The Choice

Chapter 18

The next few hours passed in a blur. Many people came and went around them, bustling around to ready for the funeral of Théoden's son. From what little she could gather, there had been a battle against a group of Uruks that killed Théodred. These Uruks bore the white hand of Sauraman, who had apparently betrayed them to join Sauron. It was also his doing that trapped the King under his spell; he was trying to destroy the land of Rohan from the inside. The grief of the king was palpable on the air. Had he not only lost his son, but also he unknowingly banished the nephew he raised from a child.

"My lady?" a soft voice spoke above her where she sat at the end of a long wooden table, making her turn from the quite conversation around her.

Evelyn looked up to see the golden haired woman from earlier standing behind her. She looked into the woman's green eyes, seeing their curiosity at her, but surprising she saw no fear there. If she had to guess, the woman was close to her age, maybe a few years older, give or take. It offered her some comfort

"I can take you to a room and have the serving woman assist you to clean up, if you wish?" She asked politely.

Evelyn could not argue that she needed to clean up, she realized then she must look terrible, and the small? She did not even want to go there. A bath after so long would feel heavenly, however, she was not keen to have human woman assist her. She knew they were not tight lipped like the elves, and would more than likely speak of everything they saw.

"Thank you my lady, but I won't need…" She began to reply but was quickly cut off by the hushed voice of Aragorn in her ear.

"…It would be rude to decline the services of the Lady Éowyn, niece to King Théoden." Aragorn gave her a pleading look.

Evelyn wanted to sink into a hole and hide. She was going to have no choice but to go with the woman and be humiliated. Casting a quick glance towards the elf, she saw he was looking away from their direction, and oblivious to her predicament. No help would have come from him anyway, even knowing what she wished to hide.

With downcast eyes, and a bow of her head, she accepted Éowyn's offer. "I meant no offense, my lady, I will gladly accept your offer."

"Please call me Éowyn," she told her as she extended her hand to Evelyn, a smile on her face.

Reluctantly, and with the judging eyes of Aragorn on her, she reached out and took the other woman's hand, letting her lead her down the hall.

She was lead down a corridor off the back left wall of Meduseld. On either side, doors lined the wooden walls. Some were opened where she could look in and view the interior, while many remained closed. The rooms she could see, were lightly furnished with chairs and tables, some sort of gathering room or office area. They stopped suddenly at a door to her left and she watched as Éowyn opened it, revealing a richly furnished bedroom. It did not compare to those in Lothlorien, but compared to what she had grown use to; it was the best sight she had seen in a long time. The sheets were of a rough fabric but a deep rich green, with gold embroidery. Wooden chairs sat around a small table where a washing basin and a vase of pink flowers sat. On the vanity sat many hair accessories and combs, seeing this made her realize that this was the Lady Éowyn's personal chambers. Not guest chambers as she was expecting.

"My lady, you don't have to let me use your own chambers, I can manage in the guest areas." Evelyn spoke still taking in her surroundings.

"Nonsense, and I told you, you must call me Éowyn." The woman chastised.

Evelyn decided it was useless to try to argue. She would not have her way without causing bad feelings and Aragorn made it clear they were to stay on good terms with the people of Edoras, specifically the royal family. With a sigh, she gave Éowyn a slight smile and nod of consent.

They walked next into a small side room that was used for the bath. To one side sat a large tub, already filled with steaming water, with three handmaids gathered around it. They had been whispering quietly to themselves until they entered, and abruptly stopped, all standing to attention. The other side held a table that was piled high with towels and an assortment of soaps and to its other side was another washing basin and a chamber pot.

The oldest of the three maids stepped forward; Evelyn later learned her name was Aithne. "Come, come, off with those foul rags." She spoke in a harsher accent than the royals spoke with, to the point Evelyn almost could not understand her. However, even if she had not, the old woman's quick movements toward her clothes would have been enough for her to understand. Before she really knew what was happening to her, her tattered shirt was in the hands of one of the other women.

Trying desperately to cover herself, she felt their eyes roaming over her skin, taking in her scars. Éowyn recovering first ordered the two youngest out, in the Rohirric language, commanding tem to silence that she knew they would not heed. Éowyn was not sure what she was expecting, but it was not what she saw before her now. The thick purple scars were a surprise, and they seemed to cover her entire front torso and her forearms. She had been through an ordeal of some sort. Maybe, she thought to herself, they explained her strange and withdrawn behavior and why she was so reluctant to accept her offer. Éowyn felt guilt fill her from the pit of her stomach, unknowingly she and added to the ridicule Evelyn would face.

