no longer stand for your treachery, Wormtongue!” As he spoke, he unsheathed his sword and strode toward the other man.
Grima’s eyes bulged.
“Guards!” he yelled, his voice high. “Defend your king!”
“You are not the king!” Eomer roared. But the guards stepped between him and the throne. Eomer fought them but, being loath to hurt them, was quickly disarmed. Eowyn watched, making a mental note of the men who were loyal to the advisor over the prince.
“Lock him up,” Grima ordered. “I’ll deal with him soon enough.”
As the guards led Eomer away, Eowyn was filled with a fear more terrible than any she had ever known, and she could think of nothing to alter the situation. She quickly found Hama, who was ashamed of the actions of his men, and they spoke with Elfhelm, but neither could think of any thing to help either.
Later, Eowyn went to the smithy to rant to Maebh.
“What can I do?” Ewoyn demanded. “Spring him from prison?” She strode back and forth, unable to contain her frustration, as her friend sat quietly, her wild, curly brown hair still tied up out of her face so she could work the forge.
“How?” Maebh asked practically. “Théoden still holds absolute control, and Wormtongue controls him. Who can stand against him?”
Eowyn’s eyes were full of unshed tears and she was shaking with fury. “I will not stand by idle! I cannot! I must do something, something to shake the shame of dishonor from our realm. Give me something to do!”
Without another word, Maebh rose and went to a corner of the smithy. She pulled out the practice swords she had made for them long ago.
Eowyn stilled, then shook her head. “Revolt is impossible,” she said huskily.
“Especially with these,” Maebh laughed mirthlessly. “We prepare. This situation will not remain forever and when the change comes, we will be ready for it.”
“I haven’t…” she began softly. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I haven’t touched a sword since…” she trailed off again.
“Since you lost Aldor,” Maebh finished. “I know. But this is what we can do, Eowyn. Don’t let all his training go to waste.”
Eowyn nodded slowly, then accepted a sword from her friend. Buckling it on, she followed Maebh out to the training field, and they trained deep into the night. Eowyn found that she had lost very little of her skills despite the interim, and she worked on teaching Maebh, unknowingly honing the skills as she did so.
Author’s Note: This chapter includes direct quotes from The Two Towers Book III Chapter VI “King of the Golden Hall”.
A full day passed in agony. Then a new morning dawned, clear and bright, as if unaware of the shadow over all within the Great Hall. Eowyn sat in her accustomed place behind her uncle-king and waited. For what, she did not know. She was tired from her late nights training with Maebh, yet she was alert. She noted it when Hama came in and made as if to talk to Théoden, but was impeded by Grima, who listened to him then sent him away.
Soon afterward, the doors opened and four figures stepped through – three tall, one short. As they moved closer, Eowyn’s eyes widened slightly, though the rest of her face remained impassive by long training. She realized these must be the three Eomer spoke of, joined perhaps by one of the friends they had been seeking. The man in light grey robes… there was something familiar about him. Only when he drew close enough for his eyebrows to be seen did she recognize him as the stranger who had warned them of Saruman, the stranger who had taken the great Horse Lord Shadowfax. Gandalf the Grey of the Wizard’s Council, she recalled. The darkness that clung to her lifted slightly as hope was rekindled within her.
She looked at the others. She had never before seen an elf or a dwarf, but they were unmistakable. Yet for all her wonder of seeing them, her eyes were drawn to the man, the Ranger. He was good looking, but not extraordinarily so, and he seemed ageless. Both man and dwarf were dirty and slightly unkempt, as anyone might be after a long, hard journey. The elf was strangely clean in comparison, while the wizard was all but gleaming, though he wore grey rags.
Despite the dirt, there was something about the man that made Eowyn’s gaze return to him. She studied him, trying to discern what it was, remembering that what Eomer had said of him – “the Ranger… well, he’s not all he seems, I think. Somehow he’s more.” There was silence in the hall as the people within stared at the newcomers.
Finally, Gandalf broke the silence. “Hail, Théoden son of Thengel! I have returned. For behold! The storm comes, and now all friends should gather together, lest each singly be destroyed.”
Slowly, Théoden stood up, leaning on a black staff that had long been sitting by the throne. Jaws dropped at this rare occurrence, and mouths stayed open in astonishment as he spoke, for he spoke clearly and harshly, finishing, “Why should I welcome you?” And he sat down again, bowed as if spent.
Then Grima spoke, rising from his seat at Théoden’s feet, adding insult to injury and laughing at the strangers, making the hair on the back of Eowyn’s neck stand up. She watched and listened, aghast and silent, as three of the strangers bore their mistreatment stolidly, though the dwarf had to be restrained by his companions.
Finally, it seemed as if Gandalf had had enough. “A witless worm you have become,” he told Grima. “Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightening falls.”
The wizard straightened and held up his staff, flinging off his cloak to reveal gleaming white garments underneath. Thunder cracked and all fell dark except Gandalf, who shone like a star. Every person in the Hall stared in wonder and fear. Grima whimpered something, but no one was listening. Then lightning smote him and he fell on his face. The darkness faded, and Gandalf spoke of hope and of help. Eowyn wished, and hoped with all her heart, that her uncle was still himself enough to accept it.
“I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad,” the wizard continued, speaking directly to the King. “Too long have you sat in the shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”
Eowyn agreed with his words, glad someone had finally uttered them.
Then, slowly, Théoden stood, leaning heavily upon his stick. Eowyn’s eyes opened wide and she darted forward, afraid he would fall. She took his arm and helped, bewildered, as he descended the steps of the dais and walked to the far doors. He clung to her for the first steps but seemed to get stronger with each yard. As they reached the doors, he released her, walking the last steps on his own.
Gandalf rapped sharply on the doors with his stick, crying out, “Open! The Lord of the Mark comes forth!”
The doors opened at the command, and a brisk breeze blew through the Hall, lifting the hearts of all who felt it.
The wizard made eye contact with Eowyn, and in his eyes she could see relief, hope, weariness and more which no mere mortal could name.
“Lady, leave him with me,” he said. “I will care for him.”
Eowyn hesitated, not out of mistrust, but yet still unsure, until Théoden spoke.
“Go, Eowyn, sister-daughter. The time of fear has passed.”
Reassured, Eowyn went, pausing to look back for a moment before she left. For the first time in years, all was well. All that was missing was Eomer, and she had no doubt that Gandalf would put that situation to rights quickly.
Sure enough, when the midday meal convened, Eomer sat at the king’s right hand with Elfhelm to his right, while the wizard sat to Théoden’s left. The man who had come with Gandalf – Lord Aragorn, she had heard him called, sat near the wizard, with the elf and dwarf on his left. News travelled quickly through Edoras and Eowyn already knew of Grima’s hasty departure when his true allegiance was confirmed, and of the plan for all the women and children to remove to Dunharrow. Eowyn waited upon her uncle, as was her custom, and listened as the men discussed Wormtongue and Saruman. Then, Théoden-king offered Gandalf a gift of his choice.
“Give me Shadowfax,” the wizard replied, “for already there is a bond of love between us.”
Théoden agreed wholeheartedly, and offered armor to all three of Gandalf’s companions, though only Lord Aragorn and Legolas the elf took hauberks. Gimli the dwarf had his own already, but he did accept a helmet and shield. The gifts received, Théoden stood. Immediately, Eowyn brought forth the cup of fellowship and offered it to the king, saying, “Ferthu Théoden hal! Receive now this cup and drink in a happy hour!” She smiled at her uncle. “Health be with the at thy going and coming.”
Théoden drank, then handed the goblet back to her with a warm smile. She brought the cup to Gandalf saying, “Hail, Gandalf the Grey.”
“Hail, Lady of Rohan,” he replied. He took a drink and returned the goblet to her.
Lord Aragorn was next. Eowyn felt her hand tremble as she offered him the cup. There was just something about him that she couldn’t help being drawn to. “Hail Aragorn, son of Arathorn!”
He smiled briefly and drank, handing the goblet back with a pensive look she could not interpret.
She offered the goblet to the elf and dwarf in turn, then to her brother and Elfhelm, her thoughts still on the Ranger. Then, her duty as Lady of the Hall complete, she gave the goblet to a servant. The men moved to the doors at the far end of the Hall. Eowyn shadowed them, staying out of the way but keeping near her uncle.
“Behold, I go forth, and it seems to be my last riding,” Théoden said. He named Eomer his successor and asked for a volunteer to stay at Edoras and lead the Roherrim while both he and Eomer were away. His request was met with silence.
“Is there no man you would name?” he asked again. “In whom do my people trust?”
Hama broke the silence, glancing apologetically toward Eowyn before meeting the king’s gaze. “In the House of Eorl,” he said.
“But Eomer I cannot spare,” the king protested, “nor would he stay. And he is the last of that House.”
“I said not Eomer,” Hama replied, unruffled. “And he is not the last. There is Eowyn, daughter of Eomund, his sister.”
All eyes turned toward her as Hama continued. “She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.”
Eowyn kept her face still, but inwardly she was surprised. She had known Hama all her life, of course, but she had never expected this from him, or anyone else. In truth, she knew she was capable – after all, she had been in charge of the Hall in all but title for some time – but she would have preferred riding out with the men.
“It shall be so,” Théoden decreed. He ordered the heralds to announce her leadership during his absence. Eowyn watched silently as her uncle sat and beckoned her to him. She knelt in front of him and, still silent, received the ritual sword and a corselet he bestowed upon her as if in a dream. Then he bade her farewell, and both stood as he spoke. “Dark is the hour, yet maybe we shall return to the Golden Hall. But in Dunharrow the people may long defend themselves, and if the battle go ill, thither will come all who escape.”
“Speak not so,” Eowyn said fervently. She looked at her uncle, then at her brother, and finally at Lord Aragorn as she continued. “A year shall I endure for every day that passes until your return!”
“The king shall come again. Fear not!” the Ranger said. He seemed quite certain, and Eowyn’s heart was lightened. But he continued, “Not West but East does our doom await us.” She did not know what to make of that, but she watched as the men went down the long stair, led by Théoden and Gandalf. Lord Aragorn looked back at her, his face once more unreadable. Eowyn could see that beyond the gate, many men – perhaps over a thousand – were gathered, most coming from the eoreds of Eomer and Elfhelm. There was a great turmult, but then the trumpets sounded, the men cheered, and they were off into the West.
Eowyn watched them as they rode away from her. When even the dust cloud of the host was gone, the white lady turned and went back into the Hall, feeling as if all that was left to her was to wait and work, for she could not bear the weight of waiting without the working, and she did not want to break the trust she had been given. But she clung hard to hope that those she lived for would return safely, for if they did not, what else had she to live for?
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book V Chapter II, “The Passing of the Grey Company”.
The next few days were quiet. Eowyn had sent a messenger to the Hold at Dunharrow to learn how well supplied they were, and she made ready all she could. A sense of waiting pervaded Edoras. Eowyn herself was restless, looking ever to the West. She and Maebh continued their nighttime training in secret.
She received a messenger on the afternoon of the second day after the men left. She took his message from the throne in the great Hall.
“My lady,” the man said, bowing.
“What news?” she asked.
“A victory at the Hornburg, though many were lost. But the king and your brother are safe.”
“And the strangers?” Eowyn asked, thinking of Lord Aragorn.
“Safe as well.”
“Thank Bema!” Eowyn breathed, feeling lighter. “What else?”
“They now ride to Isengard, to confront the White Wizard.”
“To what purpose? For he is dangerous, and Orthanc is impenetrable.”
“I know not, my lady, but it was the council of Gandalf.”
Eowyn nodded. She trusted Gandalf’s council, strange though it may be.
“And,” the messenger continued, “the King would have you know there is to be a full mustering of the Rohirrim, as the King rides to aid Gondor.”
“Thank you,” she said. “When you return after you rest, please tell my lords that all is well here, and we are to leave for Dunharrow on the morrow.”
“Yes, my lady,” the messenger replied.
“You may go rest now.”
The messenger bowed and departed.
Eowyn sighed. She was glad they had won a victory, and that her family – and Lord Aragorn – were safe, but she knew it was temporary. She certainly had no idea how great a fighting force Saruman had left at Isengard. She could but prepare to move the people to the Hold at Dunharrow, as she had been bidden, for the Hold was safer than Edoras and would be able to withstand an assault for far longer, a necessary precaution in these days of trouble, especially with the vast majority of the men leaving for Gondor.
The next day saw Eowyn shepherding her people to Dunharrow. The trip took the entire day and half the following day, but finally they saw the Hold ahead. Eowyn was the last to enter. Once she had seen her people settled, she ordered erected the tall pavilion where King Théoden would be staying. Other, smaller pavilions for his captains were to stand beside it. Within a few hours, she had made all ready. She called for Dunhere, Captain of Dunharrow to receive a report.
“There is grumbling,” Dunhere answered her query, “and there is fear. But they know their duty to the King, or at least to their families, and so they have come – the young and the old, the farmers and blacksmiths and shepherds alike.”
“None of consequence.”
Eowyn nodded. “Notify me if that changes. And I should like to know how many men we have, and from where.”
“At this time we have but one thousand, from Dunharrow, the Eastfold and the West Emnet.”
“And the men of the Folde and the Westfold ride with the King,” Eowyn added, “and they shall not arrive for some days yet. Send me word when more eoreds arrive.”
Two days passed, more men gathered, and Eowyn was more restless than ever before, looking ever to the road, feeling drawn to join those fighting. On the second evening, a dust cloud was reported, and Eowyn went at once to the top of the wall. Squinting in the failing light, she noted the size of the cloud and understood that it was but a small contingent of riders who came. As they came closer, she estimated there to be under fifty riders, but she was puzzled, as she could see no glint of the bright armor worn by the Rohirrim, though the riders’ spears shone bright in the last of the sun’s rays.
Soon she picked out two horses leading the others – one ridden by a tall rider, the other bearing two riders, one tall and one short. She realized this small company was led by three of the strangers, and she wondered where Gandalf and the Rohirrim were, for she could see now that these riders were not of Rohan. To her further confusion, one bore what seemed to be a standard, but if it was such, the banner itself was furled.
Eowyn sent a servant to make food ready for the company. In due time, Lord Aragorn and his companions drew to the entrance of the Hold. Looking upon him, Eowyn wondered what he had seen, as these last six days seemed to have aged him by many years.
“Welcome, my lords,” she said, her eyes on the Ranger.
“Our thanks, my lady,” returned Lord Aragorn. “Let me first assure you of the safety and good health of your brother and uncle.”
Eowyn felt her shoulders untense slightly, and she let out a breath she had unknowingly been holding, though she had had tidings of them the previous day.
“These are my kinsmen,” Lord Aragorn continued. “We are oft called the Grey Company, and with us ride the sons of Elrond, Elladon and Elrohir.” Two of the group inclined their heads in acknowledgement. Eowyn hadn’t even noticed these two elves, having eyes for little save Lord Aragorn.
“How many are in thy company, my lord?” she asked, leading them inside. “I shall make haste to find sleeping arrangements for them all, as it is late.”
Lord Aragorn shook his head. “Nay, we ask but to sleep in the hall, if we may, for my kinsmen have ridden far today, and I would they could rest soon after they dine. We have gear enough.”
“If it pleases you,” Eowyn answered doubtfully.
“As long as my stomach is full,” the dwarf broke in, “my head will lie easy anywhere.”
Eowyn smiled. “And full your stomach shall be, Master Dwarf, though perhaps, being long on the road, you would prefer to wash first.”
“I’ve been on longer journeys,” he began dismissively, but his elfin friend cut him off.
“Your kindness is appreciated,” he told Eowyn. Turning to his short companion he added, “We are not all made of mountain dirt and stone, and some of us would prefer to have less of it on us ere we dine.”
Eowyn beckoned to Jereth, her right hand in all matters of the Hall and in the Hold, and the serving woman led the group away to wash.
The dwarf harrumphed. “You elves and your fine ways. Why I…” His voice trailed off as he went with the others. Lord Aragorn tarried.
“Please excuse my friend Gimli,” he said. “Underneath his stone frame there beats a heart of gold.”
“There is nothing to excuse, unless it be my enjoyment in the exchange between your friends,” Eowyn returned.
“They have lightened my heart in more than one dark hour with their unusual friendship,” the Ranger admitted.
“May they continue to do so, for the days of light seem yet far off. But forgive me, lord, for staying you,” Eowyn said hastily, realizing that he, too, probably wished to wash before dinner and feeling she kept him too long. “Dinner should be ready ere you and your kin return.”
“Many thanks,” he replied. He bowed slightly to her and followed the others.
Eowyn watched until he disappeared around a corner. Then, realizing the unseemliness of her gaze, she turned to oversee the meal preparation.
Soon, she took her place at the head of the table and, after the formalities were concluded, she listened intently as Lord Aragorn told of the ride to the Hornburg, questioned closely his account of the battle, and marveled at the strange vengeance wreaked upon Orthanc by trees that spoke.
Eventually he concluded, “Thy uncle and brother ride through the hills, mustering the Rohirrim. In two days, perhaps three, they should arrive at Dunharrow.
Eowyn sensed he was leaving out something important, but she knew not what. Taking a guess, she asked, “And who of the household no longer rides with them?”
Lord Aragorn shook his head. “I know the names of none save Hama, the captain of your uncle’s guard. He died with honor.”
“Hama? This is a fell blow indeed.” She looked down, remembering all the times the captain had given her a sympathetic glance, a kind word. She had known him since she was a child; he had been a great friend of Theodred’s.
“His family,” she said. “I must tell them.”
“Wait until the morrow, for it is late,” Lord Aragorn counseled. “Let them rest the night in hope.”
Then Eowyn looked out the window and noticed how dark it was.
“Lords,” she said, rising, “you are weary and shall now go to your beds. Tomorrow fairer housing shall be found for you.”
“Nay, lady,” Lord Aragorn said. “Be not troubled for us! If we may lie here tonight and break our fast tomorrow, it will be enough. For I ride on an errand most urgent, and with the first light of morning we must go.”
