Thicker Than Blood: 3. Survival

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3. Survival

Éowyn waited by the two horses, while Beregond stood a few feet away in the middle of the clearing, looking, to what it seemed to her aimlessly, in every possible direction. She was feeling her patience wearing thin now, for Beregond stopped ever once in a while to perform that same ritual, while he insisted that they shouldn’t ride the horses inside the forest: it was so thick that the poor creatures could break a leg if they stumbled on a big root. Éowyn couldn’t feel more furious about this. After all, they had to reach the end of the forest quickly, and yet the man seemed to be taking his time. Still holding on to the horses’ reins, she approached him to finally ask the question that was haunting her the last few hours.

“We are lost, are we not?”

However, Beregond didn’t respond at once. He still looked up at the sky, at the direction of the sun.

“Well?” insisted the lady.

“That way,” answered the captain, pointing to his left.

Éowyn looked at the new set of woods that Beregond pointed to and then looked at him, raising an eyebrow of disbelief.

“Are you sure? The forest seems to grow even thicker in that direction.”

“Nevertheless, it is the path that we must take. The signs are all too clear,” said the man.

“Signs? There is nothing around here to show us the way!” exclaimed the lady.

“Maybe to your eyes, my lady,” chuckled the captain, “but to me the place is filled with them. The sun is setting to my right, showing me where the West lies and the moss growing on the rock by which you’re standing now shows me where the North lies.”

“And what with that? You said we had to go South-East.”

“Exactly. And if we’re to keep that route we must walk the opposite way the Sun and the rock show, that is somewhat to the left. As you can see, there is already a path in that direction, if only not so discernible by the way the trees and the thick grass hide it.”

“And yet it is still forest! How long will it take to get through this place?” Éowyn asked again, unable to hide her anticipation.

“I honestly can’t say,” was the truthful answer. “My only hope is that it’s not as vast as you fear, my lady.”

“And if it is?”

Beregond shrugged his shoulders in a calm manner.

“Then it will take us longer to get out. Do not worry, my lady. Faramir will be waiting for us.”

“I hope you are right.”

That makes two of us, thought the man, but he only said aloud: “We shall see.”

At that moment, he found two long, thick pieces of wood lying nearby and cut them to match his and Éowyn’s height respectively.

“What are these for?” asked the lady, hardly understanding what the captain was up to.

“Staffs,” replied he simply, giving one of them to her. “Use it to feel the road ahead of you. You will be able to avoid snakes and treacherously soft ground in this way.”

The woman looked at him in wonder, as they started moving again.

“Where did you learn all this? I thought the only people that were able to face the traps of nature were the Rangers of the North, certainly not Gondorian soldiers.”

“From Maldir,” answered Beregond smiling. “He was mine and Faramir’s instructor in warfare. Even though he taught us well how to wield the sword, he also used to say that danger isn’t only in the face of an enemy soldier, so he made us learn a thing or two in surviving in an unknown territory.”

“Your instructor was a wise man.”

“Yes, he was. We were quite fond of him actually.”

“Where is he now?”

“He died eight months ago,” answered the captain sadly. “You should remember it, milady. Faramir had left Ithilien at that time to attend to his funeral.”

“I remember it, indeed, I just had not been aware that it was this particular man’s funeral,” said the woman, when she realised something. “How come you did not go?”

“I’m banished from Minas Tirith for life. It is my punishment for betraying my city when I stood up against its Steward long ago.”

“I am sorry to hear it.”

“Don’t be, my lady, for I’m not – I did it to save a life. I only wish I could say goodbye to him. He was like a father to me.” He looked up at the sun once more. “The sunlight will fade away soon. We should be moving on while it lasts.”

And so they carried on in silence, Beregond always walking ahead on the lookout for anything unexpected and Éowyn behind with the horses, until the forest started growing dark. Night was now arriving swiftly and both the captain and the lady were able to notice stars appearing amid the leaves of the trees. It was then that the man stopped again. Éowyn froze in her own tracks as well and watched him puzzled.

“Is something wrong?” she asked apprehensively.

“No, my lady. I merely think we should stop here for the night.”

“But we hardly made any progress!”

“It is enough for today. If there were a moon, I would have ventured even further, but we’re not that fortunate. Still, now that I know the way, you can be certain that we will cover a much greater distance tomorrow. Who knows, with any luck we might even reach the edge of the forest.”

“Our luck seems to be running sour of late,” noted Éowyn grimly.