What she also did not expect was the strange design on her back. It looked as if somehow, an image had been plastered to her back. It was beautiful, the white bird bursting through the dark clouds and the sunrays over the storm. It made her think of hope that the storm will eventually end. She felt compelled to reach out and touch the intricate design but willed herself not to; something told her the lady Evelyn would not like it.

Aithne never missed a beat through it all, her experience of age showing. She had her breeches off next, leaving her standing bare before them, and still Evelyn tried to stay covered, but soon gave up trying to be modest, the damage was already done, and so she let the woman usher her to the tub. Evelyn let out a hiss at its temperature. Clearly, thermometers were not yet invented, but she found that it quickly warmed her, not that she was chilly physically—she did not get cold anymore— but it seemed more to help warm her soul.

She was surprised that Éowyn joined the older woman in scrubbing her down. Surely, she had better things to do; she was practically a princess in her own right. However, she did not voice such, as she was starting to enjoy the treatment. It was the first real bath and special treatment she had received since leaving Galadriel's realm. Although the water was already a nasty black, the bath was the best thing she had felt in many weeks. For a time it almost made her forget her worries and cares. When the time came to face the others, she would worry then, now she just wanted a few minutes of enjoyment. The company of the woman was soothing compared to the company of the men.

Of course, it ended too soon for her preference. The cold black water was no longer soothing against her skin, and the two women were shepherding her out of the tub.

Aithne clicked her tongue in inspection, "You need meat on your bones. Too skinny, too skinny." This statement of course caused all Evelyn's insecurities to come back full force, and she wrapped her arms tightly across her midsection.

"Aithne! She is perfectly fine! Listen not to her, she thinks everyone needs to be plumb and round." Éowyn said in embarrassment, earning a grunt from her maid. She did agree that the woman they bathed was skinny, she could clearly see all her ribs and her hip and shoulder bones stuck out prominently. However, she was still muscular. Her legs and arms were both shapelier than most women's were and she could faintly see the lines of her stomach muscles. Éowyn was sure of one thing, this woman worked hard at whatever her occupation was, and her body showed it even through the trails of travel.

"You too skinny to miss. I try to put meat on your bones too." Aithne told Éowyn, causing her to roll her eyes, but she dropped the subject and turned instead to the wardrobe.

"What is your occupation?" she asked in an attempt to change the subject, but also her curiosity was getting the better of her.

"I used to train horses."

That did cause a pause in her work as she rummaged through her wardrobe. Rohan was well known for its fabled horses and they were called the horse lords, however, none of the woman here were ever trainers. She was either very good at what she did or where she hailed from was very different from here. When she saw she would get no more elaboration, she did not bother with further inquiry. Her curiosity would just have to stay unquenched.

Without another word, they began pulling the gown on her, tugging here and there, to get the fabric to fall just how they wanted. It was not as fine as the elvish gowns she had in Lothlorien, but it was still soft against her skin. Looking down she felt her cheeks flush. The scooped neck was low, much like the one Éowyn already wore, showing much more flesh than she wished, though she imagined it was a typical cut of this time and for the people here, as most women were dressed in similar fashion, just of lesser quality. A silver border lined the neckline of the dress as well as the hem of the sleeves, which billowed out from her elbows, and length of the gown. A belt was fastened around her waist of the same silver embroidery. It sat low on her hips to accentuate her waist.

"This is too much, lady Éowyn, you should not give me something so fine to wear." She told her, she did not deserve a garment like this; just a plain dress would be fine. The last thing she wanted was a dress that would make her stick out more than she already would.

"Must I keep telling you to call me Éowyn? Aithne, you may leave us now. Thank you for your assistance." Éowyn said, dismissing her servant, who obediently left the room and completely ignored her protest. "Come sit at the vanity, I shall fix your hair."

Evelyn did as she was bid, and sat down on the bench that was pulled out for her. A mirror sat before her, letting her reflection stare back at her. She almost gasped at her appearance, but held it back. What she had seen in Legolas' eyes was nothing compared to what the mirror showed. Her skin was pale porcelain, topped with stark white hair that hung wet and limp oh her head, but what was most haunting where her eyes. It was no wonder people shrunk back from her. Her irises looked as if they were made of millions of tiny ice crystals of the palest blue. Then there was the purple scar that reared its ugly face under her collarbone. What little color she had to her face drained instantly.