Eowyn felt warmth coursing through her and she smiled, wondering if perhaps the Ranger did look upon her with a kindly eye after all.
“Then it was kindly done, lord, to ride so many miles out of your way to bring tidings to Eowyn, and speak with her in her exile.”
“Indeed no man would count such a journey wasted,” Lord Aragorn replied, and Eowyn’s heart leapt.
“And yet, lady,” he continued, “I could not have come hither, if it were not that the road which I must take leads me to Dunharrow.”
Eowyn’s heart fell – it was not to see her that he had returned. Then she realized what he had said and furrowed her brow.
“Then, lord, you are astray,” she said. “For out of Harrowdale no road runs East or South, and you had best return as you came.”
But Lord Aragorn shook his head. “Nay, lady, I am not astray, for I walked in this land ere you were born to grace it. There is a road out of this valley, and that road I will take.”
Eowyn’s face paled and her eyes widened as she realized what he meant.
“Tomorrow I shall ride by the Paths of the Dead,” he finished.
She stared at him, then tried to convince him to go elsewhere, for none returned from the Paths of the Dead. But he was resolute that he would go, though he gave his kin and friends the option to go by a different path.
“But I would ask a boon of you,” Aragon said to Eowyn. “With thy uncle rides a friend of mine, a Halfling or Holbytla, you would call him. I ask that, as far as it is possible, Master Meriadoc should be armed for battle.”
“I shall do all I can,” Eowyn answered.
Later, having in the mean time argued incessantly with herself, Eowyn approached Lord Aragorn as he was about to retire to his makeshift bed.
“Lord Aragorn,” she asked, “why will you go on this deadly road?”
“Because I must,” was his answer. “Only so can I see any hope of doing my part in the war against Sauron.” He looked kindly at her and added, “I do not choose the paths of peril, Eowyn.”
A thrill ran through her, hearing her name in his voice. But still he continued, and his gaze moved North, his eyes softening as if he saw something dear to him instead of the Hall. “Were I to go where my heart dwells,” he said as if to himself, “far in the North would I now be wandering, in the fair valley of Rivendell.”
And looking upon him, she saw much in the silence. Of her, she now realized, he thought only as a friend, perhaps a sister. Somewhere else – in Rivendell, it seemed – there was another woman, whose influence remained with him. Any hope must now be stifled. For there had been hope, flickering brighter than Eowyn had known, only fully realized now it must be extinguished. Steeling herself to the idea of Lord Aragorn with another, she found herself without hope of a future, and suddenly her years of restlessness rose to the fore, compounded by the insufferable feeling of being left behind.
Recklessly, she spoke again, laying her hand on his arm. “Lord, if you must go, then let me ride in your following, for I am weary of skulking in the hills and wish to face peril and battle.” And death, she added to herself. A hope flickered up – the one hope left – that of finding Aldor in the afterlife.
“Your duty is with your people,” Lord Aragorn said, returning as with difficulty to his present surroundings and ignorant of Eowyn’s thoughts.
“Too often have I heard of duty!” Eowyn stamped her foot, fully aware of how childish she must seem, but yet uncaring. “But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry nurse?” Had she seen herself through the eyes of another, she would have seen a woman whose fury brought life to her face, making her all the more beautiful. Aragorn noted it, though he dwelt not on it.
“I have waited on faltering feet long enough,” she continued. “Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not spend my life as I will?”
“Few may do that with honor,” Lord Aragorn replied gently. His voice had a note of wistfulness in it. “But as for you, Lady: did not you accept the charge to govern the people until their lord’s return? If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.”
Eowyn felt full force the guilt at his gentle accusation, but her path was chosen and she would not stray from it, whether or not Lord Aragorn allowed her to ride in his company.
“Shall I always be chosen?” she asked bitterly. “Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?”
Lord Aragorn regarded her for a moment before he answered. “A time will come soon when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”
As he spoke, Eowyn’s imagination taunted her with visions of waiting forever without news, never knowing the fate of her uncle and brother, being forced to do nothing till the end of her days. She shook her head, both to clear it of the imaginative visions and to disagree with what the Ranger had said.
“All your words are but to say ‘you are a woman and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.’” As she spoke, she felt she was perhaps doing a discourtesy to Lord Aragorn, and speaking more to the absent men of the Hall. Still, she continued, “But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving woman. I can ride and wield a blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”
“What do you fear, lady?” he asked.
“A cage,” she answered promptly. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” To herself she added, I want a chance to be me, as I was with Aldor.
“And yet,” Lord Aragorn countered mildly, “you counsel me not to adventure on the road I had chosen, because it is perilous?”
“So may one council another,” she said. “Yet I do not bid you flee from peril, but to ride to battle where your sword may win renown and victory. I would not see a thing that is high and excellent cast away needlessly!” She stood, magnificent in the moonlight and in her passion. Again Aragorn marked it, though as a father marks the beauty of his daughter.
“Nor would I,” he said meaningfully. “Therefore I say to you, lady: stay! For you have no errand to the South.”
Aragorn’s words were not lost on the maiden, but she quickly replied, “Neither have those others who go with thee.” She turned with these words and hurried to the nearest door, afraid she had said too much, yet knowing full well she had not spoken a word that was untrue to herself. She went down to the stables. Mercifully, no one was there to hear her as she broke down, sobbing into Windfola’s mane. When her sobs quieted to silent tears, she led the horse out into the night. Mounting him, she guided him out of the stronghold at a trot that turned into a gallop when they passed the gates, ignoring the watchmen who looked after them in surprise. The cold wind numbed Eowyn eventually, and when she ran out of tears, she slowed the horse and turned him around. As they ambled back to the Hold, she explained everything to him. Eventually they returned to the stables, where Windfola was rewarded with a good rubdown and some oats. Then Eowyn crept back to her chamber. She was surprised to find it occupied, though less so when she recognized her friend Maebh, sleeping in a chair, her abdomen rounded by the new life she was carrying.
The woman blacksmith stirred and opened her eyes, awake in an instant.
“Eowyn,” she said, going to her lady. “Are you alright?”
Eowyn turned her back on her friend, ostensibly in order to begin undressing, but moreso in order that her childhood friend would not see her face, for if she tried to give comfort, Eowyn knew she would start crying uncontrollably once more. “You should be sleeping in your bed with your husband.”
“Felim knows where I am,” Maebh replied. “Are you alright?”
Eowyn’s voice was tight. “I offered. And I was refused. I want to be alone now.” Her voice broke, and she hated it for betraying her.
Maebh, understanding her as ever, left as she was bidden. Eowyn tugged off her dress, flung it from her, crawled into bed in her shift and silently cried herself to sleep.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book V Chapter II, “The Passing of the Grey Company”, and Chapter III, “The Muster of Rohan”, as well as quotes from The Lady of Rohan by Killarney Traynor. See fellowshipandfairydust.com/2019/05/13/the-lady-of-rohan/)
The next morning, Eowyn arose before the sun. She gave orders for a light breakfast to be prepared for Lord Aragorn and his Grey Company, as well as food to be taken with them. Then she returned to her chambers and clad herself as a Rider of Rohan, a sword at her hip. Thus prepared, she fetched a cup of wine and brought it to the Door to the Paths of the Dead. She had thought to beat Lord Aragorn there, but to her surprise, his Grey Company was already mounted and Lord Aragorn had his foot in his stirrup. He returned it to the ground as she approached.
Stopping in front of him, Eowyn drank a few drops from the cup. “I wish you good speed, and a safe passage,” she said, then offered the cup to Lord Aragorn. He accepted it and drank. Returning it to her, he said, “Farewell, Lady of Rohan! I drink to the fortunes of your House, and of you, and of all your people. Say to your brother, ‘beyond the shadows we may meet again!’”
Eowyn looked upon him with a stony face, unheedful of the tears tracing her cheeks.
“Aragorn, wilt thou go?” she asked, knowing full well he would not change his mind, but needing to ask all the same.
“I will,” he replied gravely.
“Then wilt thou not let me ride with this company, as I have asked?”
“I will not, lady,” he said firmly. “For that I could not grant without leave of the king and your brother, and they will not return until tomorrow. But now I count every hour, indeed every minute. Farewell.”
“I beg thee!” Eowyn cried, falling to her knees. But Lord Aragorn took her by the hand and raised her up, then kissed her hand and let it go, leaping into his saddle. The Grey Company cantered away into the mountain.
When they were gone, Eowyn turned. Her friend Maebh stood there alone, watching. Only she realized that Eowyn had not allowed herself to hope for another outcome – she had brought with her no horse or pack.
As afternoon turned to evening, Eowyn knocked on Maebh’s door.
“I’m leaving, Maebh,” she said when the door was opened. “I shall ride with Eomer and my Uncle, when it is time.”
Maebh nodded, her hand over her unborn child. “And you think they shall not simply send you home again?”
Eowyn flinched but stood tall. “They may try,” was all she said.
Again, Maebh nodded.
Eowyn relaxed a degree, as if lightened by the unspoken permission. “I leave Jereth in command,” she said, naming her most loyal and capable serving woman. “I’ve left no duty undone.”
“No one dare say so in my presence,” Maebh agreed. “But a knight should not leave without her armor.”
“I am not leaving tonight,” Eowyn said, confused. But Maebh pulled her into the chamber, and there, in the middle of the room, was a suit of armor. It was clear that it had been lovingly created by Maebh and her husband, specifically for Eowyn. There was a chainmail tunic and a leather breastplate, along with a helmet, shield, sword and sheath, all matching, as light and delicate as serviceable armor can be when made by the hands of Men. Eowyn went to examine it. The details were subtle but intricate. When she had finished, her eyes gleaming, she unsheathed the sword and held it, glinting in the light of the small fire, looking closely at the delicate designs etched on it. It was perfectly balanced, and the same weight as the practice sword she had used with Aldor and Maebh.
Eventually, Eowyn donned her armor. It was a perfect fit, though she had expected nothing less from her friend. She moved around, testing the feel and the give. It was far lighter than the armory-gear she had worn before, and it was far more breathable. She unsheathed the sword again and fought a shadow as easily as she would have without any armor. She looked at Maebh and nodded, the one movement worth more thanks than any words. Maebh nodded in return.
“I’ll go as Dernhelm,” Eowyn said, her voice husky.
“And let no man turn you away,” Maebh returned.
The two pressed each other’s hands.
“Bring honor back to your House, lady,” Maebh said. “Strike a blow for your fellow shieldmaiden. My only wish is that I could come with you.” She put her hand over her unborn child and the two women looked at each other with understanding.
Eowyn raised her sword and spoke to it, saying, “I dub thee Maebh.” Turning back to her friend she continued, “And thus, your name shares in the coming glory; I’ll carry you and Theodred and Aldor with me.” She paused for a moment, sheathing the sword, then added, “You have been my comfort and my friend. I will never forget either service.”
“The honor was mine, my lady,” Maebh returned.
The two women smiled at each other, grim and brave and beautiful. Then Eowyn drew her cloak about her and withdrew. Finding Dunhere, Captain of Dunharrow, she asked for a report.
“There are nigh unto six thousand men at this hour, from all but the Folde and the Westfold.”
Eowyn nodded, but her heart sank. The four areas that had already reported had been expected to muster close to two thousand riders each. “Send me word when my uncle arrives, no matter the time.” She dismissed the captain back to his duties and turned to search for more to do while she waited, restless.
The night passed, then the morning and the afternoon. As twilight was falling, there came the sound of horns, signaling the news that Théoden approached. From her vantage point in the Hold above the green fields and tents, Eowyn noted that the newcomers numbered less than three thousand strong, by her estimate. She watched as the various captains reported to the King, then mounted Windfola to join them. She wore her new armor over her riding dress, her hair plaited neatly into a braid.
“Hail, Lord of the Mark!” she cried as she approached the group. “My heart is glad at your returning!”
“And you, Eowyn,” Théoden said, “is all well with you?”
“All is well,” she said, for all in the camp and in the Hold was well. She told him of how the uprooted people of Edoras were fairing, then added, “Your lodging is ready for you, for I have had full tidings of you.”
“So Aragorn has come, then,” said Eomer. “Is he still here?”
Eowyn told them he had left the previous morning.
“You are grieved, daughter,” the king noticed. “What has happened? Did he speak of the Paths of the Dead?”
Eowyn nodded. “Yes, lord. And he has passed into the shadow from which none have returned. I could not dissuade him. He is gone.”
The king sighed heavily, closing his eyes. Eomer’s face hardened.
“Then our paths are sundered; he is lost,” he said. “We must ride without him, and our hope dwindles.”
During this exchange, Eowyn made note of the small figure on a pony next to Théoden, a figure she would have said was a child, had she not been forewarned by Lord Aragorn. This, then, must be Meriadoc the Halfling. Guessing his measurements, she committed them to memory in order to attempt to fulfill Lord Aragorn’s last request of her.
At supper, which was attended by Théoden, Eomer, Eowyn, Meriadoc the Halfling and Dunhere, the talk was of the Paths of the Dead, and how the Dead were sometimes seen in Harrowdale, though no living man ever returned from their Paths. They wondered at the choice of Aragorn to go that way, and lamented his loss.
“But,” said Eomer, “how shall a man discover whether it is time for the opening of that road, save by daring the Door?”
The meal was interrupted by news of a rider from Gondor.
“Let him come,” Théoden ordered.
He came and, dropping on one knee, offered the king an arrow with a red tip. After the proper greeting, the Gondorian introduced himself as Hargon, errand-rider of Denathor, Steward of Gondor. “Gondor is in great need,” he said. “Often the Rohirrim have aided us, but now the Lord Denathor asks for all your strength and all your speed, lest Gondor falls at last.”
“The Red Arrow…” Théoden said in sadness and wonder. “Has it indeed come to that?”
They spoke of the impending battle, and Théoden said, “We shall come. The weapontake was set for the morrow. When all is ordered, we will set out. Ten thousand spears I might have sent riding over the plains to the dismay of your foes. It will be less now, I fear, for I will not leave my strongholds all unguarded. Yet six thousands at the least shall ride behind me.”
* * *
The next day dawned grey and bleak, with a great dark cloud covering the sky in a foreboding manner. Eowyn breakfasted with her uncle and brother and watched, silent, as the Halfling argued with Théoden, who decreed that he would stay behind with Eowyn. She resolved that he would indeed stay with her, and together they would go ride to Gondor. Windfola, she knew, could bear them both with ease. After the king dismissed Lord Aragorn’s friend, Eowyn brought him to the armory, saying, “Come now, Meriadoc! I will show you the gear I have prepared for you.” As they walked, she explained that Lord Aragorn had asked her to see him armed for battle. Hope sprung into the eyes of the Halfling, and Eowyn knew she had made the right decision.
Being forewarned, the armorer found him a stout leather jerkin, a belt and a knife to go with his own sword. Sending him back to his tent, she said, “Farewell! Maybe we shall meet again, you and I.” She returned to the king’s pavilion.
“Eowyn,” Théoden said fondly, “I am saddened that I must leave you ill protected. But, as you know, it cannot be helped. He took her hands in his and gazed upon her as if memorizing her face. “Like your dear mother you look,” he murmured, “and yet, your father is there in your eyes. Farewell, sister-daughter. May you lead our people well when I am gone.” Turning away, he left her along with Eomer.
“I know not if we shall return,” Eomer told her frankly. “The darkness may be too great. But I know our people will survive with you to lead them and lighten their days.”
Eowyn shook her head. “I have no light to give them,” she said. “It has all been taken away.” She hugged her brother fiercely, and he embraced her in turn.
“May Bema watch over you,” he said, releasing her.
“And you as well,” she returned.
“Farewell,” Eomer said, and he followed the king.
Eowyn counted a full minute, struggling with the guilt of abandoning her post and betraying the trust of so many. Then she went to her room and changed her dress for men’s clothing. She donned her armor and unraveled her braid. Taking up a pair of scissors, she cut it to the length flavored by the men of the Mark. She put on her helmet and, taking a deep breath, left her room. She made her way to Elfhelm’s command and stood near the old marshal as he issued orders on behalf of his king. Soon, he turned to her and snapped, “Why do you stand there idle?” He glared at her and she met his gaze calmly. Recognition dawned, and he stalked over to her.
“No,” he said simply.
“You cannot stop me,” she told him. “I would prefer to be near my uncle, but if I have to ride with those who do not know me, I will.”
“But the king and Lord Eomer -”
“Will only know if you tell them,” she interrupted. “The people are in the skilled hands of Jereth – she will lead them well. Can you deny it?”
“I… well… no,” Elfhelm managed.
“I thought not. From now on I am Dernhelm, and you must not treat me over-well. And with me on Windfola will ride Master Meriadoc.”
The marshal’s mouth opened, closed and opened again noiselessly.
“Thank you for overlooking us,” Eowyn said, and she walked away, marveling at the freedom of men’s garb. She made Windfola ready then, when the time came, mounted the horse and followed the company as it set out for Edoras, the Halfling still at the King’s side on his small pony.
At Edoras, they heard of Gandalf’s passing a few nights prior, and Eowyn, keeping her distance, was aware that the King had said his farewell to his Halfling squire. When her uncle rode away from the downcast Hobbitla, she approached him.
“Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,” she said in his ear. Master Meriodoc turned and looked at her without recognizing her.
“You wish to go wither the Lord of the Mark goes,” she continued. “I can see it in your face.”
“I do,” Meriadoc said fervently.
“Then you shall go with me,” she said. “I will bear you before me, and under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker. Such good will should not be denied. Say no more to any man, but come!”
“Thank you indeed,” the Halfling said. “Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”
“Do you not? Then call me Dernhelm.” And she introduced him to Windfola, then set him atop the horse and mounted up behind him. Falling into line with Elfhelm’s éored, they trotted off.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book V Chapter V: “The Ride of the Rohirrim” and Chapter VI: “The Battle of Pelennor Fields”.
Four days of hard riding later, the Host was camped a day away from Minas Tirith, awaiting the return of the scouts that had been sent out. Horns were heard, and drums, and men whispered about the Wild Men of the Woods.
