Through Shadows

Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Wormwood

"For so we reckon Men in our lore, calling them the High, or Men of the West, which were Númenoreans; and the Middle Peoples, Men of the Twilight, such as the Rohirrim and their kin that dwell still far in the North; and the Wild, the Men of Darkness.

Yet now, if the Rohirrim are grown in some ways more like us, enhanced in arts and gentleness, we too have become more like to them, and can scarce claim any longer the title High. We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things." Faramir quoted from: The Window on the West; The two Towers, Book IV by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 22nd March, Third Age

"An oath?" With an angry grunt Grimbeorn put the bowl of stew he had been stirring listlessly on the floor beside his pallet. "We did not ask her to hasten Acwuld's passing herself, did we? So what was she blathering about? That conceited ..." Checking himself, he shook his head. "I don't understand her, Éowyn. I simply don't. You have not seen her working in the sickroom. I swear, no captain afield has more courage and vigilance than that woman. She not only knows her job, she also has it in her to motivate others. All the healers follow her orders and our boys simply adore her, call her the Lead Mare." His broad shoulders hunched, the captain shot Éowyn a self-conscious glance. "I suppose it got me that seriously because I never expected her to behave like that."

Éowyn frowned. "And you tried to talk to her after Elfhelm had dressed her down?"

"I tried. Yeah. And made things worse. And bugger me if I know why." His beefy fingers raking through his hair, Grimbeorn shook his head. "See, I had told myself she was simply overworked, didn't have enough sleep. Everyone can take just so much, can't they? And the healers' job isn't an easy one. And blimey what an excellent job they do, Éowyn. If we had healers like these here in the Mark... Well, perhaps she really thought something could be done for Acwuld, at least that's what I told myself. And so I went to explain to her why he did not want to plod on. She didn't even let me finish. Spat like an angry cat. I thought she'd scratch out my eyes."

A suspicion rising inside her, Éowyn asked: "What exactly did you tell her?"

Grimboern shrugged. "That not only he was in unbearable pain, but that also there was no future for him. He was a Rider, and he would never be able to get back on a horse. And... I simply don't get how they could see gelding as a treatment."

"It would have taken away some of the pain. The Steward said they will do anything to lessen pain as far as possible but will not speed on death."

The captain snorted. "Bollocks! He'd be dying every single day he'd go on living like that. What is a man if he isn't a man? How was he to face his wife, his sons, a ball-less bundle of smashed bones? I told her she could not do that, told her that as we passed him on he would go to the Halls a fallen warrior, would keep his honour, and give a reason for pride and esteem to his family. His wife has two sons by him, they would keep his memory, and as she was still young, she would remarry one day, have more children to bring comfort and joy to her old age. Acwuld would have been a burden to the woman he had sworn to cherish and protect. I mean that's the way I see it. What use is a man to a woman if he cannot give her the offspring she craves for and protect his family? I'd prefer to die ten deaths to living a useless life. What are we, if we cannot live through our children?"

Riders and their pride in their loins! Carefully keeping any emotion out of her voice, she asked: "You told her that?"

Grimboern nodded. "Yeah, and I asked her if she would want to share her life and bed with a gelding, bereft of any fruit of her body."

Idiot! Breathing deep, Éowyn mastered her composure. "Grimbeorn, Mareth is barren."

The captain's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "She's what?" he croaked.

"Her husband divorced her for being barren." With grim satisfaction Éowyn watched the words sinking in. Grimboern stared at her as if paralysed, and then closed his eyes, swearing under his breath. She let him be, and after a while he opened his eyes. "I need to talk to her. After all she did for the boys I rubbed salt in her wounds... Béma's horse, I deserve a kick in the groin."

"You did not know."

"True, I did not. But I could have been more circumspect, couldn't I? Éowyn, that woman is such a … Well, it never occurred to me she was not married with at least half a dozen strapping sons. It just does not fit in with the image." His wide shoulders sagged and he looked at her like a puppy that had been unexpectedly slapped over the muzzle. "Béma, I really made a mess of it. And what is worse, when she …" His large hand again raked his already tousled hair. "I mean she really nettled me with her reply. She said I was thinking with my balls and I… I told her she obviously needed to get laid."

Éowyn could not help rolling her eyes. Men! Shooting Grimboern an icy glare she said: "Perhaps she does, but it was not a very clever thing to say. And not only because it is an insult in general. The Steward told me that the healers are celibate. None of them is married, and none of them has children."

