The grassy plains of Rohan.
A hot summer’s day.
Her exhausted stallion was beginning to stagger. . . sides heaving, proud head going down, sides and bit foaming. And yet, valiantly, he struggled to gallop onwards. For love of her.
Over the sound of hooves and the wind in her ears, came the harsh, guttural cries of orcs behind. And gaining on them.
The orcs had cut them off from the south, where Edoras lay, and the east, where they had been heading. Riding north and west, she had hoped that Gesaelig could outrun the orcs. But the foul band of creatures proved tireless, and her steed, already weary from many hours of travel, could not last much longer.
Around her, the open grassy plains of the land of Rohan stretched away.
Far to the north-west, the tall peaks of the Misty Mountains lay on the horizon, the forest of Fangorn crouched at its feet.
To the east, the Entwash River, flowing deep and swift.
There was no place of refuge. Nowhere to hide.
Ahead, she thought—imagined?—she saw a gleam of gold and white. A shining white horse riding towards her in the distance, its rider’s hair streaming long and golden in the wind, luminous in the western sun.
She blinked as sweat blurred her vision, wondering if it were an apparition from the halls of the dead. Mayhap a warrior of heaven come for the fallen.
An omen of impending death.
When the orcish spears struck Gesaelig in the flank and he collapsed beneath her, part of her was relieved that her suffering stallion’s misery was ended. She wondered that the orcs had not done so much earlier, wondered if the foul creatures had been driving her poor beast before them for sport, relishing his agony.
She leapt clear as Gesaelig fell, her heart breaking with grief at the loss of her brave steed. She rolled swiftly to her feet. She had seen, glancing over her shoulder as she had ridden, how many were after her. Seventeen orcs in all.
She was her father’s daughter. They would see how a daughter of the Mark could face death.
Drawing her eight-inch dagger out from her white skirts, she turned to face her foes. Her flaxen hair, loosened from its braids, fell gleaming in a damp tangle over her fair white brow and over her shoulders. Her steely grey eyes glinted wild and fey.
“Come then!” she snarled in defiance, her dagger ready as the first orcs neared. “Eorlingas!” she uttered as a war cry, her young voice ringing with all the pride of her race, even as the first two orcs were upon her.
With all her strength, she slashed and thrust fiercely at their misshapen arms, throats and hands with her dagger, almost suffocating in their foul stench, gasping as their blades caught her shoulder and arms, her forehead and her hands. She fell to her knees, her dagger black with their blood, her white dress stained both black and red.
She heard an outcry of fear and panic from the orcs.
She watched, stunned, as black blood spattered over her and two orc bodies fell before her, one decapitated, the other cloven open from neck to guts.
She lifted her head and saw looming over her a tall, shining warrior in white, his long hair of gold flowing to his waist.
He hovered protectively over her, moving lightly in a blur of swift, fluid motion, the attacking orcs falling with hideous cries, black blood raining as his twin swords sliced through flesh and bone with as much ease as through air.
Soon, the remaining orcs—about a half dozen—screamed to each other and began to flee. She was half-lying on the green grass now, her dagger fallen from her hand, lifting her head with effort to watch the slaughter in awe.
As the orcs fled, the warrior in white set down his weapons, stooped, and lifted her as though she were a small child. She glimpsed intense sapphire-blue eyes blazing with white fire, a face stern and cold and fierce, and for a moment she stopped breathing. For she had never seen beauty as flawless and radiant as the beauty of that face. It could not be mortal.
In a single smooth motion, he lifted and slung her effortlessly and lightly onto the back of the white stallion who had been standing nearby, then turned to race after his prey, hair flying bright and golden as the morning sun.
As she sat astride the stallion and clung on to the white mane—for there was not bridle not bit nor even saddle upon that noble steed—she watched the warrior of light pursue the orcs, flying on swift feet over the green grass. Watched mesmerized as the two dazzling blades he wielded arced and thrust through the air; the fleeing orcs, turning to fight, were swiftly slain. The warrior moved with fluid grace—a surreally beautiful dance of death, not a move wasted, one stroke per kill. In less than three of her ragged breaths, all his prey lay still.
The white horse glided with a smooth step to his rider’s side. Black orc blood was spattered on the warrior’s face, hair and clothes. His brilliant aura of light dimmed to a faint shimmer outlining his tall, slender form. He wiped down his swords, sheathed them, and slung them onto his back. He rubbed some black blood off his cheek onto his sleeve as he walked towards his horse. His bright blue eyes, shining still with their unearthly glittering light, were fixed on her.
She stared at him. Through his radiant golden hair, she saw his ears were pointed.
“Am I dying?” she said faintly through her pain, looking at this creature from another world.
He scrutinized her wounds quickly and with keen eyes, his long slender hands moving swift and light from her brow to her shoulder and her arms, examining them carefully. “No, child,” he said reassuringly. “I should hope you will have many years yet before that event.” His voice was low and musical. “They sought to capture, not kill you. Else you would be dead by now.”
“What are you?” she blurted out.
His blue eyes met her grey ones, and for the first time he smiled. Suddenly, he seemed as young as her brother. His face was warm and kind, and his eyes laughed and sparkled. “I am an elf, young maid.” He lifted her gently from the horse and set her on the ground.
