13. Where Will Wants Not
It had taken some bribery, to be sure, but these were desperate days. Éowyn had realized with a bit of a shock that she could frighten people simply by looking at them, and idly wondered what expression it was that must be present on her face. It didn’t matter. In the Hold of Dunharrow, surrounded by the dead-eyed statues of the Drúadan, she found a black joy in having secured the tools of disguise that she needed. Helm, hauberk, mail... now it was just a matter of keeping this gear hidden in her tent. That and continuing to pretend that she was still playing the part of the dutiful daughter, mourning yet again as brother and uncle and muster of Rohan rode off to battle and glory.
She was disgusted at her weakness that had allowed her to beg Aragorn to let her accompany he and his small band on their surely deadly sojourn on the Paths of the Dead. On my knees, a refugee from our Royal House, she mused bitterly. Never again shall it be said that Éowyn, daughter of kings, was beggared in such a fashion. Though he is noble and fair of face... Here she shook her head, dismayed at admitting to herself that she had felt drawn to him, only to be rebuffed. Nay. Rather let the tale be told of Dernhelm, struck down in battle, defending his king.
In this moment of dark reverie, she looked tenderly at her bird in his little bower, her songbird the one extraneous item she had brought with her from Edoras. “Ah máthmæht.” she sighed. “I think you must understand me better than anyone, even Fréalas.” She shook her head. “Although of everyone, surely she will appreciate that it was only due to her success that I believed I too could disguise myself with the Riders.” Éowyn walked over to the cage, paused, then lifted the latch on the wooden door. The little bird hopped on to her finger, affectionately nibbling at her short fingernail. With gentle strokes, Éowyn patted the yellow feathers of the finch. “We are both to be without cages now,” she whispered, as the bird tipped its head right, then left. She walked to the flap of her tent, and raised her hand skyward. Go now, my little treasure. Éowyn willed the little bird to fly as far away as it could, but it landed on one of the nearby statues, still looking at her and tilting his head back and forth, rustling his feathers. “Go!” Éowyn said aloud, startling the bird so that it flew into a tree. There it hopped around, then flew off toward the valley below. Yes, go home, for home you have, she thought. The battleground will finally be my home. Éowyn the trammelled is now set free.
Though it was early morning, an uncomfortable darkness draped the encampment like a winter blanket that smothers on an unexpectedly warm night. Éowyn had not slept much, and so had risen early and was now dressed in preparation for the leave-taking that would soon take place. She was in battle garb, wearing her leather vest with its markings of horseheads and sworls, girt with sword and knife, her hair hanging loose over her shoulders. She did not wish to be caught unawares and inattentive, so she stood outside of her tent in the cold air, drinking some bitter flavoured hot water that was readily dispensed at the fires near the cooks’ tent.
When she was halfway through her mug, she saw her uncle Théoden coming to her tent from the royal pavilion, Éomer close behind. Readying herself, she put down her cup, and with her left hand picked up an earthenware chalice that she had had filled with wine. Théoden walked toward her, and she looked up at him, masking the sliver of hope she carried in the depths of her being that he would, at this last, desperate moment, ask her to join his company. Upon reaching her tent, Théoden stopped and stood before his dear niece. Her right hand on her sword ready to take a vow of allegiance, Éowyn looked up at him. She felt that she was ready to meet the gaze of his stern countenance, no matter the content of the unspoken message she might find there. As she looked into his clear blue eyes, however, she was overwhelmed by the love and anguish that she found, and she felt a deep ache in her heart.
She kept her composure, however, and grasping at the hilt of her sword, she looked first at him, and then her brother. “May the strong legs of our horses carry you far, and the fair winds on the plains be ever at your back until you return to our fair Edoras, O Lords of the Eorlingas.” Having said such, she took a sip of the wine, then handed the cup to her uncle. He clasped it in both hands, took a deep draught, then passed it to Éomer. Closing his eyes, he held it by the stem in his right hand and drank, then handed it back to Éowyn. She looked at the meagre contents remaining, then putting the chalice to her lips, finished it off.