"Are you alright? You look as if you have seen a ghost." Éowyn asked, concerned at the change in Evelyn, wondering if she had done something wrong.

"Yes, sorry, I just haven't seen a mirror in a long time." She said forcing a smile on her face. It seemed to work for Éowyn smiled and started working on her hair, attempting to comb through the massive tangle of knots.

"It is nice to dote upon another woman, growing up with my brother and Théodred, I never had much interaction with other girls, as there were none in the family besides me. I was always with them, much to my uncle's dismay. I was never the proper young lady."

Éowyn kept talking, and Evelyn tried to listen, she honestly did, but the rhythmic brushing of her hair and the woman's soft voice was beginning to lull her into a trance. If it were not for the occasional hard yank of a knot, she would have been fast asleep. Lord knows she could use some sleep, especially if she was to attempt her plan tonight, she would need all her endurance. The thought of running sent butterflies fluttering through her stomach. She hoped it would not cause the others too many problems.

"…Lady Evelyn?" Éowyn questioned, giving her shoulder a slight shake.

"Wha…what?" Evelyn stammered, coming out of her daze, looking to see the questioning gaze of Éowyn behind her.

"I said it is time. I will take you back to the others if you wish?"

Evelyn nodded in consent, she found having the company of a woman soothing, however, after so long alone with the men, and she was surprised that she actually missed their company. Even if they did not pay much attention to her, she thought ironically. Looking in the mirror once more, she still did not recognize the face staring back at her. Her hair no longer soaking wet, hung in loose curls down her back and across her shoulders. She was a stranger to herself. Blinking back the tears, she pushed herself up and followed Éowyn back into the great hall.

There were only a few people left in the hall when she walked through behind Théoden's niece. Nevertheless, it was enough to create a small buzz of noise from different conversations. However, they abruptly stopped as she passed. Their mouths stayed open as if in mid-sentence, but no words came out as they looked upon her. The sudden silence made the King and the fellowship look up in mild alarm, thinking something was wrong, and they too stared in her direction. Maybe she was not ready to be back in their company after all.

"They will all be eating flies if they don't close their mouths," she muttered under her breath, trying to reassure herself. This statement caused Éowyn to snort, trying to contain her laughter. Reaching back with her arm, Éowyn pulled her closer to whisper in her ear.

"What a sight that would be!" she exclaimed with laughter in her voice, "Worry not about them, visitors are rare in Edoras these days." She told her, trying to be reassuring, though she was not sure if it had any affect or not.

Making herself look up, she saw her company had at least gotten their mouths closed, though only Gandalf offered her a small smile of greeting. The king eyed her warily. She knew that look; she had seen it in the others when they learned what she was, so they had told him. Evelyn was not sure how she felt about it, it was her secret, her choice to tell, but here she had no free choice it seemed. It was times like these that she was truly reminded how very different their worlds were.

Walking closer she saw all their eyes catch sight of the scar. It was instant reflex to scoop up her hair quickly bringing it across her shoulder as she ducked her head down, avoiding their questioning glances, even if they never voiced them. She took her old seat toward the end of the wooden table, beside the elf who had replaced where Aragorn sat before.

"Here." His voice rang out close to her ear, making her jump slightly. Looking up, she saw his pale long fingers holding out a black cloak to her, though he never glanced towards her.

"I'm not cold." She replied flatly, turning back to look at the table gripped by her own pale fingers.

"Do you wish to cover the scar or no?" he snapped, shoving the article of clothing into her hands, his eyes narrowed as he took her in. For a mortal she had the chance to be pretty, if only she did not cower as she did and hide with every opportunity she had. Of course, he was sure some man would not mind her strange behavior. Then again, she would have to get near a man other than Aragorn first, and he did not see that happening anytime soon. He shook his head, removing the thoughts from his mind; he had much more important things to think about beside the mortal woman.

Evelyn mumbled a thank you under her breath, embarrassed at her own rude behavior. However, she had not expected such a gesture from the Prince if she was being honest with herself. With a sigh, she turned to follow the procession out to the burial grounds were the funeral for the Prince of Rohan would take place.

All the people stared at her with hushed whispers to their closest neighbor as she passed. Some moved to put distance between themselves and her, while others cautiously moved closer, hoping to see what, she was not sure. Though she had a good idea it was over her tattoo and scars. Word spreads quickly anywhere when the servants talked.