Eowyn had not spoken a word more than was strictly necessary, and Elfhelm and his men had pointedly ignored both her and the Halfling.
Meriadoc went off restlessly on his own, then returned with news – the Wild Men of the Woods were to guide them to the city by long-forgotten roads, avoiding the orc companies that lay in wait for them. A Wild Man was assigned to each company, and they soon set off. The way was long and winding, but they saw no orcs. As soon as they returned to the main road, the Wild Men vanished into the woods.
Eowyn slowly guided Windfola close to the Riders of the King’s household and caught his words as he spoke to them.
“Now is the hour come, Riders of the Mark, sons of Eorl! Foes and fire are before you, and your homes are fire behind. Yet, though you fight on an alien field, the glory that you reap there shall be your own forever. Oaths ye have taken: now fulfil them all, to lord and land and league of friendship!”
The men hit their spears on their shields, making a great clamour in their approval. Eowyn mimicked them, ready to throw herself at the enemy. She loosened her sword in its sheath. Meriadoc did likewise.
“Forth now!” the king cried, “and fear no darkness!” They rode on.
Upon Théoden’s orders, Elfhelm led his éored to the right, but Eowyn stayed with the king’s household. They formed up in the large field before Minas Tirith, moving quietly and steadily toward the orcs, who were battering at the great gates of the city. They waited, giving everyone time to get into position. Eowyn could see her uncle, sitting bowed and motionless on his white horse Snowmane, as if affixed by the horrors that lay ahead.
Suddenly a great light went up from the city, followed by a sound like thunder. At that, the king straightened and stood tall in his stirrups, crying out, “Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! Spear will be shaken, shield will be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now to Gondor!” He blew a blast on a horn, and the Host resounded with answering horns.
Snowmane sprang away at his master’s command, running ahead of the Host that followed on his heels. The sun rose as they galloped to battle, and it lit Théoden’s shield like a warning to the enemy and a beacon of hope to his followers. And they rode through the orc battalions, their spears lowered, trampling, hewing, routing and singing songs of slaughter and battle. Eowyn sang along, caught up in the heady excitement of battle and the exhilaration of coming through danger unscathed.
Soon they had taken half the great field and the enemy army was running toward the river. Théoden paused and his men and Eowyn reformed about him. There were still many foes between them and the city. The foreign-looking Haradrim challenged them, coming from the South. Eowyn had heard tails of these men who painted themselves when they went into battle, but neither she nor any of her people had seen them in person. To Eowyn’s dismay, Théoden rode to meet the challenge, but with his stout riders behind him, he rode right through the ranks of the Haradrim and speared the chieftain himself.
Suddenly, nightmare became reality – the sun was blotted out and darkness fell, though it was yet morning. Madness fell on man and horse alike and they were scattered. Eowyn could feel Meriadoc cowering against her. Then Windfola threw them both and bolted. Eowyn held on to no hope for herself, but welcomed the end. I’m coming, Aldor, she thought. But then she heard the voice of her uncle.
“To me! To me! Up, Eolingas! Fear no darkness!”
Wait for me a little longer, Aldor, Eowyn thought. I must to my uncle. And she stood up.
At that moment, Snowbane reared, then fell, screaming, on his side, pinning Théoden under him, a black dart embedded in his white side. The darkness above became a flying creature, enormous and foul, and upon it rode a dark shape that radiated evil. The creature landed on Snowmane, and the horse screamed again in terror and pain, a noise horrible to hear, and still worse to hear end abruptly.
Eowyn ran to her uncle’s body, tears streaming unheeded down her cheeks, and she planted herself at Théoden’s head, crying, “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!”
The voice that answered froze her soul. “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee at thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”
Eowyn pulled her sword Maebh from its sheath, where it had lain during the wild charge of spears. “Do what you will,” she said, now beyond the grasp of fear, “but I will hinder it, if I may.”
“Hinder me?” the cold voice came again, contempt in every word. “Thou fool. No living man may hinder me.”
Eowyn laughed wildly, and the wind played in her hair, loose and helmetless. “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman! Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him.”
The creature screamed at her, and she raised her shield against its foul breath. Then it jumped into the air, its great claws outstretched to rend her, its head lowered to bite.
Eowyn struck at its neck with all her might, and the head was separated from the rest. Blubbering horridly, the creature fell. The sun returned, but the Nazgul stood, tall and menacing, and let out a cry that made quail the hearts of all who heard it. Eowyn stood, unmoved and resolute, though it took all her strength of will. The Nazgul swung his mace. Eowyn blocked it with her shield, but with a great price – shield and arm alike were shattered, and she fell to her knees. He raised the mace again and she looked at him defiantly.
Aldor, I am coming, she thought.
But the Nazgul lurched and the mace went wide. Behind him, Meriadoc stood, his small sword in hand.
Eowyn wondered briefly how he had managed to wound the Nazgul. Seeing their foe open for a strike, she pulled together all the strength that remained in her and drove Maebh into the dark space of his helm where naught but the gleam of eyes could be seen. Her sword shattered as had her shield, and she fell forward into darkness.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains more graphic violence than previous chapters, as well as direct quotes from The Return of the King Book V Chapter VIII: “The Houses of Healing”.
The darkness pressed upon Eowyn. It laughed at her, a grating, evil laugh. “You failed,” it leered in the voice of the Nazgul. “Your uncle is slain, and your brother. Not one of your precious Riders survived. Minas Tirith is falling, and Rohan will be next.”
“Aldor!” she screamed into the blackness. “Where are you?”
The darkness grew even heavier, and she discovered that she could not move. The voice changed, and Grima Wormtongue spoke. “Oh, you think that your dead lover can save you?” his voice mocked. “He has abandoned you, too.”
Trapped and fearful, she no longer had the strength to contend with the darkness and its voices.
“Would you like to see?” Wormtongue’s voice asked.
“No,” Eowyn whispered, but the darkness laughed again, in both voices. It showed her Théoden, lying dead, and Eomer’s head, severed from his body. She tried to close her eyes and found she could not. She saw an arrow pierce Elfhelm, and a sword pierce the Halfling, and they both fell. She saw the field covered with the bodies of men and orcs, and more orcs tramping over them, and still more hacking at women and children in Minas Tirith. She saw the orcs march into the Hold of Dunharrow, laying waste to all before them. Maebh resisted and was slaughtered, her womb slashed open to horrible laughter.
“So perish all who defy the Dark Lord,” the Nazgul’s voice said. The darkness began laughing again, in both voices, and its laughter echoed mercilessly for a long time.
Then, Eowyn discovered she was being pulled through the darkness. The terrible laugher was left behind. She could hear someone calling her name…
She opened her eyes to see Eomer, anxiously looking down at her, his face clean only where tears had run.
“Eomer!” she exclaimed. “What joy is this! For they said that you were slain! Nay, but that was only the dark voices in my dream. How long have I been dreaming?”
“Not long, my sister,” Eomer said, smiling at her. “But think no more on it!”
She felt weary, and told him so. “I must rest a little.” Then she remembered how the voices had also said that Théoden was dead. “But tell me,” she added, “what of the Lord of the Mark?” But full memory returned, of defending his body, and of the courage of the Halfling Meriadoc. She shuddered and said, “Alas! Do not tell me that it was a dream; for I know it was not. He is dead as he foresaw.”
“He is dead,” Eomer confirmed, “but he bade me say farewell to Eowyn, dearer than daughter. He lies now in great honour in the Citadel of Gondor.”
Eowyn gave a slight nod. “That is grievous. And yet it is good beyond all that I dared hope in the dark days, when it seemed that the House of Eorl was sunk in honour less than any shepherd’s cot. And what of the king’s esquire, the Halfling?” she asked. “Eomer, you shall make him a knight of the Riddermark, for he is valiant!” But she could not tell him why – the darkness was yet too recent.
“He lies nearby in this House, and I will go to him,” said another voice, and Eowyn realized that beside her brother stood Gandalf.
“Eomer shall stay here awhile,” the wizard said. “But do not speak yet of war or woe, until you are made whole again. Great gladness it is to see you wake again to health and hope, so valiant a lady!”
“To health?” Eowyn echoed. “It may be so. At least while there is an empty saddle of some rider that I can fill, and there are deeds to do. But to hope?” She shook her head. “I do not know.”
Gandalf and Eomer exchanged a glance, and Gandalf moved away.
“Rest,” Eomer told his sister. “For you said you are weary.”
Eowyn looked at him, afraid of facing the darkness again. Feeling childish, she confessed, “I fear the darkness of my dreams.”
Her brother took her right hand gently in both of his. “I will be here. Now rest.”
Reassured, she closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
When Eowyn awoke, she found Eomer still at her side, asleep with his chin on his chest. Not wishing to disturb him, she took stock of her injuries and surroundings. Her right hand was still clasped in the hands of her brother, and she wondered at how cold it felt despite this. Her left arm, shattered by the Nazgul mace, was tightly bound so to be immobile.
The house she lay in was lit by sunlight muted by window coverings. Wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, reminding her of home, and the air smelled like spring in the meadows. She could hear people talking quietly, and felt the whole house was a refuge from evil. And yet she could muster no hope for a future. But the present was more pressing and, turning her head, she noticed that there was a door and it was opening. A woman peeked around it, and Eowyn made eye contact with her. She smiled as she hurried over and felt Eowyn’s forehead and right arm.
“You’re healing quickly, my lady,” she said quietly. “I expect nature is calling?”
Eowyn realized she did have a pressing need and coloured.
“Be not embarrassed, my lady,” the woman said. “We shall wake your brother and I shall assist you.”
“Has he slept long?” Eowyn asked, reluctant to disturb Eomer’s rest.
Eomer opened his eyes. “Long enough,” he said, and yawned. “It is morning, I see, and I ought to find Lord Aragorn and the other Captains.”
“Lord Aragorn lives?” Eowyn gasped.
“Indeed!” Eomer said. “Out of the Paths of the Dead and upon the ships of corsairs did he come, with a host of men behind him. T’was he who turned the tide of the battle, for we were hard pressed. T’was he, too, who called you back from darkness and death. I will tell him you are awake, and he will think the tidings good, I deem.” He stood and stretched. “I will return when I may. But for the present, know this – your name and deeds have not gone unnoticed. Indeed, Master Meriadoc has done his best to make sure all have heard of them! For he is well, and has spent much time with his small friend Master Peregrin, who came here ahead of us with Gandalf. He, too, shall be glad to hear you are awake, and thus do I go to tell them. I shall return before nightfall, I hope. Until then, farewell.” He left the room, closing the door behind him, and his measured footsteps faded quickly.
Soon, Eowyn’s needs were attended to and she was given a small breakfast, of which she ate little. Meriadoc visited, along with his friend, and they were happy to finish her meal. They talked and laughed, and she tried to allow her heart to be lightened, but when the Healers bade the Halflings return at a later time, her heart was still heavy. Her sleep was fitful, and fell things invaded her dreams.
When she woke, it was afternoon. She was given a small luncheon, and she was surprised to find she had the appetite to eat it all. A Healer woman assisted her with the necessities, then helped her change into a clean robe. She then brushed and plaited her hair. When this was finished, Eowyn begged to walk the corridor, and the Healer reluctantly gave her leave, for she was restless and determined.
Many men she saw, in rooms where doors were open, and there were many who recognized her and called out her name – Eowyn, Nazgul-killer. These she nodded at in acknowledgement. The men of Rohan she spoke with, easing their pain as best she could, putting hope into their hearts, but keeping none for herself. At length she returned to her own bed, hungry and weary. And Eomer came and ate with her, and spoke of how the Captains had decided to march on the Black Land.
“Have you all lost your wits?” Eowyn cried, aghast. “No numbers would breach those walls, if what we’ve heard is true, much less the few thousands that survived!”
“Ah! But there is a plan at play you know not yet, my sister,” he replied. “It seems a Halfling was sent to that land, alone but for a trusty servant, to the very fires of Mount Doom, therein to cast Isildor’s Bane, which was used to build the foundations of the Black Tower, it is said. Those who walked with this Halfling – Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Halflings – are determined to give their friend the Ring-Bearer every chance they can, and so we ride and march – one thousand on horse, six thousand on foot – that the Lidless Eye does not see the one at his feet who will strike the fatal blow.”
“And is it certain this Ring-Bearer made it to Mordor?”
“Nay, not certain, but they agree that if the Dark Lord had discovered him and regained Isildor’s Bane, his power would have doubled and more, and there has been nothing to suggest this has happened. And so we ride and march in hope.”
“In hope,” she echoed. Bitterly she continued, “And I am unable to ride with you, for my horse is fled, my shield is broken, my sword has shattered and my hands are useless.”
“All of these are correct, save one,” Eomer said. “Your horse Windfola has been found, wandering the plains as if in search of you. He has been stabled nearby.” And he told her where to find him.
“Dear Windfola,” she said, smiling faintly. “He has seen me through many dark days.”
“He has some slight injuries; else I’d ask to take him with me. A horse that loyal is scare found even in the Riddermark.” He smiled at her and she returned it, longer than before.
The next day passed in a similar fashion. But when Eomer came in the evening, it was to say farewell.
“We ride ere the sun rises in the morn,” he said.
“What I shall do without you I know not,” Eowyn told him.
“Listen to the Healers, I hope, and give comfort to those who remain, as you have been. And visit your horse when you may.”
“The latter two I will for certain,” she replied.
Eomer passed his hand over his eyes. “Eowyn, Eowyn,” he said with a sigh. “Wilt thou give me grey hairs before my time? The Healers mean only to assist you in getting well. Wilt thou not heed them?”
“I shall, if I deem their council worthy of following,” she returned.
“Try to follow it, even if it is not to your liking,” he entreated.
Eowyn inclined her head. “I will, until I can bear it no longer.”
Her brother sighed again. “I suppose I must be content with that.”
“Be safe,” said Eowyn earnestly. “If you return not, I will have nothing left.”
“Despair not, sister,” Eomer told her. “I will not risk my life needlessly.”
“Would that I were strong enough to come with you,” she said.
“If you were,” he returned, “I would be at a loss to know if I should allow it, or make you stay here, or send you back to guide our people. Speaking of our people, who did you set in your stead?”
Eomer nodded his approval. “A wise lady, and a wise choice, since you would not stay.”
“I could not endure the cage any longer, duty or no,” she said quietly, her eyes downcast.
“Gandalf seemed to think you had more to bear than most could have borne, and I dare say he is right, as usual. For that, I am sorry.”
“The fault is not yours, brother.”
“Maybe, and yet I should have seen it.”
Eowyn smiled ruefully. “You could have done nothing, and thus I took great pains that you should worry about me as little as possible.”
“It saddens me to hear it,” Eomer said. “Yet I would have done the same, so I cannot hold it against you. But the hour grows late, and I must leave you.”
Eomer stood, and Eowyn followed suit. She hugged him fiercely with her right arm, despite her wounds, and he embraced her gently in return. They took comfort in each other for a moment, then stepped apart.
“Farewell, dear sister. Keep up your courage.”
“Farewell, dear brother. May Bema protect you.”
Part Three: Faramir
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book VI Chapter V: “The Steward and the King”.
Two days passed with agonizing slowness as Eowyn followed the instructions of the Healers. But her window looked into the City, not East, and as her body healed, her forced idleness became harder to bear. The third day dawned and Eowyn was more restless than ever. It came to her mind that if Windfola was healing as quickly as she was herself, she might saddle him and join the Host that had gone to the Black Land, for an army on its feet may be soon caught up to by a fast horse with a light rider. And the broken shield-arm signified not – one did note need a hale shield-arm to die with honour.
Determined to hear news or at least visit Windfola, she asked to be given something more suitable to wear than the simple robe of female patients.
“Is not the robe warm and serviceable, my lady?” the Healer asked.
“It is both, but I cannot stay here in idleness, or I shall go mad.”
“You cannot leave without permission from the Warden, who is the Lord of this House.”
“Lead me to him, please,” Eowyn directed. The Healer complied, a dubious expression on her round face.
“Sir,” Eowyn said to him, “I am in great unrest, and I cannot lie longer in sloth.”
But he shook his head. “Lady,” said he, “you are not yet healed, and I was commanded to tend you with especial care. You should not have risen from your bed for seven days yet, or so I was bidden. I beg you to go back.”
Eowyn refrained from an unladylike snort. She had been unable to stay abed for one day. Ten days and she would go mad indeed. None of this did she speak aloud, instead saying, “I am healed, healed at least in body, save my left arm only, and that is at ease. But I shall sicken anew if there is naught that I can do. Are there no tidings of war? The women can tell me nothing.”
“There are no tidings,” the Warden replied, “save that the Lords have ridden to Morgal Vale; and the men say that the new captain out of the North is their chief. A great lord is he, and a healer – ” Eowyn suddenly realized he meant Lord Aragorn. “- and it is a thing passing strange to me that the healing hand should also wield the sword,” he prattled on. “It is not thus in Gondor now, though once it was so, if old tales be true. But for long hears we Healers have only sought to patch the rents made by the men of swords. Though we should still have enough to do without them: the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.”
Eowyn resisted the urge to roll her eyes or turn and leave. She needed this man to grant her permission to leave. “It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden, and those who have not swords can still die upon them. Would you have the folk of Gondor gather you herbs only, when the Dark Lord gathers armies? And it is not always good to be healed in body.” The Warden’s eyebrows crept up. She continued anyway, looking out the window to the East. “Nor is it always evil to die in battle, even in pitter pain. Were I permitted, in this dark time I would choose the latter.” When she received no answer, she turned back to the Warden. “Is there no deed to do?” she asked pleadingly. “Who commands in this City?”
“I do not rightly know,” he replied. “Such things are not in my care. There is a Marshal over the Riders of Rohan -”
That will be Elfhelm, Eowyn thought.
“- and the Lord Hurin, I am told, commands the men of Gondor. But the Lord Faramir is by right the Steward of the City.”
“Where can I find him?” Eowyn asked quickly.
“In this House, lady. He was sorely hurt, but is now set again on the way to health. But I do not know -”
Eowyn’s patience ran out, and she interrupted him. “Will you not bring me to him? Then you will know.”