“An elf?” she marvelled. “We have heard of your kind. But none have we ever seen here.” Tales of dark sorcery to frighten a child. Yet of this being before her she could feel no fear.
“I ask pardon for trespassing in the Riddermark,” said the elf with a bow. “I am Glorfindel of Rivendell, far north and west of the Misty Mountains.” He searched in the soft woven panniers hanging at the white horse’s sides and took out a flask and a pouch. “I had just come from a visit to an old friend in Fangorn Forest, and was drawn south by curiosity to see your land again. By a happy chance, it would seem, else I would have been far north by now.” He took a clean square of white cloth, and moistened a section of it with a clear liquid from the flask. Gently, he cleaned the lacerations on her forehead, shoulder, arms and hands. It felt cool yet stung like fire. She clenched her teeth against the pain. “These three will need stitches,” he said, looking at her forehead, her left shoulder, and her right forearm. “But we can be thankful none of their weapons were poisoned.” And he began to sing softly in his language as he tended her wounds, alien words that made her think of bubbling brooks and deep forests and rugged mountains and starlight. She felt a coolness, then a warmth, and the throbbing pain of her cuts receded.
She gazed at him warily through these ministrations, sitting still and unflinching.
“You have heard many tales of dark elven magic and my people’s fell spells, I have no doubt,” said Glorfindel. “Be assured that I am only here to help and heal.”
She looked into his clear, solemn eyes. “I have no fear,” she said. Then she saw, on the lower sleeve of his left arm, a tear and a red stain. “You are wounded!” she said in wonder more than alarm, this magical being suddenly human and frail.
“The merest scratch,” he said, barely bothering to glance at it. He wet his finger with liquid from his flask, and slid it over the cut. “Now. If you will allow me, I shall stitch those wounds for you.”
When he offered her another flask to drink from, she hesitated, but those clear, grave eyes were so pure in spirit that she swallowed from it as instructed. It burned warm and sweet down her throat. He pulled out a carefully wrapped needle and thread and began his stitchery, softly singing as he began. She felt tiny pin pricks, and nothing more. She wondered if it was the drink, or his closeness, that made her feel lightheaded.
“What is your name, child?” asked Glorfindel of Rivendell. She was very lovely for a mortal maiden, though her beauty, he thought, was not that of a blossom but of a dancing flame or a shining sword.
“I am Éowyn daughter of Éomund.”
“Will your people search for you? Where shall we seek them?”
“I travel to visit my brother at the eastern marches, but he expects me not for another week. And at Edoras, from whence I rode forth this morn, they shall not look for me for two months to come. There shall be none searching for me.”
Looking at him, she continued to wonder at his otherworldly beauty, so different from that of the broad, muscular strength of her menfolk. His face, focused on his work, was intent and almost stern in its expression, his eyes a deep, changeful blue like lakewaters reflecting a summer sky. His face was as smooth as a fine lady’s, with no hint of beard. The hair that spilled over his shoulders and down his back to his waist was of a lustrous gold so glorious, that her own hair, she thought ruefully, seemed to her as dull as the straw that lined the horses’ stalls. His scent was like that of falling rain, of a meadow’s sweet grasses in the summer sun, a clean, fresh scent. For seasons to come, those scents would always conjure for her a tall elf warrior with sky-blue eyes and flowing hair of most radiant gold.
“Whither will you go then?” he was asking. “To the eastern marches or back to Edoras?”
“East, to my brother.”
“Very well, then. A four-day journey at most, taken easy.” He finished off the last sutures, and bandaged the wounds. “You are a brave lass. No tears, and no whimpers.”
“I felt but the merest pinpricks. My thanks for your skill.”
She then went to where her noble and brave steed lay dead, and stood there in silence. The white rider and his white steed followed behind her. “I am sorry for your loss,” said the elf.
“There were losses far greater than this,” said she, suddenly struck by the enormity of a bereavement and tragedy she had numbed and blocked out till now. “Ceolmund and Rumwold rode out with me this morning, brave men and true. They gave their lives that I might escape.” And suddenly her shoulders shook. “They knew my brother and me since we were born,” she wept into his chest as his strong arms folded around her. “They were my father’s friends, and mine.”
“We shall find them and give them burial,” he said. “They are gone with honour to join Eorl the Young and their fathers in the halls of heroes.”
She emptied the panniers of Gesaelig’s saddle, tied her few belongings in a bundle, and he strapped them to the panniers of his horse, who he introduced to her as Asfaloth. He allowed the daughter of the horse lords to mount Asfaloth herself, with only his hand to give her a step up, before swinging himself lightly onto the stallion’s back.
Night had fallen by the time they finished covering the shallow grave of the two warriors of Rohan, each of whom had felled five orcs at least ere they perished. They were laid to rest with their weapons on their breasts.
She was trembling and sick in the stomach by the time it was done, but she would not let Glorfindel do it alone, even when he sternly told her she needed rest for her wounds.
“They died for me. Had I to dig this grave alone with my bare hands, I would.”
He stood by in respectful silence as she laid wildflowers from the fields on the graves. The stars gazed coldly down from a cloudless sky as she sang a lament for the fallen. In the night, his form shimmered faintly as though outlined with starlight, and his hair still gleamed with golden light. In his eyes glittered memories of other deaths, other battlefields.
As she bade farewell, she wept again.
He let her cry a while, then gently led her away.