“I’m afraid it can’t be helped, my lady,” said Beregond. He took the reins from her hand and tethered the horses at a low branch of a tree nearby.

“I’ll set the camp ready for us.”

“Do you need my help?” asked the lady.

“There is no need, my lady, I’d rather you sit by the horses. Our march may not have been so long as you say, but it was still wearisome.”

“I am not that tired,” Éowyn assured him.

“Even in that case I would have you sit by the horses, for there is no reason for you to get tired. I’ll take care of everything.”

And he did, even though this dismayed the woman. He gathered plenty of firewood and made Éowyn sit next to the fire while he went to find something for them to eat. The lady was just starting to grow impatient when the man returned with some eggs and a partridge, excusing himself for taking him so long to come back.

“You should have accepted my help,” said Éowyn, not hiding a tone of rebuke.

Beregond didn’t answer, but started preparing the bird to cook it. Soon enough, the partridge was roasting in the flames, while the two travellers shared the eggs, barely exchanging a word. When the roast was ready, Beregond gave it to the woman, something that made her quite glad since she was hungrier than she had expected. However, she noticed that the man kept none for himself and, even when she offered him some, he wouldn’t have it.

“You need it more than I do,” was all that Beregond said.

However, such a response annoyed the woman to no end.

“Why?” she exclaimed indignantly, unable to control herself any more. “Because I am weaker? Do not take me for a fool, I know that ever since we have been in this forest you have been treating me as something fragile, the same way Faramir did just before the Wargs attacked us. Do you think I did not see through all the stops you made to supposedly find the way, when in fact you were making sure I rested? And I know you lied to me when you said that we shared the eggs equally, I saw clearly two eggs in your palm while I had four. I assure you, Captain, that, as a shieldmaiden of Rohan, my strength can be easily matched with that which many men claim to have, and there’s no need for you nor my husband to protect me.”

Beregond didn’t say a word while his lady spoke. However, when she was finished, he took her hand into his own and looked at her with respect.

“I know that you don’t wish for anyone to protect you, my lady, as I am also aware that you have done deeds that many men would envy. For indeed, wasn’t it you that rode out with the rest of the Rohirrim back in the war against the darkness of Sauron, even though there didn’t seem to be any hope of returning alive? Wasn’t it this hand that slew the Lord of the Nazgûl, offering our forces a chance for victory against the forces of the enemy?

“But, my lady, whether you believe it or not, there is a time that everyone needs help and protection, and no shame should there be in that. And I feel that you should accept the help that your husband and I are offering you, since you, of all people, need it at this time. After all, you have to take care of one more person beside yourself now.”

Éowyn rose startled, staring at him dubiously.

“What are you saying?” she faltered. However, Beregond was still calm.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he replied, his eyes always locked on hers. “I’m saying that you are with child.”

The fair woman’s eyes sparkled with indignation at this and her hands turned to fists.

“The healer speaks too much,” she exclaimed in anger.

“No, not the healer,” the man corrected her, still speaking calmly. “My experience. I’ve been married, my lady, and the symptoms were too many to be dismissed as mere coincidence.”

All Éowyn’s feelings of wrath disappeared instantly. She locked her gaze on the ground and sat down again, wringing her hands nervously.

“Is it so easy for one to tell then?” she asked softly.

“Like I said, only to someone who has been in this situation before.”

The lady nodded her head slightly and fell silent. Beregond watched her for some time, as she remained like this, lost in her thoughts; then spoke again.

“I know what is on your mind, my lady, and I assure you that a child is simply a step ahead in a couple’s life – especially in the case of the mother. You should not fear it, but cherish it.”

“Perhaps, but… is it a step ahead?” asked the fair woman. “I was raised to wield the sword, not remain in my chambers nursing infants. I have seen war and I came out of it alive, being strong and fighting bravely against the forces of darkness, only to come down to this? Is this the kind of fate that lies ahead of me?” She looked at the man, and sighed in resignation. “There is no answer in these questions, is there?”

“But there is,” said the captain, a smile cracking at his features.

The lady raised her eyebrow ever so slightly at this, and yet Beregond didn’t rush things. He threw some more firewood in the fire and tended the red flames with a thin piece of stick. With that done, his eyes met Éowyn’s, as she was still waiting for him to speak his mind.

“My lady, what do you know about me?”

Éowyn looked at him, rather startled by this sort of question that came out of the blue as it would seem.

“That you share with my husband a rare kind of friendship and loyalty; that you saved his life when his father, the Steward of Gondor, went mad and was even ready to order his death; and that your son is also training to become a soldier,” replied the woman after some thought.