Mercifully, the Warden complied, but not silently. In the short walk, he informed her of how Lord Faramir’s life had been saved by a Halfling, a friend of the one who was staying in the House under his care. Eowyn felt guilty that she had not visited Master Meriadoc since the Host set out, judging him to be among their number. She resolved to set that right, while still following the Warden’s story. He brought her first to a room that seemed empty, for no one answered the knock, then to the garden, to a man Eowyn deemed to be a number of years older than Eomer, yet younger than Theodred had been, though it was difficult to guess as his cares lay heavily upon him. He was tall and his hair was dark and brushed his shoulders in the manner of the men of Gondor. He looked toward the East as one who wished to be leagues away, but he turned to look at them as they approached.
“My Lord,” the Warden said, “here is the Lady Eowyn of Rohan. She rode with the king and was sorely hurt, and dwells now in my keeping. But she is not content, and she wishes to speak to the Steward of the City.”
“Do not misunderstand him, Lord,” Eowyn put in quickly. “It is not lack of care that grieves me. No houses could be fairer, for those who desire to be healed. But I cannot lie in sloth, idle, caged. I looked for death in battle,” she admitted, surprising herself. “But I have not died, and the battle still goes on.”
Lord Faramir nodded at the Warden, who bowed and left them. “What would you have me do?” he asked, looking gravely at her. And in his eyes was tenderness. “I am also a prisoner of the Healers.”
Looking upon him, Eowyn realized that he was mighty, able to outfight any of her kinsmen, she guessed, but he was also kind and gentle. Truly, she thought, of all men, he will understand.
“What do you wish?” he asked again. “If it lies within my power, I will do it.”
“I would have you command the Warden, and bid him to let me go,” she said, but even as she spoke the words, she had a sudden fear that he, bearing the same burden of idleness, would think her childish.
“I myself am in the Warden’s keeping,” the Steward returned, “nor have I taken up my authority in the City. But had I done so, I should still listen to his council, and should not cross his will in matters of his craft, unless in some great need.”
Feeling like she could trust him, Eowyn shook her head, protesting, “But I do not desire healing! I wish to ride to war like my brother Eomer, or better, like Théoden the King, for he died and has both honor and peace!”
Lord Faramir listened gravely, then said, “It is too late, Lady, to follow the captains, even if you had the strength. But death in battle may come to us all yet, willing or unwilling. You will be better prepared to face it in your own manner, if while there is still time you do as the Healer commanded. You and I, we must endure with patience the hours of waiting.”
His words broke the willfulness that had driven her this far, and she dipped her head slightly in surrender. But yet the burden of waiting without news weighed heavily upon her, and tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to keep the treacherous water at bay, but a single drop spilled over and ran down her cheek, and she resented its betrayal. Her voice, too, betrayed her, but she managed to whisper around the lump in her throat. “But the Healers would have me lie abed seven days yet, and my window does not look Eastward.”
Lord Faramir smiled at her, yet it was not condescending, but warm with understanding. “Your window does not look Eastward?” he repeated. “That can be amended. In this I will command the Warden. If you will stay in this House in our care, Lady, and take your rest, then you shall walk this garden in the sun, as you will; and you shall look East, whither all our hopes have gone. And here you will fine me, walking and waiting, and also looking East. It would ease my care, if you would speak to me, or walk at whiles with me.”
Eowyn wondered at his last sentence. She looked him in the eyes to ask, “How should I ease your care, Lord? And I do not desire the speech of living men.”
“Would you have my plain answer?” he asked.
“I would,” she replied, though the question was unnerving.
“Then, Eowyn of Rohan,” he said, and her heart thrilled unexpectedly to hear it in his voice, “I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady I have seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful.”
Eowyn was taken aback. None had spoken of her so well since Aldor, and the emotions that moved within her were many and impossible to unravel and name. She was spared an immediate reply, for he continued.
“It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls on our world, and when it comes, I hope to face it steadily, but it would ease my heart, if while the sun yet shines, I could see you still. For you and I have both passed under the wings of the Shadow, and the same hand drew us back.”
“Alas, not me, Lord. Shadow lies on me still.” And for the first time, she felt regret that this was so. “Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle. But I thank you for this at least, that I need not keep to my chamber. I will walk abroad by the grace of the Steward of the City.” She curtseyed and turned back to the house, needing privacy to examine all that had transpired in the last half-hour. To her chamber she therefore went, where she considered all she knew of the Steward, and replayed the whole of their conversation, wondering at his words.
At length, she went to find Master Meriadoc, and they ate luncheon together.
“I am sorry I have not visited you these two days,” she told him. “I had thought you well enough to ride with the captains.”
“I did too,” the Halfling replied sadly. “But the Warden deemed otherwise, so here I’ve stayed. As for these last two days, I am at fault as well, for I could have gone to see you well enough.”
They spoke of Théoden and Eomer and others, and of being left behind. After a time, Eowyn yawned and Meriadoc grinned.
“May I suggest a nap?” he asked. “Goes quite well with a full stomach, as many people in the Shire know quite well.”
She returned his smile. “Perhaps you’re right.” And she took her leave to follow his suggestion.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book IV Chapter V: “The Window on the West” and Book V Chapter IV: “The Siege of Gondor”
The next morning again dawned clear and bright. Eowyn breakfasted early and went to the garden, in hopes of having it to herself. She was rewarded, and walked alone for an hour before the Steward came outside.
“Lady Eowyn,” he called, and again she thrilled to hear it, despite herself. “Will you walk with me?”
In the space of a moment she fought with herself, but she went to him, thinking he deserved it for his pains. And though they started talking of light subjects, they soon fell into discussing weightier matters, the courage and stamina of the Halflings being chief. They spent the morning together, at times deep in conversation, at times silent. And she asked leave to visit Windfola, and the Steward consented, to her delight.
That afternoon, after lunching again with Meriadoc and a short nap, Eowyn asked a Healer for an apple. When it was given to her, Eowyn made as if to leave, but the Healer stopped her.
“Where do you think you’re off to?” she asked rudely.
“To see my horse, stabled not far away,” Eowyn told her firmly.
“Not without the Warden’s leave, you’re not,” the Healer replied.
“I have leave from the Steward,” Eowyn said, but though she spoke calmly, she felt the walls closing in like a cage.
“A likely story,” the woman scoffed.
“And yet true,” said the Steward himself, suddenly at Eowyn’s elbow. “Sometimes it takes more than medicine and rest to heal.”
The Healer gulped. “Yes, my lord.”
Turning to Eowyn, he asked, “Would you like an escort?”
“I think I can manage, my lord, but thank you,” Eowyn said. Is that disappointment in his eyes? she wondered immediately after. “But tomorrow, I would be honored,” she added, and she thought his face brightened.
“Till tomorrow, then,” he said gallantly.
She inclined her head, then turned and walked away, feeling that her clean white dress stood out too much amid the dingy white buildings. She found the stables easily by Eomer’s directions and, entering, quickly discovered Windfola. He nickered at her and pranced, showing by every sign a horse may that he had missed her.
“Oh Windfola,” Eowyn said, giving him a hug, “how I’ve missed you!” She gave him the apple, and he ate it quickly. Looking around the stable, she found a store of brushes and combs in one area, and a number of saddles and bridles in another, among which were her own. Someone had cleaned them, but not polished them. The next hour was spent brushing Windfola, being careful about the wounds he had sustained on his flanks, and polishing saddle and bridle until they shone. As she worked, she told the horse about all that had happened since he threw her, a point on which she forgave him. He listened attentively, and allowed her to weep into his mane when grief for her uncle overcame her.
At length, when her tears were spent and horse and tack gleamed, Eowyn took her leave. It was dusk. The City had a different feel to it than it had previously, and she wondered what it would look like if the buildings were cleaned and perhaps painted. Dazzling, probably.
She walked through the streets while a few children scampered home and merchants – mostly women or old men – packed up their wares. It felt homey, and the inner darkness that had left her in Windfola’s stall did not return until Eowyn retired to bed. Even after, her dreams were not as dark as before.
The next day was much the same – waking early to walk in the garden alone, then sharing it with the Steward, but after lunching with Meriadoc she decided to forego her nap so she could introduce Lord Faramir to Windfola. When they arrived at the stables, Eowyn led the Steward to her horse.
“My lord,” she said to him, “this is my horse, Windfola, who has comforted me during many dark times.” Turning to the horse, she continued, “Windfola, this is Lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor, who gave me permission to visit you. You should be grateful as I am.”
The Steward bowed slightly. “Pleased to meet you. But I prefer to simply be called Faramir, by horse and lady alike,” he added, with a courteous nod at Eowyn. “So,” he continued, “I gather you have had Windfola quite some time.”
Eowyn nodded. “He had been my loyal companion these last five years.”
“Would that I had such a companion these last years. It must be a great comfort to tell all to one who will not share secrets with any.”
“It is indeed,” responded Eowyn. “Windfola has been with me, of a sort, in my happiest hour, and has ever been near in the dark days that followed and continue still.”
“Of a sort?” Faramir probed.
Eowyn nodded. “He belonged not to me in the happy time, but to Aldor, the man that I loved.” She looked at Windfola, stroking him, as she spoke. Turning back to Faramir, she added in a low voice, “He died five weeks before we were to be wed.”
“He must have been a great man,” Faramir returned, “in order to secure your love and happiness, however brief it lasted.”
Eowyn nodded, smiling slightly at the memory of Aldor. “He was a great man indeed. My brother and cousin were glad to have him by their side in battle, and it was he who taught me to wield a sword properly. A lighthearted man was he, much needed in the Hall of Meadowseld in the days of Grima Wormtongue.” She shuddered at the name.
“Who was he?” asked Faramir.
“A puppet of Saruman, who in turn made a puppet of my uncle, Théoden King. Long was that dark time, and few the days that were lightened by Aldor. But Gandalf restored order not long since, and Théoden was able to take his own council ere he rode to war.”
“Would Mithrandir had been able to set my father to rights.” Faramir sighed. “In the end, the Dark Lord filled him with such despair it was the undoing of him, and nearly also of me.”
“Despair fills many in these dark days,” Eowyn said, looking back at Windfola. “I have not been untouched by it.”
“And yet you bring light and hope to those around you,” he returned.
“I would not have them also despair. It is a lonely and forsaken place.”
“How long has it been since the darkness fell over you?” Faramir asked gently. “For it began before the winged darkness smote you, I deem.”
“Shadow lay upon Meadowseld for many years ere I came to womanhood, but, as I have said, it was lightened by Aldor. Four years has it been since his death, and such a hole was left in my life, a hole that was bigger than I, an Aldor-shaped hole. And it all but swallowed me up. Daily I was overwhelmed by his absence. Every aspect of my life had been shared by him, if not in person, then in story when I had the opportunity to tell him. When he died, every thread of my life was attached to him, and so every thread of my life led me to the hole, the abyss, and I wished with all my might that I could fall in and be reunited with him. But I resisted, for Eomer’s sake, and for Theodred’s, and perhaps for duty’s sake.”
“Would that I could help you,” Faramir said, his voice low.
She looked at him, noting the concern on his face. “Are you not already helping?” she asked, giving him a small smile. “It means more than I can tell that I may walk in the gardens and visit Windfola.”
His smile mirrored hers and he said, “I am glad to have been able to aid you, my lady.”
“Eowyn,” she told him. “Just call me Eowyn.” She looked at him keenly. “You say the despair was your father’s and yet, I think, it was not his alone.”
“You speak truly, for his shadow of despair was cast over me, and I was hard pressed to fight it, weary in body and soul as I was, and with my brother newly dead. For Boromir and I were always close, despite the variance in our ages. I had heard no news of him for nigh a year, then one afternoon it seemed to me that I heard his horn, and though it was as an echo of my mind, both my father and I deemed it an ill omen, for the horn of Boromir was made of old with such skill that when winded, its voice will not pass unheeded if it be within the bounds of Gondor of old. And an ill omen it was indeed, for three nights later” – his voice dropped, becoming husky – “I saw a strange boat upon the River, and lying in it was my brother, bearing many wounds and under his feet the weapons of many orcs. And I called out to him, but he did not answer, for his sleep was the sleep of death. And the River bore him away. His horn afterward washed up on the banks of the Anduin, broken in twain.” Here he paused. At length he continued, “I did have some word of what had happened to my brother during his last year when, by chance or fate, I met with two Halflings, friends of Peregrin and Meriadoc, who had journeyed with that company. My father took the death of my brother very hard, as Boromir had always been his favorite. He held me in even less esteem when I told him I had let the weapon of the Enemy leave my care, for he thought it should have been brought to him. In his grief and his anger, he was cold and stern, and with words I will not repeat he sent me to hold Osgiliath against the forces of Mordor, an impossible duty, for the fell host was great, the defenders few, and the Captains fewer still.”
“Then it was that you were injured?” Eowyn asked.
Faramir nodded. “I held Osgiliath as long as I could, and when it fell I went to the walls and did there what I could. But a black dart smote me, and I fell at last under the winged shadow.”
Eowyn shivered. “That darkness is yet too close to me. And yet,” she added, “you are not troubled as you once were?”
“Nay, I am not.”
“And how has this come to pass?”
He looked at her and his smile grew. “Time, ease of care and duties, fresh air, sunlight, and, lately, good company.”
Perhaps there is some hope after all, she thought. She nodded her acknowledgement, then yawned. Mortified, she covered her mouth with her hand.
“You didn’t have your afternoon rest today, did you,” Faramir realized.
Eowyn smiled sheepishly. “You have found me out, Lord.”
“Just Faramir, remember?”
She nodded. “Faramir.”
“Come, let’s take you back.” He offered her his arm.
She took it gratefully, realizing she was more tired than she had thought.
“And you asked leave to depart entirely,” he chided gently, shaking his head with a smile.
“Perhaps I was too hasty,” she admitted. “But that was when they were still trying to keep me abed. This,” she gestured to the street, “is far less cagelike. Here, and in the gardens, I can breathe.”
As they walked, people bowed to Faramir, and they heard whispers of “Lord Faramir!” “The Steward is well again!” and “What lady walks with him?” Faramir inclined his head, but they gave no other response.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book VI Chapter V: The “Steward and the King”.
They had two more days of sun, and in the garden the two spoke of kings and family and childhood, but the third day was grey and chill. Eowyn bundled up against the cold and went out early anyway. After a time, she heard footsteps. Recognizing them as Faramir’s, she let him approach. Then the weight of another garment was gently laid on her shoulders and she glanced at Faramir, who was looking both eager and apprehensive, then down at the garment. It was a beautiful blue mantle, and at the hem were silver stars. Eowyn examined it closely then looked again at Faramir, in wonder.
“Where…?” she asked, unable to form a whole question. “Why…?”
Faramir smiled delightedly. “Do you like it?” he asked, eager as a child. His smile was captivating.
“It’s beautiful! But where did you get it? And why?”
“Because it’s cold, of course,” he answered.
“You’ve only answered the second question,” she accused him.
“So I did. It was made for my mother, who died ere she wore it.” His smile dimmed, but he continued, “It has been laid away for a number of years, waiting for another beautiful lady to wear it.”
She laid a hand on his arm as it lay on the wall. “I’m honored,” she said softly, for they had spoken of their mothers the previous day.
They stood awhile in silence, looking East and North. Suddenly, Eowyn shivered, despite her many layers, thinking of Lord Aragorn and Eomer.
“What do you look for, Eowyn?” Faramir asked.
“Does not the Black Gate lie yonder? And must he not now be come thither? It is seven days since he rode away.” For reasons she did not know, she answered as if she thought only of her brother.
“Seven days,” Faramir repeated. “But think not ill of me, if I say to you: they have brought me a joy and a pain that I never thought to know. Joy to see you; but pain, because now the fear and doubt of this time are grown dark indeed. Eowyn, I would not have this world end now, or lose so soon what I have found.”
“Lose what you have found? I know not what in these days you have found that you could lose.” She turned to look at him, and read in his eyes what she had read in Aldor’s long ago. But the plea in them was one she could not answer, for the darkness was too great. She tried to dismiss both the unasked question and the darkness by adding lightly, “But come, my friend, let’s not speak of it. Let’s not speak at all.” And yet she went on, admitting to him what she had tried to ignore. “I stand upon some dreadful brink, and it is utterly dark in the abyss before my feet, but whether there is any light behind me I cannot tell. For I cannot turn yet. I wait for some stroke of doom.”
“Yes,” said Faramir gravely, “we wait for the stroke of doom.”
They waited, and time stood still as the world balanced precariously between hope and despair. And they clasped hands, unaware of doing so. Eowyn thought she saw darkness and lighting over the distant mountains, but she was unsure. Then, just as suddenly as the great waiting had begun, it ended, and time continued as if it had never paused.
Faramir spoke quietly, as if to himself. “It reminds me of Numenor.”
“Of Numenor?” Eowyn echoed, looking up at him.
“Yes,” said he, still looking East, “of the land of Westernesse that foundered, and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. I often dream of it.”
Eowyn understood him better then, but fear gripped her at his words. “Then you think darkness is coming? Darkness unescapable?” She edged closer to him and realized her hand was in his. Caring not in this dreadful hour, she moved even closer to him and gripped his hand.
Faramir turned to her as if realizing his words had frightened her. “No,” he said gently. “It was but a picture in the mind. I do not know what is happening. The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But,” he continued, “my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and a light are come to me that no reason can deny. Eowyn, Eowyn, White Lady of Rohan – ”
Once more she thrilled again at the sound of her name at his lips, despite the fear.
“ – in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!”
And as she wondered at his contradicting words, he bent and kissed her forehead. She wished to relax into him, as she had done long ago in the arms of Aldor, but she felt disloyal both to Aldor and to Lord Aragon, and she fought with herself. And lo! the clouds lifted and the sun shone. Overwhelmed, Eowyn excused herself and went to her room, feeling Faramir’s eyes upon her.
Why did you dismiss his words? she berated herself. He’s handsome, kind, gentle… all you could hope for.