“Ferthu Théoden hál!” She said, her eyes shining. Turning to her brother, resplendent in his armour, she echoed, “Ferthu Éomer hál! Would that I were to accompany you in such glory and honour, but many of us are needed to defend our borders whilst you are absent.” She put down the chalice, and walking a few steps to her brother, she threw her arms around him, murmuring words of safe return into his ear. Releasing him, she stepped over to her uncle. Securing her hands on his shoulders, her grey eyes looked keenly into his and she said, “Since the death of Éomund and Théodwyn you have been my father; I hope not to be made an orphan for a second time.” She took in a deep breath of the cold morning air and continued. “You are loved dearly by your people, and there are those whose affections you may not yet know until you are on the battlefield. Even then, know that you are not alone, no matter how dark seems the sky.”
At this, Théoden looked at Éowyn, a sparkling gem in stony Meduseld. As he realized how closely she resembled her mother, he was suddenly robbed of speech. What could he say, knowing there were thousands of men to ride behind him down to Gondor, and to what end? He did not feel that he would ever be back to look upon the walls of the house of his ancestors, but now was his time to lead and be their King. This knowledge was heavy enough burden to bear.
“My dear Éowyn, the hearts of our people are with you in my absence.” Taking her hands from his shoulders, he held them in his own, and clasped them above his heart. Leaning, he spoke quietly, “I will not always be king. Take care of our folk, dear sister-daughter. In none other would I trust more.”
He stepped back, and keeping her hands in his, he kissed her clenched thumbs, then stood back, holding himself erect. "Westu Eorlingas hál! The Red Arrow has been proffered and we must to Mundburg, even though we may ride to our doom." Théoden and Éomer turned and left the Hold, while Éowyn stood, the empty chalice at her feet.
The Muster of Rohan rode for a brief while to Edoras, then stopped for a meal and to add three score Riders to their ranks. Éowyn stayed far from Théoden and Éomer. This would indeed be darkest day if I were to be discovered and sent to mourn with the women of Underharrow. she thought bitterly. No, tis better to be silent on the road to Mundburg. Men wish to be with their own thoughts before battle, and this will assist in my disguise. She looked around the camp as they readied to depart, and she realized that she did not lament leaving the city of her youth. It is Dernhelm who ventures forth, she contemplated. Éowyn was lost to Rohan after she begged on her knees, and she remains in the Hold, never to be abandoned again.
She saw the hobbit speaking with her uncle, and after an apparent unpleasant interchange, he left the King's side and went off to sit by himself. Though she had met the child-looking and yet very adult-seeming Meriadoc only briefly, she felt a keen fondness of him by his obvious loyalty to her uncle. It did not seem to suit someone who seemed so fond of jests and a simple life - the fact that he was there among her kindred was odd enough, and on those rare occasions when she had seen him, he appeared truly overwhelmed by all of the goings-on. In truth, she considered, the only time that I have seen his eyes light up was during one of our meals taken together. But he is also kindred spirit to me, as he must feel left behind and unwanted due to his size, as I am due to my sex. Even as the thought came to her, she gathered her gear and mounted her horse. Perhaps two of us may, with some slight of hand, be counted among those who love the Rohirrim enough to fight for them, regardless of station. With these thoughts, she trotted her horse over to the curly-haired young man, now staring dejectedly at the ground with his hands shoved into his breeches pockets.
Quietly Éowyn approached him, and leaning down so that only he could hear, said, “Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say, and so I have found myself.” Startled, he turned to face her, a distraught expression on his face. “You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes: I see it in your face.”
“I do,” he replied, then focused his attentions on his feet.
“Then you shall go with me.” The plan was now clear to Éowyn, and she continued with exhilaration. “I will bear you before me, 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!”
Merry looked up, his gaze expectant, yet wary. He thought of how far he had come from Buckland, and the dangers ever-present. Then he thought of how he had felt like extraneous baggage even to Théoden, his liege-lord, and of his dear friends, and knew that no matter the cost, this was the unlooked-for opportunity he had hoped beyond hope would come.
“Thank you indeed!” he replied. “Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”
He knew that he faced the same grey-eyed Rider he had seen earlier in the morning, whose attentions had caused a shiver to go down his spine, though he did not know why. Now is not a time to shrug off a gift mug of brew, he thought, and goodness knows when I’ll next see one of those!
Éowyn sat upright on Windfola, an unexpected mirth in her eyes. “Do you not?” she said softly. “Then call me Dernhelm.”