“Ah… then you don’t know what happened to my wife.”

“No, indeed. Although Faramir told me that she had died a very long time ago. What happened to her?”

“Bergil’s birth proved too much for her and I was left behind to raise the boy alone,” replied the man, his face darkening at the painful memory. “Faramir will be able to tell you of the tale, if you ask him. But there is something that I didn’t tell him concerning the upbringing of my son. He was away when it happened and it didn’t matter afterwards.

“Bergil was about three-years-old at that time and we were both at home when, at a moment that I wasn’t paying attention, he sneaked out of the house and into the garden. When I went out to search for him, I saw to my horror that he had even managed to walk out on the road near to a cart that carried large and heavy firewood for the Citadel, and he was untying in his curiosity the very knot that kept the huge logs in place.

“Such was my fright at this sight that I ran frantically towards him and pushed him aside before any of the logs fell on him. As to what happened afterwards, I can’t say with certainty. It must have been then that the logs hit me instead, for everything went black and I remember nothing more. When I recovered, I was told that I was buried amid the firewood and that I was lucky enough to receive only a gash on the back of my head. None cared to warn me of the splitting headache that I felt the next couple of days, but that is a different story,” he ended with a slight smirk.

“But you could have been killed,” noted Éowyn.

“Which is exactly what I’m trying to say,” replied the captain. “At the very moment that I saw Bergil near that cart, all I could think of is that he might get killed and I had to save him at all costs. Whatever reservations of what might have happened to me never even crossed my mind. It was then that I realised something.”

“What?” asked the lady, wishing to see what the man was getting at with this talk.

“That the opposite of fear isn’t bravery as most believe. Fear is something deep and immeasurable and it can overcome a man at any time, rendering him powerless. Undoubtedly one can show courage and face his fears, yet there is a limit in such a trait. For, unlike in the case of fear, there is no man who is afraid of nothing at all. There will always be a time that his bravery will fail him.”

“Then what is its opposite?” asked the woman again, intrigued.

“Love. It was my love for Bergil that made me rush, without fear for myself, to my son’s aid; it was your love for King Théoden – your uncle, if I’m not mistaken – that helped you stand against the Dark Lord’s servant; it was Faramir’s love for you that made him attack the Warg Riders and help us two escape. As it will be the love for your child that will make you face even greater dangers, if need be. Moreover, unlike bravery, love can be deep and immeasurable, the same way fear is. So milady, your strength doesn’t dwindle, as you think – it grows.”

Éowyn looked at Beregond for a few moments, his words clearly making an impression on her.

“Many thoughts crossed my mind ever since the healer told me that I was expecting a child, but I have to admit that I never thought about what you told me now. I thank you.”

“You needn’t thank me, my lady,” replied the man, his eyes lowering shyly. “I only told what you would realise for yourself after the child was born.”

He looked up at the sky, trying to discern the few stars that could be seen there, and then turned to the lady once more.

“The hour grows late and we have to start our march early if we are to cover more distance tomorrow. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll stand guard a little further off if you need me for anything.”

“You have already done enough for me,” objected the fair woman, “while I have hardly done anything in return. You recover some strength instead and I will stay on watch. I assure you that I am well rested and quite capable of doing at least that; and I will not take ‘no’ for an answer, no matter how courteous that will be,” she added, seeing Beregond about to speak.

“As you wish then, my lady, even though I feel that you should be the one sleeping, not me. And I must ask you to wake me up in three hours time to take up my shift.”

“Of course. Goodnight… Beregond.”

The man froze for a few minutes, quite surprised to hear his name on the lady’s lips, but he quickly remembered himself and also said goodnight to her politely. He lied down near the fire, and it wasn’t long before his breathing became more relaxed and even, clearly proving to Éowyn that the captain had fallen asleep – more quickly than she had expected in fact: it was obvious that Beregond was more tired than he would ever admit to her.

So it was that the fair-haired woman was left alone with her thoughts. Without realising it, her hand reached and felt where she guessed the child was growing inside her. It was then that she smiled warmly, indeed for the first time in a very long time, whispering:

“My child… my strength.”

However, the smile faded almost immediately as another thought penetrated her mind.

“I only hope that your father will be alive so I can tell him of your arrival.”

She fell silent once more and remained still, watching the flames as they flickered strongly before her eyes.

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.

Story Information

Author: Beregond5

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/26/07

Original Post: 04/30/05

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