He’s not Aldor, nor even Lord Aragorn, she answered herself.
Aldor’s dead, and he would want you to be happy. You can’t deny Faramir drives away the darkness.
True but –
And Lord Aragorn is not unattached, and looks at you as a friend, or perhaps a sister, nothing more.
Does she yet love him? You know not.
How could she not? To be the Queen beside such a king would be great indeed, and he is one who cannot be forgotten.
Why not beside such a Steward as Faramir?
There was no answer for this question, and Eowyn threw her pillow across her chamber in frustration, unable to sort out her emotions in any satisfactory way. Unwilling to stay alone with her thoughts any longer, she went to help the Healers, as she had been doing for a few days. She was still helping when the news came that a great Eagle was come, bringing tidings of the fall of the Dark Lord and the victory of the King. Quickly finishing her task, she went to the garden to find Faramir, but he was not there. She returned to the house, her heart sinking as she realized she did not know which chamber was his. She turned to Meriadoc’s room instead, and found the Halfling within.
“Have you heard?” Eowyn asked.
“No, what’s the news?” Meriadoc said quickly.
“Sauron is destroyed! A great Eagle brought the news not five minutes ago!”
To Eowyn’s astonishment, the Halfling lept up and danced upon the floor. “Frodo! Frodo! Jolly old Frodo! He did it! And Sam, too, I expect! What splendid news!” He took her good hand and she allowed him to spin with her. Then a voice came from the doorway.
“I see you have heard the news.” Faramir stood there, smiling delightedly.
“Isn’t it splendid?” Eowyn said, smiling unreservedly at him, slightly out of breath.
“It is indeed,” he returned, and she felt as if he were speaking about more than the fall of Sauron. But Meriadoc was speaking before she could think further.
“I knew he could do it! He must’ve flung the Ring straight into the mountain fire! Though the Fellowship was scattered, Frodo and Sam succeeded in our great Quest! Won’t old Bilbo be proud!”
And the three friends laughed, rejoicing in the newfound relief from fear and darkness.
The next morning, Eowyn waited for Faramir in the gardens. He came and he smiled upon her, and she basked in that smile, to her own confusion.
“The Warden has pronounced me healed!” he told her in excitement.
“That is good news indeed!” she returned in kind. “Whither will you go?”
His smile dimmed. “I shall return to the Hall of my fathers and take up the mantle of Steward, as is my obligation.” Then he sighed. “Would that Boromir lived and could bear this burden as was his right.”
“Let me not say anything against your brother, nor your grief, for you loved him well, but this role, I deem, will fit you like well-made mail. Your people already love you, and you will do well by them.”
“I thank you for your confidence in me,” Faramir said, moved by her words. “I don’t know that I deserve it.”
Eowyn looked at him skeptically. “You’d rather believe I lie?”
Faramir inclined his head in surrender. “That I would not say, but perhaps you think better of me than you ought. I shall yet hope the King relieves me of this burden, when he comes.”
There was silence, but Faramir had an odd look on his face. Eowyn, as afraid of what his next words might be, spoke quickly. “When do you take up this role?”
“This very morning,” he answered. Eowyn’s heart fell – there would be no more mornings with him by her side. She told herself this was good, but she could not make herself believe it fully.
“Is this goodbye, then?” she asked quietly.
“It is, for now. But I will return at times, when I may, and walk the gardens with you.” It was almost a question, and Eowyn found herself nodding.
“That would suit me well,” she said.
“Then so be it.” He smiled, but his eyes were sad. Taking her good hand, he kissed it. “Farewell for the present, Eowyn of Rohan. May our next meeting be soon.” Releasing her hand, he turned and strode away without a backward glance.
“Farwell, Faramir,” she whispered toward his receding figure, and she watched long after he was out of sight.
* * *
The next day dawned bright, but the sun could not warm Eowyn, though she pulled the beautiful blue mantle tightly about her. She did not stay in the gardens long, feeling strangely restless. She soon went to bury herself in helping others. News came in the afternoon that Eomer King and Peregrine the Halfling were safe. And Meriadoc was loud in his rejoicing, and Eowyn smiled at the news, but it did not gladden her heart as she expected, though indeed she was relieved.
Days passed with no sign of Faramir. Eowyn spent her hours tending to the ill and injured, willing and able despite the arm in a sling. Then one day a young Rider, little more than a youth, came to the house, asking for Eowyn and Meriadoc.
“Master Meriadoc,” the Rider began, “It is the wish of Lord Aragorn that you join him and your friends Pippin, Frodo and Samwise on the Fields of Cormallen, if the Warden permits.”
Meriadoc laughed. “I feel whole and well again, and I’ll not let the Warden stop me from returning with you. But I am glad to know Frodo and Sam are alright.” And immediately he set to packing his few belongings.
“My lady Eowyn,” the Rider said, turning toward her, “Eomer King would have his sister join him on the same Field, if she be well and willing.”
Eowyn looked at him thoughtfully. Eventually she spoke. “Tell my brother I await the day he returns to this city.”
“My lady,” the Rider protested, “will you not come?”
“I have given you my answer,” she replied, and left the Halfling’s room, returning to her own. Not long after, she heard a light rapping on her door.
“My lady? It’s Merry,” came the Halfling’s voice. She opened the door to see his concerned face peering up at her.
“We’re leaving,” he said apologetically. “There’s still time, though, if you want to change your mind.”
She made no answer.
“Are you well, my lady?” he asked.
“Yes, I am well,” answered she.
“And your horse? Isn’t he healed?”
“Windfola is healed, yes.”
“Then why don’t you come?”
But Eowyn just shook her head. “May Bema keep you safe. Please give Eomer my love.”
Meriadoc nodded. “I will, my lady. Say goodbye to Faramir for me. Farewell.”
He turned and walked away, leaving Eowyn wondering if she had made the right choice. But no – how could she face Lord Aragorn after the scene she had made at the Doorway to the Paths of the Dead, and if she wasn’t here, waiting, when Faramir returned, she would regret it. Besides, what would there be to do at the camp besides wait upon the Captains? No, better to stay here. But despite this certainty, she was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions and, sinking onto her bed, she buried her head in her hands and wept.
The following morning, as Eowyn worked with the Healers, a message came to her that Faramir was in the gardens, waiting for her. Quickly she went to her chamber and put on the blue mantle, then hastened outside.
Faramir leaned against a tree, watching a bird as it hopped along the ground. Eowyn paused, unwilling to disturb the scene, content to watch. But he looked up, perhaps feeling her eyes on him, and his face lit up in a smile.
“Eowyn!” he called. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I have come as quickly as possible, my lord.”
He gave her a disapproving look at the formality.
“Faramir,” she amended, and his face cleared again.
“I had expected to find you here in the garden, for it is yet early morning. Are you well?”
“I am well. I was but helping those who are not so fortunate.”
He nodded. “And how is Windfola?”
“Healed, and ready for slight exercise.”
“What would you say to riding with me?” Faramir asked.
Eowyn smiled. “I would be honored. When shall we go?”
Faramir’s face fell slightly. “Not today, I fear. I have only an hour before I must return to my duties.”
“And what is included in those duties? My life is the same as it has been; tell me about yours.”
He complied willingly, and thus the next three-quarters of an hour were spent, both parties content. But it seemed all too soon that Faramir sighed and said, “The rest must wait, if you are not bored of it already.”
“Nay, it is interesting to me,” she answered quickly. “Indeed, some of it is not unlike my own duties at Edoras, when Théoden King was under the spell of Grima Wormtongue and cared not for the doings of his household.”
And Faramir looked at her with fresh appreciation. “Perhaps, then,” he said, “I should bring my most puzzling problems to you, that you may council me.”
“I am willing to help you as I may,” she replied.
He sighed again, hanging his head. “There is so much to be done, I shall be hard pressed to make time to ride with you as I desire. But I pledge this – if you be yet willing, I shall ride with you before the next week ends.”
“I look forward to it.”
“But now I must return to my duties,” he said reluctantly. “Give my regards to Meriadoc.”
“Oh!” Eowyn exclaimed guiltily. “I forgot! He bid me tell you farewell for him, as he was summoned by Lord Aragorn to the fields of Cormallen yester morn.”
“I see. I too was bidden, but I cannot leave my duties, having so recently taken them up.” And he looked at her closely, but if he wondered why she hadn’t been summoned, he asked not.
“I must bid you farewell,” he said instead and as he had before, he took her hand and kissed it. “Until we meet again, Eowyn, White Lady.”
Though Faramir spoke gravely, Eowyn responded with a smile, concealing how her heart had sped up when he said her name. “Until next week, Faramir, Steward of Gondor.”
The week dragged by. Every morning, Eowyn spent an hour in the garden, hoping to see Faramir, before returning to her work. Mid week, a Rider came from the Fields of Cormallen to her. Not the same youth as before, but an older man.
“My lady,” he said, bowing, “My lord Eomer bade me come to you with this message: Why does my sister not come? We are to be camped here weeks yet, and she is most welcome to join us, for we are unlikely to return until the new month is spent. Further, I beg you to join us, for I would fain see my sister. And,” the Rider added, “he bade me give you his love. That is the whole of his message.”
“Thank you,” she told him. “You may tell my brother I am well, and that here in the Houses of Healing I am doing more good than I would in a war camp. I shall remain here. I thank my brother for his love, and I would have him know that I think of him often, and I send him my love in return. That is my full message.”
“He will be disappointed, my lady,” the Rider ventured.
“I understand, and for that I am sorry. But my mind is unchanged.” I will not sit idle in a war camp or anywhere else, she told herself fiercely. I will not. She looked at the Rider. “Whatever he may say, it is not your fault I refuse to come. Remember that.”
He nodded, then bowed and left. Eowyn sighed and turned back to her work.
It was the last afternoon of the week when Faramir returned. They rode slowly through the streets of Gondor, discussing problems Faramir faced, though he interrupted the conversation often to point out anything he deemed worthy, from the best inn to the house of a childhood playmate. They toured the parks and gardens and Faramir brought her to see the White Tree, all but dead though it was.
“I have one last thing to show you,” he said. He dismounted near a door. A boy came forward and took his reins. Eowyn followed suit, giving Windfola’s reins to the boy.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Inside for but a few minutes, then out again,” he said with a grin.
Eowyn was puzzled, but she took his offered arm, and they walked through halls and doorways and passages to a sitting room. Faramir opened a final door, saying, “I wanted to show you my mother’s garden.” He gestured to the doorway and she walked through. Outside, plants Eowyn had never seen grew alongside a few she knew, all obviously well tended, even to her untrained eyes. Few of the many varieties were in bloom, and yet the garden seemed to be bursting with life within its high walls.
“It’ll be prettier in a few weeks,” Faramir said apologetically.
Eowyn turned back to him, her eyes wide. “It gets better than this?”
He chuckled. “You should see it in early summer, when nearly everything is in bloom.” As she turned back to the garden, he continued, “My mother used to have me help her when I was very young. After she died, it fell into disuse, but since I’ve been half-grown I’ve worked in it when I was in the City, and I pay a woman to keep it up when I’m not around.”
Eowyn nodded, then pointed to a familiar-looking plant. “What’s this? I’ve seen it in the Healers’ garden.”
“That’s Ideris. It blooms pink in late spring.”
“Lordsbloom. This is the one month it flowers.”
Enchanted, Eowyn listened closely as Faramir named all the flowers, when they bloomed and what they would look like. Eventually, they reached the end.
As they slowly rode back to Windfola’s stable, Eowyn turned to Faramir and said, “Thank you for showing me everything, especially your mother’s garden.”
“It was my pleasure,” he returned, “and I hope this is only the first time you see it, though I suppose it will belong to the King when he returns.”
Then Faramir sighed. “Now, back to my work. I fear I have been overlong, though I do not regret a single moment. I look forward to the King’s coming, that he can help me set all to rights, for my father left many things in great disarray. But I shall try to come next week, if I may.”
Eowyn smiled. “I shall look for you, my friend.”
Faramir held out his hand, and Eowyn gave him hers, which he kissed.
“Until next time,” she said.
“May the days be short,” he returned.
They were not. The week dragged by. The weather was damp and grey, and Eowyn spoke little except at need, weighed down by the dreariness and the sameness of the days. On the sixth day, a boy came bearing a message for her. She recognized him.
“You are a friend of the Halflings, are you not?” she asked.
He nodded. “Aye. Master Pippin befriended me during his time here, and then Master Merry. I am Bergil, son of Beregond, formerly of the Tower Guard. But I was sent to you by the Steward.”
Eowyn’s heart sank, for she knew Faramir would not have sent a message if he was coming. “Go ahead,” she told the boy.
“He was upset, my lady. Sad and angry both, I think. And he sighed deeply and said, ‘Go to my lady Eowyn in the Houses of Healing and tell her that I deeply regret I will not be able to join her this week. But I am determined that this will not happen again. I shall see her next week whatever bars my path, if she be yet willing. Now go.’ So,” the boy finished, “here I am. Would you like to send a message back to him?”
Eowyn nodded. “Tell him his apology is accepted, and I shall look for him next week.” As Bergil left, Eowyn sighed. “And everything shall remain grey,” she whispered to herself. Then she returned to her work. All week she spoke only when strictly necessary, though she was careful that her hands were more gentle than ever before, and many a healing soldier under her care wondered at this, rejoicing to see her, yet sorrowing at her unknown sorrow. And though her ministering brought her no joy, it yet gave her solace, knowing she was helping others, and something to focus on beside her own unquiet mind.
Slowly, four days passed, and on the fifth, Faramir came, and they walked in the garden as they had in the first days of their meeting, a month before.
“I have had word from your brother,” Faramir told her. “He asked me if I would speak to you on his behalf. I suppose Meriadoc mentioned our friendliness, or perhaps he heard word that I had taken up my duties as Steward.”
“Would you send me away?” Eowyn asked, suddenly fearful.
“Nay! I would not have you do anything against your own desire, and so I told Eomer.” He turned to her and, searching her face, asked, “Eowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cair Andros, where your brother awaits you?”
She looked down. Thinking he might understand her better than she understood herself, she replied, “Do you not know?”
“Two reasons there may be, but which is true, I do not know,” he said slowly.
Eowyn looked at him again, and his eyes were troubled.
“I do not wish to play at riddles,” she said. “Speak plainer.” And she wished, but she knew not what it was that she wished.
“Then, if you will have it so, my lady,” he said, and she wondered if the term was one of formality or endearment.
“You do not go,” Faramir continued, “because your brother only called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, in his triumph would not bring you no joy. Or perhaps,” he hesitated for a single heartbeat, “because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot chose between them.” His voice dropped, becoming husky. “Eowyn, do you not love me?”
His eyes searched hers, and in them she saw concern and hope and something else that might be pity or love, but she wasn’t sure.
“I wished to be loved by another,” she said, avoiding the question she dared not answer yet. “But I desire no man’s pity.”
“That I know.” He nodded in understanding. “You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn, because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great Captain may to a young soldier, he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest there now is.” Eowyn turned away as Faramir went on. “But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Eowyn.” And he took her good hand in both of his, and she looked at him, and his eyes were aflame with passion.
“Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn!” he said. “But I do not offer you my pity, for you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongues to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Eowyn, do you not love me?” His eyes pled with her to say yes, and she knew her own mind at last – truly she loved this man before her, and she wished to be beside him always. And lo! her heart was hopeful and joyful and light as it had not been since the death of Aldor.
“I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, and behold!” she said, “the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” She looked at Faramir, willing to understand her full meaning as she finished, “No longer do I wish to be queen.”
A light of pure joy shone in Faramir’s face and he laughed in relief and rejoicing and understanding. “That is well,” said he, “for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden of our own. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.”
Looking up at him, she spoke more in mischief than in seriousness, saying, “Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor? And would you have your proud folk say of you: ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?’”
Faramir’s eyes twinkled down at her. “I would.” And, mindful of her wounded arm, he bent and kissed her. Letting go of any remaining inhibitions, Eowyn threw her good arm around him and kissed him in return, both heedless of being seen by onlookers on the street below. Then Eowyn lowered her face to his chest and he held her gently and securely, ever careful of her left arm, still tied in a sling, and rested his head against hers. Blissful and serene, she basked in his presence – his muscles and his smell, his heartbeat and his breath in her hair.
At length, Faramir shifted, and Eowyn looked up at him.
“Are you content, my lady?” he asked softly, with emphasis on the word ‘my’. He was smiling, his eyes full of joy and love.
“Content? I am beyond content,” she answered, returning the smile wholeheartedly. “I am happier than I have words to tell.”
“And I, to hear you say it. May it always be so,” said he, and he kissed her again. Then, taking her by the hand, he led her to the Warden.
“Here is the Lady Eowyn of Rohan,” he said to him, “and now she is healed.”
The Warden looked at them both, then nodded sharply. “Then I release her from my charge and bid her farewell, and may she suffer never hurt nor sickness again. I commend her to the care of the Steward of the City, until her brother returns.”
But Eowyn pressed Faramir’s hand and said, more to him than to the Warden, “Yet now I have leave to depart, I would remain. For this House has become to me of all dwellings the most blessed.”
“You are welcome to stay as long as you wish,” the Warden replied, “for your assistance to my Healers is valued.”
“Thank you sir,” she said, and they left him to his work.
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book VI Chapter V: The “Steward and the King”.
Over the next nine days, Eowyn helped Faramir daily in his work and in his mother’s garden, and the City began to fill with people as women and children returned from the various places they had fled to before the siege. Great preparations were made for the coming of the King, for he was to come on the first of May.
One of these days, Eowyn slipped away and found Elfhelm where the Riders left to guard the City were housed.
“My lady,” he said, bowing his head, “I am glad to see you whole and hale again after these many years. The darkness that covered you all this while has passed, and I hear rumors that congratulations are in order.”
Eowyn smiled. “I thank you for your kind words. Yes, the shadow is gone, and I have accepted the offer of love and marriage of Faramir, Steward of Gondor, who did much to lift the shadow from me. I must also thank you for allowing me to ride in your company, for I doubt any of this would have come to pass had you not.”