Meriadoc made a quick glance around the camp and, realizing that all of the Riders were busying to their own affairs, climbed up onto the grey horse, hidden under the cloak of the slight physique of Dernhelm. The warriors swiftly readied their horses, and Merry soon wished that he had a pillow under his backside for this long journey. He was grateful to Dernhelm, most assuredly, but the young Rider was not one for conversation.
Éowyn rode with the Rohirrim toward Gondor through the next few days, the holbylta hidden in front of her. She held her thoughts tightly to herself, but there was something in the scent of his curly hair that drifted up to her keen nose that made her think of her early childhood, and it brought her unexpected contentment. We are all of us to our end, she thought, but this way is less lonely than I had anticipated.
Fréalas stood in Éowyn’s lodging on the Firienfeld, absorbing its emptiness, still reconciling herself to what it meant for its occupant to be absent. The fighters had returned from Helm’s Deep only to be relocated to a camp at the foot of the Starkhorn. They were then sent off again to Gondor, heeding the call of a centuries-old alliance asking the Eorlingas for aid as the Gondorians were besieged by forces in Mordor. Fréalas had been so traumatized by the fighting at the Hornburg that she hadn’t even sought out her friend, and Éowyn, still furious at being told to stay back, had not come to see her. She knew that the three women had survived since Fraetwas had come to her tent and told her some of the details of the war.
Éowyn was desperate for the particulars, especially those concerning Aragorn. “So he yet lives?” she asked, and Willow nodded. Éowyn pondered this news as Willow continued.
“But Éowyn, there is no splendour to be found in war. This was for survival only, against ridiculous odds, and far too many of our people were killed fighting the river of foulest creatures that poured forth from Orthanc. Young boys, our grandsires- they should not have been there. Fear was on the faces of so many, trying to be brave, but even Riders who have fought many times before turned pale at the sheer number of these evil beings.” She shook her head, and limped a few steps closer, nursing a deep cut behind her knee where an orc-blade had made its mark, slashing through her armour. “There must first be sung songs of lament before those of triumph about men of the Mark dying on the walls of the Deep, their precious bodies trampled underfoot by Orcs. I can see in your eyes that you want only to wield your proud blade, but the reality of it, the noise, the blood, the stench... it was a nightmare come to life. Do not continue to wish for battle.”
Now Fréalas stood in Éowyn’s tent, her sword as always girt at her side, her fury building yet again. “How will you defend your actions, should you return?” she said aloud into the silence. “You should be here protecting your home, but it has become painfully obvious that you have defied every mandate given you and you are hiding among the Riders, so desperate to fight that you have deserted your people.” Clenching her fists, she growled, “You have abandoned me! How could you continue to be so self-focused during such times of danger? ARRRGH!” The last word came out as a yell as she ran over to Máthmæht’s empty cage and kicked it soundly so that it crashed to the ground. She kicked it twice more as it lay on the earthen floor, denting the thin bars with her sturdy leather shoes. “Runaway! Deserter!” With a last resounding grunt of anger she shoved the cage again and stormed out through the doorflap. She almost ran into Swiðhild, one of Théoden’s older advisors who had stepped into Háma’s role after he was slain at Helm’s Deep and after the refugees of Edoras realized that their King-appointed leader was nowhere to be found. “Pardon me, Swiðhild,” she snapped, then continued down the grassy path.
“Fréalas!” he exclaimed. “Are you going to the armoury to take an inventory of what weapons remain?”
“Yes I am. I was on my way but I had a few last words to say to our absent liege.” Her face was still faintly flush with anger as she continued. “Do not worry, I shall not fail in my responsibilities of ensuring that all are armed as well as can be.”
“Your mother is in Edoras, gathering more provisions, correct?”
“Yes,” Fréalas nodded. “Several others went with her and they should return by twilight. They will also refresh our water supply and bring some sheep with them. And Gold Eyes.”
The older man raised an eyebrow. “Will your dog aid in our defense?”
Fréalas smiled. “He can be quite ferocious when he needs to. And the children love him. They are doing the best that they can, given the situation, but it would be nice for them to have a playful companion up here until we can return to Edoras.”
Swiðhild nodded, then turned to attend to another of the many tasks ahead of him. He and Fréalas were now the primary leaders of the exiles, coordinating the logistics involved in keeping a group of several dozen sheltered and defended as they settled in to wait for the return of Théoden and the Eorlingas, hoping desperately that the orcs would not pursue them to this sanctuary on the mountain.
And so they waited.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.