She felt her anxiety rise with the close proximity of so many men. Her hands were already shaking and she had to hold them firmly in front of her body to hide it. The thumping of her heart was almost loud enough to drown out the singing as they carried the body of the prince to his tomb. He looked peaceful in death, is that how she looked, she wondered, when she died? She did not think so, for she had yet to find peace in her death.

Legolas, standing near, could see her shaking in her boots, as well as see the beating of her heart in her neck. With an inaudible mutter, he walked closer to her. The last thing they needed was her fleeing and having one of her breakdowns.

As he neared her, he could hear the women around her murmuring about what the Lady Éowyn's servants had seen. They spoke of hideous scars that littered her body, that much he already knew of, even if by accident. What he did not know of was the painting they said covered her back. This he just did not understand. How could one have a painting on their back that does not come off? He felt a sudden stab of anger that these women spread such gossip about her, whether it was true or not. He tried to reason with himself that such was the way of most mortals, and he should expect no more from them. He felt his anger lessen; he could not truly be angry over such could he? No of course not he told himself, he should feel pity maybe that they knew no better, but not anger. He could not place why that was the emotion he first felt when he heard their gossip, but Legolas was glad he suppressed it as he came to stand behind Evelyn.

She knew the elf had come to stand behind her, though as to why, she could not fathom, but she chose to ignore him as he so often did to her. She kept her focus on the tomb, trying to push all else from her mind.

"Would you calm down? You are emitting so much tension you could undoubtedly send the whole of those congregated into a fit." He spoke low enough so only she would hear him.

She jerked her head around, staring up at him with narrowed eyes. Back to his smart remarks and snide comments, she thought, but was not surprised. Evelyn was almost one hundred percent positive his moments of softness towards her were purely forced to please Aragorn. So she ignored his statement, thinking it was for the best and he would just leave her be, even if his presence did help to calm her nerves—as loathe as she was to admit it.

"What is your word for a painting on the skin?" he asked, curious for answers.

"I thought it would be below elves to participate in the gossip of humans?" she retorted, looking back at him, pleased to see that the Prince was unsure of what to say next. She spoke again for him, "What? Do you think I don't have ears and there for do not hear what they say of me? I promise you, I hear them all just fine." Evelyn snapped, loud enough that those close enough to her could hear, and they abruptly hushed, looking at the ground around their feet as if it was the most interesting thing around. "We are at a funeral and we should be quietly paying our respects to the fallen, don't you agree?" She added, turning back to face forward, and Legolas once again mentally slapped himself for attempting conversation with her as it always ended up angering him and making him feel insulted. What angered him the most was that it was a mortal and a woman no less that was the culprit.

"Next time I shall remember not to distract you from your anxiety." Legolas answered icily in her ear, though he did not move from his location behind her. Evelyn suddenly felt guilty for her remarks with his revelation to his presence and dropped her head down, though she could not make herself apologize.

They sat in the warm great hall, a large fire flaming in the giant hearth, sending its warmth out to whoever would receive it. The men were discussing war and their plans for upcoming battles. At times she felt the tension between King Théoden and Aragorn, and sometimes even Gandalf whom see always saw as so stoic in his emotions. She did not want to think of battles and wars; she had already seen quite enough of it already in her short time here. A gnawing fear grew in her belly at the thought, bringing it with it pictures of Boromir lying dead at her feet and of herself lying dead. However, they were not the images she usually saw of herself in the dark alleyway with the men. No, she saw herself sprawled on the ground in a strange assortment of clothes, surrounded by dead bodies of dark skin people covered in piercings and strange garb. She closed her eyes tightly, willing the images away.

The table she was leaning on lurched suddenly under her as a person sat down across from her, causing her eyes to open wide. Evelyn found herself looking into the cool eyes of the king; the rest of the fellowship was looming warily behind him. All she could think of was, what was going on, he had practically ignored her since their arrival, but not anymore.

"I know not whether to view you as a threat or an asset." He told her matter of factly, chin sitting on his interlaced fingers as he rested his elbows upon the table. "If what Gandalf says is true, you could be a turning point in this war."

That statement drew in all their attention, all their eyes narrowed at the king who sat before her, none were sure if they liked the path he was taking, Evelyn surely did not, though she knew exactly what point he wished to make. With her power, curse, whatever it was, she could destroy many men at once, even if she could not fully grasp the concept. However, those men could be on either side. What if she was thrown into battle again? Would she be able to control whom she targeted, or would they all be at her mercy? She had no idea what she was capable of, and neither did they.