“Perhaps,” he returned, “and perhaps the battle of the Pelennor Fields would have gone quite differently had you not been there to smite the Dark King who was the ruin of your uncle, for I deem that the Dark King would have wreaked much havoc if he had not met his doom by your sword.”
Eowyn gave a nod. “There is much to be thankful for.”
Finally the evening came when beyond the walls appeared the many pavilions of the armies of the West, for it was the eve of May. The next morning dawned bright and fair, and those left to defend the City were lined up along the outer wall, leaving the people to crowd the streets and line the walltops and parapets.
Eowyn went with Faramir, both in their best raiment, and they stood with Elfhelm and Hurin, Warden of the Keys, in front of the barrier placed in the gateway after the great gates had been destroyed.
And Lord Aragorn came, clad in black mail with a white mantle clasped with the green Elf-stone, escorted by the silver-clad Dunedain, his kin, and Eomer King, and Gandalf, and one Eowyn did not know, and four Halflings.
Faramir nodded sharply, and a trumpet was sounded, then he and Hurin approached them, followed by four guards carrying the King’s Crown in a great casket. At Lord Aragorn’s feet, Faramir knelt and, extending to him the white rod of the Stewards, said, “The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.”
A great gasp went up from all that heard, and for the space of a breath, Eowyn worried about what response Lord Aragorn would give. He took the rod, then gave it back, saying, “That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thine office!”
Eowyn smiled, for she knew Faramir esteemed the office more than he realized, and had he been given another answer, she believed he would have been discontent after but a few weeks.
Faramir stood, and above the noise of the crowds he raised his voice. “Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, Wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur’s son, Elendil’s son of Numenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?”
And as Faramir spoke, Eowyn’s heart swelled, but it was not to hear of the greatness of the Lord Aragorn, but to hear the voice of the Steward, strong and clear, unfaltering despite the great Host and crowds.
“Yea!” cried all as with one voice. And an excited chattering began, but Faramir spoke once more, and all others were hushed.
“Men of Gondor,” he cried again, “the loremasters tell that it was the custom of old that the king should receive the crown from his father ere he died; or if that might not be, that he should go alone and take it from the hands of his father in the tomb where he was laid. But since things must now be done otherwise, using the authority of the Steward, I have today brought hither from Rath Dinen the crown of Earnur the last king, whose days passed in the time of our longfathers of old.”
The guards stepped forward and Faramir took from the casket the Crown, which was not unlike the helms of the Guards of the Citadel, with their engraven seabird wings, but was adorned with jewels. And Aragorn took the crown and spoke in a tongue Eowyn did not know. But then he returned the Crown to Faramir, saying, “By the labor and valour of many I have come into my inheritance. In token of this I would have the Ring-Bearer bring the Crown to me, and let Mithrandir set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory.”
So it happened, and as Gandalf placed the Crown on Lord Aragorn’s head, the wizard said, “Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!”
The King stood, and Faramir heralded him, crying, “Behold the King!”
And there was a blast of trumpets, and musicians played and there was great rejoicing, and Hurin of the Keys thrust back the barrier, and the King entered Gondor.
“You remembered it all!” Eowyn said proudly as Faramir returned her. In reply, he kissed her, grinning broadly.
Eomer, following Lord Aragorn, came upon them, grinning likewise, and he hugged Eowyn and clapped Faramir on the back, and they all went in together.
* * *
Over the next two days, Lord Aragorn (who Eowyn had a hard time calling King Elessar) sat upon his throne and gave out rewards to the faithful, and pardoned many others. To Faramir he gave the Lordship of Ithilien, the ancestral seat of the Stewards, and it was understood that by Faramir’s effort, the fair land the he had guarded as captain of the Rangers of Ithilien would be scourged of the last of the Dark Lord’s followers and rebuilt. And to him was assigned Beregond, father of young Bergil, to be the Captain of his Guard, for Beregond had broken the laws of Minas Tirith in order to save the life of his future Steward.
Eomer announced that he and his Riders would be leaving for Rohan in a week’s time, but that the fallen Théoden king would sleep with the renowned of Gondor for some time yet. Afterward, Faramir found Eowyn and asked, “Will you go with your brother?”
Eowyn nodded. “Now I must go back to my own land and look upon it once again, and help my brother in his labour, but when the one I loved as a father is laid at last to rest, I will return.”
And he took her to a high wall and showed her the hills of Emyn Arnen. “There,” he said, “will be our home, in time. Would that I could show you ere you return to Rohan! But it is near a whole day’s ride, and dark things dwell there still. I shall await the day I see you again, but my impatience will not be spent in sloth, for I shall put forth all my energy into clearing the dark things out of our hills and making them habitable.”
“Our hills,” she repeated, laying her head against him. “I like that.”
“Always shall I think of them thus,” he said. “But how is your arm, for I see it is no longer bound in a sling.”
“Nay, it is healed,” she replied. “I was given exercises to strengthen it, and it shall soon be as well as ever it was.”
“I am glad,” he said, “for now I can hold both your hands.”
“And my heart,” she added, as he kissed each hand in turn.
“And I shall treasure them,” he said, and he kissed her and she responded in kind, laughing in contentment and delight.
The day of the departure of the Roherrim came far too quickly for Eowyn, though she had spent every possible moment with Faramir, meeting his uncle, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, as well as his cousins and Beregond and many others. They had said goodbye privately the previous evening, and now that the time was come to part, Faramir pressed her hand to his lips, and volumes were spoken through their eyes without as sound passing their lips. Then he released her hand, and the Riders moved off. With them were the sons of Elrond, the two elves that had ridden with the Dunedain and, as all Minas Tirith knew, now rode to meet their father and their sister Arwen, she who was to be Queen of Gondor. Eowyn envied her not.
The journey was uneventful, and they rode without haste, arriving at Dunharrow on the eighth day. From there, the Riders dispersed to their own homes, for Eomer had long since sent word that the people need not stay in the Holds of Dunharrow and Helm’s Deep any longer, but could return to their homes safely. Eowyn returned with Eomer to Meadowseld, where the sons of Elrond accepted their hospitality for one night before continuing on toward Mirkwood.
There was great rejoicing in Rohan, for there was no more reason for fear and many had returned, but there was also great sorrow for the many who had fallen, not least Théoden King.
One of the first things Eowyn did was visit the smithy. Inside she found Maebh and her husband Felim working, she noticeably thinner than the last time Eowyn had laid eyes upon her. They both turned, and Maebh shouted Eowyn’s name, trust her metal into a barrel and came swiftly over, engulfing her in a hug.
“You’ve returned safely!” she exclaimed.
Eowyn smiled. “I have, though for a few months only, I hope.”
“Oh? You must tell me all.”
“I will, in due time, for there is much to tell. But first, I want your news.” And she glanced significantly at Maebh’s midriff.
Maebh pulled her to the corner furthest from the fire. In it, Eowyn realized, was a cradle, and in the cradle lay a tiny baby, clad but lightly in the heat of the forge, but with wool about its ears.
“He came nigh a month ago,” Maebh said proudly, crouching down to catch a tiny fist. Eowyn did likewise, awed by the child and his grip of her flinger, sleeping though he was.
“Does not the din of your work affect him?” Eowyn asked.
“My clever Felim discovered that sheep’s wool muffles the sound considerably, so we cover his ears well, and he sleeps through it all.”
“What did you name him?”
Maebh grinned. “I was going to name him after you if he was a girl. But he had ideas of his own, so we named him Egon.”
Just then the baby opened his eyes and yawned.
“Hello, Egon,” Eowyn breathed.
“Would you like to hold him?”
“May I?” asked Eowyn. “But perhaps I shouldn’t, for my left arm has not yet regained its strength.”
“Then you shall sit and hold him,” Maybh said decidedly. “He will not fuss overmuch, I think, and one arm is enough, for now, especially with the chair arm.” She pointed to a rocking chair, and Eowyn sat in it obediently. Maebh picked up her son and placed him carefully in the crook of Eowyn’s right arm. Eowyn moved her left arm to support the baby; weak though it was, it made her feel more secure.
“He’s so light,” she marvelled.
“He’s heavier than your sword,” Maebh laughed.
Eowyn laughed with her. “I never held my sword this way.”
“Now,” Maybh said, “tell me all.”
Eowyn complied, and both blacksmiths listened attentively.
“They didn’t find my sword,” Eowyn said regretfully when she had described the encounter with the Dark King. “Lord Aragorn wondered if it melted into thin air when it smote the Shadow King. I am sorry.”
“What is the loss of a sword when it has done such glorious deeds, and its bearer has returned safely?” Maebh said.
Eowyn smiled and continued her story, but when she began trying to explain the darkness she had sunken into after destroying the shadow lord, the baby began to fuss, his small mouth opening and closing.
“What did I do wrong?” Eowyn asked, alarmed.
Maebh chuckled. “Nothing. He’s simply hungry.” Taking Egon from her friend, Maebh deftly adjusted her blouse so he could nurse, then said, “Go on.”
Eowyn stood. “You take the chair; I’m tired of sitting.”
Maebh did, and Eowyn continued her story, though she watched her friend closely, fascinated by the expert way Maebh fed and burped Egon, then dried him and put him to sleep. She noted how Felim looked at his wife and child with such pride and devotion she thought her heart would melt.
“Would you like to hold him again?” Maebh asked as Eowyn paused to take a breath while describing the coronation of Lord Aragorn.
“Won’t he wake up?”
Maebh shook her head. “He’s full and dry; he’ll sleep for a good long time.”
“Alright then.” Eowyn smiled. As soon as she was settled with the baby again, she went on with her narrative, leaving some parts out to tell Maebh when Felim was elsewhere, as she had been doing. After her narrative was complete, Maebh, understanding there was more to be heard, drew her into the small house next door, where Eowyn told all the missing details as Maebh cooked dinner. And their hearts were full.
In the days and weeks that followed, Eowyn spent as much time as she could with baby Egon. She marveled at his perfect, miniature fingers, and daydreamed of the future, when the baby in her arms would be not Egon, but her own child, and it would be Faramir looking at her and their baby with pride and devotion.
June came and went, and there was news from Gondor that King Elessar had wed with the Lady Arwen, daughter of the Elf-Lord Elrond. And Eowyn envied her not, save that, living in Minas Tirith, she would see Faramir, while Eowyn herself was yet obliged to wait long months before laying eyes on him again.
Finally Rohan was settled to Eomer’s liking, and in early July he set out with many Riders to bring home Théoden King. Eowyn thought to go with them, but at length she decided to remain in Edoras, to make ready for the many people who would join Théoden on his last journey. She calculated that Eomer and his Riders would be gone nearly a month, for while they would travel to Minas Tirith quickly, their solemn journey home would be at a more measured pace.
On the fourteenth day after the Riders departed, a messenger returned to say that they thought to arrive a few days after mid-month. With Eomer and his Riders were coming the King of Gondor, his seven Companions, his wife and five elves of her royal family, as well as Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and his daughter, Prince Faramir of Ithilien, and many captains, knights and Elven-folk besides.
“Oh Jereth,” Eowyn fretted, “We know so little of the customs of these people! May the King and Queen of Gondor share a room? I shall put the Halflings together, for the two I knew seemed quite close, and I don’t think they’d mind. Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf will be together, for by all accounts they are fast friends and rarely apart. Must I give each of the Queen’s family members his own room, or may the Lord and Lady of Lorien share? Her brothers shall share, for they seemed on the road to share everything. I’ve a mind to put Faramir and Prince Imrahil his uncle together, but then what of the Prince’s daughter? Perhaps she could stay with me, as there are only so many rooms? Or should I put her with her father, and put Faramir elsewhere? I know not if she is a grown woman or a child.”
Jereth had no answers, though they discussed options for a time.
The next morning, Eowyn called the messenger back. “Return to our future guests, to Lord Faramir. If possible, pull him aside to ask him these questions of lodging etiquette: May the King and Queen share a room? What of the Lord and Lady of Lorien? And ought I to put Prince Imrahil with his daughter, or put Imrahil and Faramir together and put his cousin with me? And tell him, too, that I am counting down the days until he arrives.”
The messenger was dispatched and Eowyn set about the monumental task of providing food for the scores of guests. In time, the messenger returned and said, “The Lord Faramir bade me say this – the King and Queen may share, as may the Lord and Lady. Prince Imrahil’s daughter, Lothiriel, would be delighted to room with you, and you may put Lord Faramir and his uncle together. He also bade me to give you his love.”
“Thank you,” Eowyn said. She dismissed him and called Jereth, and together they found rooms and beds for all the royals and Lord Aragorn’s companions. “The others will just have to sleep in tents outside Edoras,” Eowyn said. “There’s no space for them in Meadowseld, or all Edoras.”
The day finally arrived when Eowyn stood on the stair and watched for the coming of the funeral procession. Memories stirred her, of meeting Lord Aragorn, of waiting for Aldor, of hearing of Aldor’s death, of Grima Wormtongue scuttling around.
Dust rose up in the distance. She watched it for a time, gauging how long it would take for those kicking it up to arrive. Coming to a conclusion, she went back inside the Hall to make her last-minute preparations. In time, she came back out and again stood upon the stair, arrayed in white as was her custom. But it was more than custom, for had not Faramir admired her most when she wore white?
At last, as afternoon turned to evening, the cavalcade drew near. Eowyn wished to go down and meet them, but the funeral rites decreed that, as the Lady of the Hall, she must wait until her uncle had been laid in state and she had given wine to all the important guests.
The body of Théoden was borne by four Riders to the room prepared. When all those of nobility were gathered into the Hall, Eowyn took a cup of wine and raised it to the empty seat of the king saying, “Hail, Theoden King! Long may your deeds be remembered!”
“Hail Théoden King!” the Hall echoed in reply.
Bringing the cup to Eomer, she said, “Hail Eomer, sister-son and heir to the king.” He drank deeply. Eowyn accepted the cup back, and turned to Jereth, who followed her with an ewer of wine.
Once the cup was full again, Eowyn presented it to Lord Aragorn as she had months before, but this time her smile was merely one of welcome and friendship. “Hail King Elessar of Gondor,” she said. He drank lightly from the cup.
Next, Eowyn offered it to the lady next to him. Her identity was clear, both from her raiment and Elven features as well as her proximity to Lord Aragorn. “Hail Queen Arwen of Gondor,” Eowyn said to her. The Queen smiled in response and allowed the wine to touch her lips. The process was repeated with the many guests, Meriadoc winking roguishly at her at his turn. Eowyn was pleased to note that Prince Imrahil’s daughter was near her own age when she reached her, standing between her father and Faramir. Then it was Faramir’s turn. Eowyn had avoided looking at him out of respect for her duties, and now she drank in the sight of him.
“Hail Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien,” she said, smiling up at him and offering him the cup. He took it with both hands, finding a way to discretely press her hand as he did so. He drank lightly and returned the cup to her. Turning reluctantly away, Eowyn raised the cup toward the remaining occupants of the Hall, who had been provided with drinks of their own.
“Hail, friends of Théoden King!” she called. They drank. Eowyn drank the last of the wine and nodded to the servers, signaling them to bring cups and flagons to the honored guests. “Let the feast begin,” she ordered. Running over all the preparations in her mind, she decided she could be spared for a short time.
“I’ll be on the steps if I am needed,” she told Jereth, who nodded and smiled her understanding.
Eowyn looked at Faramir and was warmed to see he was watching her, a small but proud smile on his face. She smiled in response, then nodded slightly toward the door. She turned and left the Hall, trusting him to understand she wanted him to follow. The night air was refreshing after the excessive heat of the Hall, full as it was with people, with fires built for light despite the summer warmth. Eowyn breathed deeply, looking out at the tends beyond the houses of Edoras. Hearing the footfall of her long-awaited beloved, she turned and launched herself into his embrace. Faramir chuckled, hugging her tightly.
“You didn’t miss me at all, I gather,” he said in jest.
“Only every moment of every day,” she returned, now perfectly happy.
“Every moment?” he said, still teasing.
“Nearly so,” she amended. “I may have been obliged to think of other things at times.”
He laughed, and at that most welcome sound Eowyn turned her face up to him, delighting in it. And he kissed her and she kissed him in return.
Pulling away slightly, Faramir said, “I’ve missed you these three months – your words, your councils and your comfort, but now I am well repaid for my labors in our hills, for it is there that I began the purification of Ithilien, and already there are plans being drawn up for the rebuilding of Emyn Arnen. But now that I’ve seen Edoras, I wonder if you would prefer living in a city of more wood and less stone than we of Gondor are used to. Now the dangers of war are past, all need not be made of stone.”
“Stone only I would not prefer, for I feel it is too cold to touch and heavy on the heart at times. Yet with tapestries and wall hangings it may be made comfortable. What I truly desire for our dwelling is color. The White City was lovely to behold, but blinding and harsh at times, and dull and tired at other times in its sameness. And outside, I would prefer dirt and grass underfoot rather than hard stone. Could we not let each household who builds in the hills chose their own style of dwelling? For that would give more life and depth to our hills, if they may not be ours alone, as you and Lord Aragorn have implied. If it is safe, may not the houses be spread apart, that they may not confine their occupants?”
Faramir nodded. “You would not have us be closed in a city, for it would seem to you as a cage.”
Eowyn nodded in turn. “I know not what danger remains, but the more open and varied, the lighter my heart will be, though I feel as if I could endure anything with you beside me.”
“Then open and varied it will be,” Faramir declared, “as far as I can safely make it.” And he kissed her hands, then her lips. And Eowyn smiled and responded in kind. Then, recollecting her duties, she moved away and sighed. “I suppose I ought to go in and talk with my guests,” she said reluctantly. “I have neglected them dreadfully.”
“As much I would like to deny it, I cannot, though I’m quite glad you did,” Faramir agreed. “I should like to introduce you to my cousin Lothiriel. I may add that in the course of our journey, your brother found many reasons to travel near her.”
Eowyn raised her eyebrows. “What did your cousin think of his attention?”