"She is not some pawn for your game of war!" Gimli's gruff voice exploded over that of the Kings, enraged over such an idea.

"Gimli, calm down, we must look at all sides." Aragorn tried to reason with the dwarf, knowing rising tempers would get them nowhere, though he was too late, the king was already on his feet answering to the dwarf's outburst.

"And why should we not? We need to see the extent to which her abilities go. If she can save the lives of my men, I will most certainly use her! It is for the good of the many!"

The yelling continued, only escalating as Aragorn and Gandalf continued to attempt to diffuse the situation to no avail. Evelyn looked from one to the other, mind swimming with all that was being said around her, all the hard truths she did not want to hear. Finally, it was too much to bear. Jumping up and knocking her stool over in the process, she fled the room, the only words she uttered were, "I need air." However, they fell to deaf ears, only the elf leaning against the pillar saw her run.

She did not think. She did not look around her. She just knew she was doing what she did best now—running. Evelyn did not know where she would go, but she knew she could not stay here and be put on the front lines of battle, even if it could save thousands of lives. It was not who she was. She was not some sort of self-sacrificing hero all the old stories spoke of, no, she was a coward, but that did not bother her now. All she knew was that if she stayed, they could force her to do their will, it was her against all of Théoden's men, and even if the company disagreed, there was little even they could do to stop him.

Saddling the horse was second nature; it required no thought, as her hands moved rhythmically through the motions. It calmed her erratically beating heart to do something so familiar, something close to her heart.

"Where will you run to?"

The voice startled her so bad she jumped into the horse's side, spooking her as well. With a hand on her heart, she looked wildly around for the source of the voice. Finally, her eyes landed on Legolas. He leaned again the entrance to the stables, arms crossed firmly across his chest.

"Does it matter?"

"It may," he said, pushing off from against the pillar. "Should you go towards Isengard, you would be taken by Sauruman or be taken by the wildsmen now running rampant through parts of Rohan. So yes, I dare say it would matter." He was now looming over her, casting a shadow across her field of vison, so that she had to take a step back to see him clearly.

"And why do you care? It is not as if you have before. What does it matter to you if I should be taken or killed?" Evelyn yelled at him, catching him by surprise with her outburst. "I can't do this anymore!"

"No one ever knows what it is they can do until they are tested. Running will not help you." He tried to reason with her, blocking her path to the doorway, willing her to listen to him.

"You think you are so smart with your 'wise words,' but you know nothing!" she spat, jerking the mare's reins as she went to move around his solid form, but strong hands gripped her arms, keeping her stuck in front of him. "Let go of me," she growled trying to wiggle free of his grasp, but his hold only tightened.

"No. I have seen the scars you bare. Mayhap I do not know their cause, but I know it took a strong person to survive it."

"You just don't get it! Don't you see? That's just it, I didn't survive, and I wasn't strong enough to fight them off even with training. I still died!"

He let go of her then, confusion written clearly upon his features. Legolas half expected her to run, but she did not, instead she crumpled to the ground, crying. Her head clutched in her hands, dirtied from the leather tack. Finally, he found his voice again, "I do not understand."

She looked up at his face, a bitter laugh escaping through her tears. "Of course you don't. None of you do, because none of you went beyond the duty of making sure I stayed alive. That's apparently all I was to my father as well. After all this time, thinking he died in the accident with my mother, I find he is still alive—gods know where— and left me without so much as an explanation. No, instead I have to hear it all from the Valar—that my death on earth was their doing so that I could come back in this body to Middle earth to play some part in a war I have no knowledge of. I had to die because my father was banished and married my mother so I was born in a body that would essentially destroy my soul. Now I'm stuck here forever. So, no, you couldn't possible understand!"

Evelyn was boarding on hysterics. Legolas just stood staring at her form, mouth agape in wonder, his mind still trying to process the jumble of information she just threw at him. He was certain on the fact that he knew nothing, just as she had said. Unsure what he should do next, he knelt beside her, pulling her hands free and held on tight should she decide to try to take them back, which she did, at first, but soon gave up. He could almost feel the fight leave her.

"Why do you not start at the beginning?" He asked her, though it was more of a statement than a question and to his surprise, she did.

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