“While I am not in her confidence, I deem it was not unwelcome,” he said. “I did see her looking after him when he was obliged to leave her company.”
Eowyn smiled. “Perhaps I may soon gain a sister. And now I am impatient to meet her, though I should greet the King and Queen first, and the Lord and Lady of Lorien.”
“Then let us go.” He drew her arm through his and together they reentered the Hall. It was hot and stuffy inside, and Eowyn beckoned to Jereth.
“See to it that every window and door that may be opened is propped open,” she directed. Jereth moved away to comply. Eowyn turned back to her course, secretly daunted by the Elves. But Faramir took her hand and squeezed it and she feared no more.
They made their way to the group around Lord Aragorn, Queen Arwen and Gandalf, where they were welcomed gladly and Eowyn was introduced to the queen and her family, as well as to the Ring-bearer and his companion Samwise.
“Much have I heard of the White Lady of Rohan,” Queen Arwen said.
“Rumor of your great grace and beauty had reached us,” Eowyn returned, “and today I learn neither has been exaggerated.”
The Queen laughed gently, and all who heard it felt their hearts rejoice, and Lord Aragorn smiled as Eowyn had never seen him smile. The conversation turned to the White City, and Eowyn found she had had no reason to be apprehensive, for the queen was amiable, and her folk pleasant to speak with. Indeed, Eowyn suspected that she and the queen would grow to be friends in time.
At length, Eowyn said, “If anyone finds themselves wishing for sleep, the serving-men and -women know where each of your rooms are.” Excusing herself, she made her way toward Halfling voices upraised in song. Faramir followed her, then moved ahead to shoulder other men out of her way. They found Meriadoc and Peregrin dancing an elaborate jig on a table, somehow making their small voices carry over the men who surrounded them, shouting and clapping time. The song ended amid laughter and applause.
Meriadoc noticed Eowyn and turned toward her. “My lady!” he cried, bowing unsteadily. “Your ale is most excellent!” He hiccupped, then added, “Pardon me.”
Eowyn laughed at the absurdity.
“Pip!” Meriadoc went on, elbowing his companion. “Faramir’s brought Eowyn!”
Peregrin turned and said, “Oh, hullo! Ale’s quite good, just wants a bit of pipeweed to go with it.”
Meriadoc elbowed him again. “Oi! S’not polite!”
“’Pologies,” said Peregrin, undaunted.
“Another song!” someone shouted.
“Have we done the Green Dragon?” Peregrin asked, turning to Meriadoc.
“Not as I recall,” he friend replied, and they began to sing, “Oh you can search far and wide…”
Faramir spoke in Eowyn’s ear. “You wouldn’t believe how long they can keep this up. Come, let me introduce you to my cousin.” He led her out of the crowd and made as if to steer her to Lothiriel, but Eowyn stopped him.
“First I must talk to Jereth and Elfhelm,” she said, for she could see there were men who were getting rowdy. Spotting the Marshal, she and Faramir made their way over to him.
“I need you to suggest to the men that are getting more boisterous that they ought to descend to the tents before they have more to drink, lest they trip on the long stair. But I am sending more ale down to the camp, that they might continue drinking freely if they desire.” Elfhelm nodded and moved away. Then Eowyn beckoned to Jereth and gave instruction to send drinks down to the encampment. Having attended to her duties, she turned back to Faramir, saying, “I am ready now.”
He smiled and steered her to a corner where Prince Imrahil sat talking with his daughter and Eomer. Faramir and Eowyn shared a knowing look, then Faramir said, “If I may interrupt, I deem it high time my two favorite ladies met properly. Lothiriel, you have heard all about Eowyn. Eowyn, I’ve neglected to tell you much about my cousin, but she is as a sister to me.”
Eowyn smiled as they sat down. “I am delighted to meet you.”
Lothiriel returned the smile, her brown eyes dancing. “And I you! Faramir has told me so much about you! Indeed, he scarce talks of anything else besides you and your hills. But I suspect he never even mentioned me before now, did you, cousin?”
Faramir looked sheepish, and Lothiriel shook her dark curls at him in mock dismay. “When we were young,” she said, turning back to Eowyn, “My cousins lived with us for a time. Though I am younger than Faramir by a number of years, and Boromir seemed quite old to my child-self, they might have been my brothers. As if three brothers wasn’t enough!” She laughed merrily.
“How was your journey?” Eowyn asked, liking her already.
“Slower than I would have liked, yet the company was surprisingly good.” Lothiriel gave Eomer a sidelong glance, and Eowyn was amused to see her brother’s face turn a shade of pink that could not be explained by the heat of the Hall.
“And how are you?” Eowyn asked Prince Imrahil. “It has been long since our last meeting.”
He gave a positive reply and the conversation continued without flagging. Eowyn, keeping a hostess’ eye on the Hall, was relieved to see it slowly emptying as those who were obligated to sleep in the tents slowly made their way thence. At length, the Hall quieted. Fatigue was creeping up on Eowyn, but she was determined to uphold her duty as Lady of the Hall and not retire until after her esteemed guests, though there were servants assigned and ready to stay alert all night. Yet, as the hours passed, she could not avoid yawning and could but try to hide it. She leaned against Faramir, who adjusted himself to accommodate her and squeezed her hand. She took comfort in his strength and his touch.
“Up early this morning?” he asked in an undertone.
She nodded. “Before dawn.”
“And how much of that time was spent on your feet?”
“And you won’t leave your guests despite your weariness, I think. At least you’re sitting now.”
She nodded again.
“I might be able to help,” he said. Louder, he said, “Uncle, the hour grows late; are you ready to be shown our room?”
Imrahil nodded. “A good idea.”
“Allow me to guide you,” Eowyn said, squeezing Faramir’s hand in thanks.
She led the group down one hallway then a second, stopping at a door decorated with ornate carvings of trees and horses. “Every door has a different design, to make it easier for guests to find their rooms.” Turning to Faramir and Imrahil, she added, “This one is yours.” She opened the door and gestured. Inside there was a large bed with decorated head- and footboards, and a smaller, simpler bed.
“You get the small bed, nephew,” Imrahil laughed.
“I’ve slept under the stars more nights than I can count this year alone; the size of the bed matters little to me, as long as it matches my length,” Faramir replied cheerfully.
“It ought to,” Eowyn put in, smiling.
Imrahil entered the room, then turned back to Faramir. “Are you coming?” he asked.
“In a minute, Uncle.”
Lothiriel smiled and took Eomer’s arm. “I know when I’m not wanted,” she said. To Eomer she added, “If I’m with Eowyn, which direction would that be?” Obligingly, Eomer began walking away. Lothiriel glanced back at Eowyn and Faramir and winked before turning back to Eomer.
Faramir closed the door to the room and smiled at Eowyn. “How convenient. I was hoping I’d get a few more minutes alone with you.” Taking her hands, he kissed each in turn. “I neglected to ask earlier – how’s your arm?”
“Nearly back to full strength,” Eowyn said, and proved it by wrapping her arms around him.
“I’m glad,” he said, laying his head against hers.
“I should catch up to Eomer and Lothiriel,” Eowyn sighed after a minute.
“Not before this,” Faramir said, and he kissed her. She responded in turn, then pulled away, smiling.
“A good night to you, Faramir,” she said.
“And to you, my lady,” he said, emphasizing the word my.
Resolutely, Eowyn turned away.
“Eowyn,” Faramir said, and she looked back at him, unable to keep the smile off her face.
“I love you.”
Eowyn’s smile grew. “I love you too.”
The next day, Eowyn and Faramir took a ride out to the plains beyond Edoras, and joyfully they galloped across grasslands. At length they slowed, allowing the horses to amble along peaceably. Suddenly Faramir spoke.
“When can we be married?” he asked.
Eowyn looked at him, about to laugh at the abrupt question, but she let it die when she saw he was in earnest.
“First there must be the formal betrothal, then at least a season must pass, but no more than a year is to pass between the betrothal and the wedding, or so it is in Rohan. Is it much different in Gondor?”
Faramir nodded. “In Gondor, a man and maid may be wedded whenever they wilt, provided they are in agreement, though it is customary for the man to ask permission from the maid’s parents.”
Eowyn raised her eyebrows. “So simple it is! But perhaps a season of waiting is a greater hardship in a land that has been hard pressed by the need of fighting men for generations, for though all of our men are prepared to fight, it is rare for more than two eored to ride out, save in this last year.”
“Perhaps,” Faramir said. “What is the formal betrothal, and how soon may it be done? For King Elessar would not have us stay here more than a fortnight, and the following weeks seem bleak when I think upon them.”
“We shall endeavor to make each day of this fortnight count, then,” Eowyn declared. “As for the betrothal, it can be done at any time, though I think we should wait until my uncle is buried, out of respect. But the ceremony is simple – the two come together with the woman’s father – in our case, Eomer will stand in that role, as my father and uncle are dead – and close relatives. Eomer will say, “These two have come before you to plight their troth to each other.’ Then you will take my left hand in your right and say, ‘I intend to marry thee, Eowyn, before the year is through.’ Then I will do the same with your name, then Eomer will say ‘So be it.’ And the onlookers will applaud.”
“I see,” Faramir said, nodding.
“So we’ll have to talk to Eomer,” Eowyn said thoughtfully, “but I don’t see why it couldn’t take place during the feast after Theoden’s burial, for the feast is to celebrate life and victory, and it seems fitting. Oh! Speaking of life, I must introduce you to my friend Maebh, her husband Felim and their baby Egon.” As they rode on, she told him all about Maebh, and as soon as the horses were stabled, rubbed down and fed, she led him to the smithy.
“Maebh?” she called.
Felim turned from the forge. “She’s in the house, preparing the midday meal.”
“Thank you,” Eowyn told him. “Faramir, this is Felim, Maebh’s husband and her partner in the smithy. Felim, this is Faramir.”
The two men shook hands heartily.
“Pleased to meet you,” Felim said. “We’ve heard a lot about you.”
“And I you,” returned Faramir.
“But,” Felim added, “I suspect you’re more here to see Maebh and Egon.”
Eowyn smiled. “You know me too well, Felim.”
Felim smiled back. “Go on. But don’t keep her away from me too long, you hear?”
“No promises!” Eowyn laughed, and she led Faramir to the house beside the smithy. “Maebh!” she called as she went in. “I’ve brought you a visitor.”
Maebh was cutting vegetables with her back to the door. “I hope it’s your Faramir.”
Deftly, Maebh scooped all the vegetables into the pot hung in the fireplace then turned around, wiping her hands on her apron. She looked him up and down, then nodded. “Pleased to finally meet you.” She held out her hand and Faramir shook it. Eowyn noticed that, skilled as he was in keeping a straight face, his eyes widened fractionally at the strength of Maebh’s grip.
“And I am pleased to meet you,” he said. “Eowyn has naught but praise for you.”
“And yet she purposes to leave me for Gondor all because of you,” the female blacksmith said, tisking in mock judgement.
“I would that she had no reason to do so, but my duty will not allow me to stay in this lovely country,” Faramir responded. “Thus, if she purposes to have me, I fear she must be replanted.”
Eowyn shook her head, smiling. “Would you two stop speaking of me as if I were not present?” She shoved them both. Maebh was unmoved, but Faramir was caught off guard and lurched. Maebh laughed.
“He’s not used to that yet, is he,” she asked of Eowyn.
“One feels one must be so cultured in Minas Tirith that shoving would be quite unacceptable,” Eowyn said. “And I must act according to my station in the Hall. But here, I can just be me.”
“So I’m to expect a lot of that?” Faramir asked, grinning.
Maebh nodded. “Yes.”
Unshamed, Eowyn turned eagerly to her friend. “Can we play with Egon?”
Maebh considered, then nodded again. “His nap has gone on long enough. If he fusses, he might need a change or his next meal, but you already know that.”
“Indeed.” Eowyn went to the cradle and carefully picked up the sleeping babe.
“He’s so small,” Faramir said in wonder.
“Yet he’s grown so much these four months,” Maebh said, planting a kiss on the baby’s forehead and returning to her fireplace.
Eowyn looked at Faramir closely. “You’ve never had the chance to be anything but a soldier, and your brother the same… have you ever seen a baby close?”
He shook his head.
“So then you’ve never held one.”
“Well, we’re just going to have to fix that!”
“Wait, you’re going to let me hold him?” Faramir asked, startled. “What if I hurt him?”
“You won’t,” said Eowyn. “You plan on being a father someday, I think, so you may as well learn to hold a baby now. Sit in that chair. No, the one with the arms.”
Faramir did as he was bid, though it was with the stiffness of discomfort, and Eowyn put Egon into the crook of his arm.
“There,” she said. “He’s perfectly safe.”
A small fist waved in the air for a moment, then went into the baby’s mouth, and Egon slept on.
Retreating to Maebh, Eowyn shook her head, smiling. “The great Captain of Gondor, terrified by a tiny baby,” she whispered to her friend.
Maebh smiled. “Men are strange. When Egon was born, Felim did not eat for three days, though it was not from lack of food. He was too nervous.”
Eowyn raised her eyebrows in surprise. Maebh simply shrugged in response.
Eowyn pulled the other chair next to Faramir and stroked Egon’s cheek. “You’re doing well,” she told Faramir. He relaxed slightly.
“Here,” she said, and taking his hand she placed his first finger against Egon’s open hand. Immediately, the baby wrapped his tiny fingers around it.
Faramir gazed in wonder, then moved his finger back and forth. “He’s got quite a good grip,” he commented, grinning.
Eowyn smiled back, delighted he was growing more comfortable with the babe.
Just then, Egon opened his eyes. He yawned and stretched, limbs straightening in all directions. He turned his head, peering this way and that.
“Hello, Egon,” Eowyn cooed. “Did you have a nice nap?”
The baby squeaked in response and she laughed.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she said. She gave him her finger and he put it into his mouth.
“Is that tasty?” she asked him, laughing. As she leaned over him, some of her hair tumbled over her shoulder. Egon grabbed at it and pulled.
“Oh, you’ve got my hair,” Eowyn said in mock rebuke. “That’s my hair, not yours. You’ll get more soon, I think, but I’ll keep mine, thank you.” She gently loosed her hair from his tight grip and laughed. Leaning back, she quickly braided her long tresses, securing it out of the baby’s reach.
Faramir gave Egon his finger again, and the baby put it in his mouth.
“This is strange to me,” Faramir said, but he was chuckling.
Eowyn looked at him as he held the baby, and her heart swelled with love for him. She considered that emotion would probably somehow be even stronger when he was holding a child of their own, and she wondered how Maebh’s heart didn’t burst when Felim was holding Egon. But she did not ask, choosing instead to bask in the moment.
* * *
“Lothiriel,” Eowyn said that night as the two women made ready for bed, “what is a Gondorian wedding like?”
“It’s exciting,” Lothiriel answered, smiling. “Or at least most are. Occasionally there are solemn ones. Mine was exciting, though.”
“You were married?” Eowyn asked in astonishment.
“Yes. His name was Belecthor. He was a good man. Our ceremony started at my parents’ house, as is our custom. It is officiated by the lord of the area, who happened to be my father. We held each other’s right hand and vowed to cherish and support each other in war or peace, sickness or health, feast or famine, until death. We exchanged rings, then we had our procession to our own house. Belecthor’s youngest brother bore the torch ahead of us – it was lit from my parents’ hearth – and when we got to our home, Belecthor picked me up and carried me over the threshold, for it is bad luck for a bride to touch it on her wedding day. I used the torch to light my own hearth, then I put out the torch. Standing just inside the doorway, I tossed it outside and the maidens vied for it as it was in the air. It was caught by one of my friends, and the symbol came true for she was next to be married. Then we feasted, and when night fell, we were escorted into the bedroom, and the guests left. The next day we had to do all the cleaning up, for marriage takes work.”
“What happened then?” Eowyn asked.
“We were happy for a time, until he was called to the war. He died in battle. We had been married two years, and our son was only six months old. But Dior did not live much longer than that; a fever took him before his second year.” Her tone was matter-of-fact, but her eyes were sad.
“You poor woman,” Eowyn breathed. “However did you continue?”
“One day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time, or even one minute.”
Eowyn nodded. “That I understand.”
Lothiriel also nodded. “You, too, have had your share of grief, I have been told.”
“Yes. My first love, Aldor, was killed only weeks before we were to be married. And that is why I’m afraid.”
“Go on,” said Lothiriel.
“When Faramir is with me, I fear nothing, but when he is not… well, I remember that love hurts,” Eowyn admitted.
“Yes and yet no,” the other woman said. “It is not the love that hurts, but that which mars the love. But there cannot be the pain of marred love without the love to be marred. And yet you know that love is true when it is chosen despite the pain, whether that pain comes from disagreement and conflict, or hardship, or loss – temporary or otherwise. And it is worth it, I think, to make good memories through amazing experiences you would never have if you didn’t choose love. And it doesn’t matter if we’re speaking of romantic love, or the love of your children, or siblingly love, or friendship love, or even love of your country. It’s all the same idea, just different feelings. You choose to put the needs of each before your own, for whatever reason.”
“Like when I decided not to join Aldor in death, for Eomer and Theodred’s sake,” Eowyn whispered.
Lothiriel nodded. “And grieving over your spell-stricken uncle but still serving him – that, too, was love. Love – real love – and loyalty go hand in hand. You are unwavering in your loyalty, as is Faramir. I cannot say what hardships you will have to weather, but I am confident that you will be able to bear them together as long as you both live.”
“But what then?” whispered Eowyn. “I cannot lose him too.”
Lothiriel clasped the other woman’s hand. “The war is all but over; we can but hope and pray you will both live a long life. And when it is over, you may find happiness in memories, and in your children. But now is not a time for fear, but rejoicing. Tell me about the wedding customs of the Rohirrim.”
Eowyn smiled gratefully and accepted the subject change. “It is much simpler than your ceremony. First, there is the ceremonial washing, the maid in her father’s house attended by her mother and a married woman of her choice, and the man in his father’s house attended by his father and a married man of his choice. Then everyone meets at the house where they shall live. The head of the maid’s family announces the marriage as the fulfillment of the formal betrothal, then the man and the maid each swear by Bema and all the horses in the Mark, ‘I will never forsake you,’” she recited, “‘but ever help you in your need, and look for you in mine, until the Earth fails or death comes between us.’ Then we exchange rings, and there’s a feast, with the ceremonial drinking of wine that is common to all our feasts.”
“That sounds like a beautiful ceremony,” Lothiriel said. “Perhaps we can combine aspects of both traditions for your wedding.”
“Is that what Lord, well, King Elessar and Queen Arwen did?”
Lothiriel shook her head. “They were married according to Elvish customs, but I suppose that is just as well, for who would have officiated in a Gondorian wedding? There is no one above the King. And would the torch be borne from Imladris to the King’s hearth? Or from the guest quarters, as has sometimes been done when the bride comes from another area? Besides, it is said that the blood of elves runs in the blood of the Kings.”
A thought struck Eowyn and she said, “May I ask you a question about Belecthor and Dior?”
“You may ask whatever you like, though I may reserved in my response.”
“Does Eomer know about them?”
Lothiriel nodded. “How much he knows, I am not sure, but he is aware that they are a significant part of my past. It is possible that he has received more information from my father or from Faramir, but he has not sought more from me.”
“You know,” Eowyn said, “I have never seen my brother this way before. He has never looked at a girl or woman, as far as I am aware, beyond what was necessary in his position. I certainly never saw him blush before you arrived. And as much time as he manages to spend with you, you seem to do naught but encourage his affection.”
“Never looked at a girl or woman?” Lothiriel echoed in disbelief. “I think you must be mistaken. In his youth, at least, I’m sure he kept his eyes open. I do have brothers, remember? And two of them did all their courting without anyone knowing until they were all but engaged.”
“I suppose I have no way to know that much,” Eowyn conceded, “and yet, for years he has had no time to think of anything beyond the conflicts on our borders and in our Hall. I have never seen him go out of his way for a woman, and he continually does so for you.”
Lothiriel blushed. “That is encouraging news. It is five years since I returned to my father’s house – after the death of my son I could not bear to live alone. But your brother gives me hope unlooked for of a future. I hope you have no complaint?”
Eowyn smiled. “None at all. Indeed, it would be a comfort to know that the Hall might not be without a mistress for long.”
“It is too early to speak of that,” the other woman said quickly.
“But you would have it so?” Eowyn probed.
Lothiriel sighed. “Yes, I would have it so. But I would have you know that it is not your brother’s rank that I desire, only his love.”
Eowyn nodded. “I, too, would have it so – I should like to have you as my sister, though I know not how often we would meet, for Edoras is not so near our hills as I might wish.”
“If it does come to pass that we become sisters, we will find a way to bring our families together,” Lothiriel promised. “But I know not your brother’s mind, and he has known me but a fortnight.”
“Another fortnight and he may well speak his mind,” Eowyn said. “But he cannot do that until he understands himself, and I know not how long that will take. As I said, I have never seen him like this.”
Author’s Note: This chapter contains direct quotes from The Return of the King Book VI Chapter VI: “Many Partings”.
Two more days passed, days Eowyn blissfully spent with Faramir, at times riding with him alone, at times with Maebh’s family or Eomer and Lothiriel, and he remained at her side as she went about her duties as Hall-Mistress and kin of the fallen.
On the third morning was Théoden laid in his house of stone with a great mound above him. The Riders of the King’s House joined in song from their white horses, and Eowyn joined in the song from among the women, for had she not also ridden to war with her uncle-king? They sang of every king from Eorl to Thengel, then of the great deeds of Théoden. Fierce they sang, and strong, and many an eye had a tear. It was long remembered as the best song ever made by Gleowine, minstrel of Théoden, and the last.
When the song was ended and the sun was rising high, Meriadoc’s voice was heard, crying, “Théoden King, Théoden King! Farewell! As a father you were to me, for a little while. Farewell!” At this, Eowyn’s tears ran anew, and she was not consoled until Faramir pulled her into his embrace and let her sob on his shoulder. At long last her tears were spent and she remembered her duties. Taking Eomer’s arm, she walked with him, leading the great company to the Hall. And he sat in the king’s place at table, and she bore to him a cup of wine, which he held as a loremaster recited the names of every king from Eorl to Théoden, at whose name Eomer drank the cup dry. At a word from Eowyn, every person in the Hall stood and drank to the new king, and the cry went up, “Hail, Eomer, King of the Mark!”
The feast was long and merry. Eowyn sat between Eomer and Faramir, for the proper order of sitting was quickly marred as people stood and mingled and sat again where they would. Lothiriel sat on Eomer’s other side, and they made a jovial foursome.
When the sun had passed it’s zenith and the feasters were all satiated, save perhaps the Halflings, Eomer stood and proclaimed, “Now this is the funeral feast of Théoden the King, but I will speak ere we go of tidings of joy, for he would not grudge that I should do so, since he was ever a father to Eowyn my sister. Hear then, all my guests, fair folk of many realms, such have never before been gathered in this Hall! Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, asks that Eowyn, Lady of Rohan, should be his wife, and she grants it full willing. Therefore they shall be trothplighted before you all.”
And the twain stood, and Faramir took her left hand in his right, saying, “I intend to marry thee, Eowyn, before the year is through.” Then Eowyn took his left hand in her right and, looking up at him joyfully, repeated the words back to him.
“So be it,” Eomer said, and Faramir bent and kissed Eowyn, and the Hall was filled with cheers and applause.
“Thus,” said Eomer, “is the friendship of the Mark and Gondor bound with a new bond, and the more do I rejoice.”
Then Lord Aragorn spoke, saying, “No niggard are you, Eomer, to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm.”
And Eowyn looked upon him and thanked him in her heart for refusing her at the Door of the Paths of the Dead, for she knew now that any other road beside the one she had taken would have led her elsewhere, and never would she have attained her present bliss. Aloud, she said to him, “Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer.”
“I have wished thee joy ever since I first saw thee,” he returned. “It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss.” She deemed he understood her unspoken thanks, and was glad.
They sat again, and Eowyn nodded at Jereth, who began supervising the cleaning up of the servingware and dishes. Then those who were to leave that day – the hobbits and the elves, as well as Lord Aragorn and his guard, who were to escort them a ways – withdrew from the Hall to ready their things.
“Eomer,” said Eowyn, “what shall we send with Meriadoc, as befits such a valiant Rider of the Mark?”
Eomer shrugged expansively. “I have tried to press gold, silver and jewels upon him, but he would have none but the war-gear you gave him ere we rode to Minas Tirith.”
“Surely there is something we could give him to remind him of us and in thanks for his great deeds. Something useful, perhaps?”
“I can think of nothing more useful than the gold he refused,” her brother returned.
“A horn, perhaps?” she suggested. “To remind him of the great blasts as we rode to battle?”
“Aye!” Eomer’s eyes lit up. “The horn of Eorl the Young, from the hoard of Scatha the Worm. It would be a kingly gift, and well deserved, though not without use, and not too ornate for the simple preferences of the halfling.” And he sent a servant to fetch it.
Goodbyes were said to elves and hobbits, and Meriadoc accepted the horn of Eorl and kissed Eowyn’s hand in farewell ere he went.
Eowyn stood at the top of the stairs to see off her guests, as she had so many times before. Faramir stood beside her and they watched the elvish cavalcade disappear into the North, bearing four hobbits and accompanied by Lord Aragorn and his entourage.
“Do you think we shall ever see the brave halflings again?” Eowyn enquired of her beloved, leaning against him.
He put his arm around her waist and answered, “I have been assured that our friends Peregrin and Meriadoc will visit us in Emyn Arnon a few years hence, and I have no reason to doubt they will honor that promise.”
She sighed in relief. “It warms my heart to hear it, for I was thinking of how final their departure seems, and I would not have it so.”
“Nor I,” said Faramir. “Now, what of your plans?”
“It is decided between Lothiriel and myself that I shall visit with her in Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith until the snows threaten to cover the mountain passes, then we shall both return to Rohan for the winter. As soon as the snow melts, we shall journey to Emyn Arnon and you and I shall be wed. What do you think of it?”
“Since I cannot have you beside me during that time as I would prefer, for Ithilien is not yet free of fell things, it seems to me good that you shall be closer to me, that ever and anon I may visit you.”
Eowyn smiled. “Such was my hope.”
“Let us leave the future until it arrives, then,” Faramir said, “for I would not waste a moment with you.”
Together the two enjoyed their last weeks in Rohan, and they were merry on the journey as Faramir escorted Eowyn and Lothiriel all the way to Dol Amroth. Throughout the summer and autumn, he visited his two favorite ladies as often as he deemed feasible while he was yet ridding Ithilien of orcs. As the air grew colder, Eowyn and Lothiriel made ready to return to Rohan, and Faramir made a short visit to see them off. The meeting was bittersweet, but Eowyn left bravely, trusting she would see him as soon as the snow in the mountains cleared.
As she journeyed toward Rohan with Lothiriel, Prince Imrahil and their retinue, she missed her betrothed keenly, though she was looking forward to seeing Eomer and Maebh and her family again. She noted with satisfaction that Lothiriel grew more and more excited as they neared Edoras, though Gondorian woman did her best to hide it. As soon as they neared the stronghold, Eomer himself rode to meet them, and though he greeted Eowyn first, his attention was largely focused on Lothiriel, to the delight of both women. Then Eowyn had the privilege of seeing her brother and her friend grow closer to each other until there was no doubt in her mind that Lothiriel would be the next Queen and Mistress of the Hall. This, along with the antics of Egon, now bumbling about on hands and knees, occupied much of her free time, but it was a welcome distraction from the yearning in her heart to see, hold and be held by Faramir.
The solstice was but a day away when, during the evening meal and without warning, Faramir himself strode into the Hall. In the space of a breath Eowyn was on her feet, running towards him, and then she was in his arm and he was kissing her and all was right in the world.
Pulling away from him slightly she asked, “But how? The mountains are snowed over and what about the orcs and -”
He stopped her with another kiss, then answered, “I did not go through the mountains, but followed the rivers. And heaps of snow have fallen in Ithilien, more than I ever recall, so I sent my men home for the winter, with the king’s permission. Two days later he found me in my mother’s garden – for the queen has graciously allowed me access to it when I am in Minas Tirith – and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why do you wait here when your heart is in Rohan? I need you not at this time.” And I said something about the mountain passes, but he cut me off with a smile, pulled a map from somewhere, and showed me the route along the Anduin to the Entwash and thence to Edoras. He had me packed and provisioned and on my way faster than I would have deemed possible. So, here I am.”
“A true friend you have in Lord Aragorn,” Eomer said, rising from his chair to clap Faramir on the back.
“Indeed,” Eowyn said. “It seems we are further indebted to him.” And she called for a chair to be placed beside hers, and Faramir sank into it after greeting his uncle and cousin. At Eowyn’s bidding, he told them of his duties and adventures in Ithilien, of the rule of the king, and of the queen, who was with child.
“How long can you stay?” Eowyn asked.
“A full four weeks, by decree of the king,” Faramir answered jubilantly.
“Oh, I am glad,” Eowyn said, sighing happily. “I was afraid I would have to give you up in two days again.”
“Nay, not this time,” said he, pressing her hand to his lips. “And when I leave, it shall be to finish preparing for you and our home in our hills. Those, at least, are now free of orcs and all fell creatures, and I have instructed builders in all we planned throughout the autumn.”
After a time, Prince Imrahil retired, leaving the two couples to laugh and talk and plan in perfect content.
The next day, all in Edoras witnessed the betrothal of Eomer and Lothiriel, and the following days and weeks alternated with the bustle of daily duties and the peaceful, playful comradery of the foursome as they whiled away the long winter evenings.
All too soon it was time for Faramir to leave. Eowyn clung to him. “I wish you could stay,” she told him.
“As do I, but the king needs me, and I need to hurry the builders along, lest your house not be ready when you arrive to occupy it. The snow that allowed me this month with you forced them to stop entirely.” Pulling away from her slightly, he tenderly wiped the tears from her face. “It pains me to leave you,” he continued, “but remember – the next time we see each other, we will be wed, and the king has promised not to call for me for a month, unless at the utmost need.”
“The next time we see each other, we will be wed,” Eowyn repeated. “That will be my mantra as I wait for the snows to melt. I will miss you terribly.”
“And I you, with every fiber of my being,” Faramir returned. “You have all of my love.”
“And you have mine.”
They lingered over a kiss, then he pulled away to lean his forehead against hers. “I must go,” he whispered huskily.
“Be safe, my love,” she managed, tears running silently down her cheeks.
Turning, Faramir dashed his hand against his own eyes, and she knew how difficult it was for him to leave. Drawing up all her courage, she put on a smile that grew as he mounted the horse Eomer had given him – he was so fine to see, his dark hair tossed by the wind. Then he was off, and she watched until he disappeared. Even then, she did not move until Lothiriel came out, wrapped an arm around her and led her inside.
The next few days were difficult, but clever Lothiriel asked Maebh to bring the baby to the Hall, and the three women were soon laughing at his antics and planning for the trip to Gondor.
At last, Eowyn set out. At her side rode Eomer and Lothiriel, Maebh and Felim with Egon, Prince Imrahil and his retinue, as well as some Riders of Rohan. Two packhorses were laden with Eowyn’s belongings and furnishings for her new home. The company was met on the Gondor side of the pass by an escort of Faramir’s own Rangers, who guided them to a campsite not far from Emyn Arnen. They spent the night there, though Imrahil went ahead to Faramir bearing a message of love from Eowyn.
The next day, Eowyn went through the ritual bathing, attended by Lothiriel and Maebh, and she knew Faramir was doing likewise, attended by Imrahil and Lord Aragorn. Then the ladies bedecked her in her best dress and all her finery, and presented her to Eomer.
“You look lovely,” he told her. “Any man would be proud to call you his sister.”
The company rode slowly through the hills, led by a Ranger bearing a torch lit with coals Eowyn had taken from the main fireplace in Meadowseld and carefully kept alive throughout their journey. When Eowyn saw the house that Faramir had had built, she gasped. It was much like Maebh’s home, though larger. It was surrounded by wild flowers, and near it stood multiple buildings in various stages of construction, close enough for community and mutual protection, far enough apart to give her room to breathe. She sighed happily, overwhelmed by the care her betrothed had taken.
They rode up to the house, and there was Faramir in marvelous blue and silver raiment, a silver circlet on his head, swinging her down from her horse as if she was a child. He pulled her into a quick but heartfelt hug, and when she looked up into his beaming face for a kiss he obliged eagerly, but pulled away quickly to whisper in her ear, “Are you ready to marry me?” Thrilling at the words, she nodded. Looking down at her radiant expression, he couldn’t resist another kiss. Then her took her hand in his and led her to the doorway of their home, their smiles infectious.
Eomer moved to stand next to Eowyn so he and Lord Aragorn flanked the couple as they stood in front of their doorway.
“Family and friends,” Eomer called out above the noise, which quieted. “Family and friends,” he repeated, “I, Eomer, King of the Mark, do announce that this man and this maid are here to be joined in marriage, the fulfilment of their betrothal made this summer. Are you ready to make your vows to each other?”
“We are,” Faramir and Eowyn said together. He squeezed her hand.
“Eowyn, Lady of Rohan and shieldmaiden,” Faramir began, taking her right hand in his own right hand, “I will never forsake you, but help you in your need, and look for you in mine; I will cherish and support you in war or peace, sickness or health, feast or famine, until the Earth fails or death comes between us. This I swear by Bema, by all the horses in the Mark, and by the White Tree of Gondor.” He slid an intricate silver ring onto the ring finger of her left hand, then kissed it.
Eowyn’s heart was full as she gazed up at him and replied, “Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, I will never forsake you, but help you in your need, and look for you in mine; I will cherish and support you in war or peace, sickness or health, feast or famine, until the Earth fails or death comes between us. This I swear by Bema, by all the horses in the Mark, and by the White Tree of Gondor.” She slid a plain gold ring onto the ring finger of his left hand.
“You may seal this vow with a kiss,” Eomer told them. They did, lingering over it to cheers and applause.
From his place next to Faramir, Lord Aragorn spoke. “I, Aragorn, Elessar, King of Gondor, do pronounce this man and this woman husband and wife, no longer two but one. May their marriage be long, happy and fruitful.”
“The torch,” Eowyn commanded, and it was given to her. Faramir scooped her up, both of them laughing, and took her into the house. Together they lit the fire with the torch, then extinguished the latter in a water pail placed nearby for that purpose. Then Eowyn returned to the threshold and tossed the torch out of the house toward the exulting onlookers. It was caught by Lothiriel, who shared a significant look with Eomer.
Then they feasted, and the newlyweds moved among their guests, greeting them warmly and accepting congratulations and well wishes. At long last, the guests took them to the bedroom and left, returning to the nearby houses or camps.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Faramir told Eowyn, pulling her into a tight embrace.
“No more than I’ve missed you,” she replied, nestling into him.
Suddenly Faramir laughed. “We’re going to have so many dishes to wash in the morning. I’m sure everyone brought their own dishes to eat on and left them here.”
Eowyn laughed along. “Lothiriel said it was to remind us that marriage takes work. But I say if they left their dishes, they’ll have to make do without them for breakfast.”
They laughed together. Once they caught their breath, Faramir said, “You speak the truth. Now, how was your journey?”
“Uneventful,” she replied. “I see you managed to get the house finished.”
“Do you like it?” he asked, somewhat anxiously. “If you don’t, I can have them change it.”
“It’s perfect,” she said with complete sincerity. “Everything I dreamed it would be.”
He let out a sigh of relief. “I did my best. You know,” he added playfully, “I don’t think I got the chance to tell you today…”
“Tell me what?” she asked, playing along.
“That I love you. But I don’t think I have the words to say it properly, so I’ll just have to show you.” He bent and gave her a long kiss, which she returned in kind, and thus began the marriage of Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, and Eowyn, shieldmaiden and White Lady of Rohan.