The sound Grimboern made made Éowyn suspect he was near to suffocation.

"Not married? All of them? So they have no family?" he croaked finally.

She nodded silently. He continued swearing under his breath and then asked: "But where does she live and who is going to care for her? When she's old, I mean."

"She will be cared for in the Houses, Grimboern. The Steward told me the young healers care for the old ones and they have houses on the premises to live in."

"Yeah, nice little cottages with gardens around them. There's always a group of healers sharing one, but each of them has a small room of their own. Little Wrénna told me." It was Berhtulf who piped in, having approached unnoticed.

Grimbeorn's head jerked round. "Keep your dirty hands off the girl. I'll break every single bone in your body if you dare..."

Laughing, Berhtulf raised his hands in a gesture of defeat. "Peace, Grimbeorn. I have no death wish, and I know if I stir as much as a finger, I'd only have the choice between you bashing in my head and Limp feeding me hemlock." He carefully lowered himself to the empty pallet at Grimbeorn's side, wincing with pain as he tried to heave his injured leg onto it. Without ceremony Éowyn grabbed his heel.

"Lean back a bit and hold unto the edges of the pallet."

The young Rider obeyed and slowly she placed his leg on the pallet. She was shoving a rolled up blanket under his knee, when she felt someone stepping up to her side, and looking up she beheld Anwen, who carried a deep plate holding half a dozen small roasted sausages. The girl bobbed her a greeting and then turned to the Rider, a wide smile on her face. "Berhtulf, as a thank-you for your kind and more than welcome attention here I bring the promised sausages..."

"You rutting son of a warg!" Bellowing furiously, Grimbeorn jumped up from his pallet, his shout waking everyone in the sickroom.

The young Rider paled visibly. "Captain, I swear... I never would as much as look at another man's girl. It's not what it seems."

Standing between the two men, Anwen gaped in horror at Grimbeorn's hostility, not understanding what was said. "What...? I did not know... It is mutton, Grimboern, mutton. You don't have a taboo on mutton, have you?"

Éowyn frowned. "A taboo on mutton?"

The grin back on his face, Berhtulf shrugged. "Oh, there were a few broken noses out there on the Pelennor when some of the city men thought to feast on the dead horses the day after the battle. Took the marshal quite some effort to calm things down again."

Uncomprehending, Anwen looked at the people around her, and seeing the girl's embarrassment, Éowyn switched to Westron. "There is nothing wrong with mutton sausages, Anwen. The captain only wants to know why you are giving them to Berhtulf."

Blushing, the girl shot Grimbeorn an insecure glance. "Glandis, mistress Ioreth cousin that is, bid me take them to Berhtulf for repairing her garden rake."

The captain looked absolutely dumbfounded. "He repaired a garden rake?"

Berhtulf nodded. "I whittled a number of new pegs. Mother Goose had been harping for at least two days on the fact that her cousin's rake needed repair and that the old healer who had been doing such jobs last year was suffering from the trembling disease and the men in town were busy what with the war... My ears were bleeding at last. I mean, it really is a shame that an old wife's tools need to be repaired by strangers, but I didn't want to ask where her children are, and why they had not taken their old mother with them. Well, and as the only thing I have at the moment is time, I ended up whittling, and Ioreth promised me some sausages. Seems her cousin has quite a reputation as a cook."

Thinking of Merry's mushroom soup, Éowyn nodded. "She certainly has, and well she deserves it. You had better eat, before the sausages turn cold."

Grinning, Berhtulf took the plate from Anwen, thanking her with that many words that Éowyn found it difficult to suppress a giggle at the sight of Grimbeorn's bulging jawline. Young Berhtulf certainly enjoyed playing with fire too much.

He took a bite, chewed, and uttered a moan of delight. "Garlic! Man, I love mutton and garlic. And they are really spicy. Delicious!" Grinning broadly, he went for the second sausage before he remembered his manners and offered one to Éowyn. Out of curiosity Éowyn took it and bit off a tiny piece. The taste of garlic was dominating, but the meat was tender and there certainly was parsley in it, cardamom and peppers. Nodding her approval, she held the rest of the tiny sausage out to Grimboern.

Disgusted, the captain grimaced. "Garlic! Stay away from me with garlic! I can't bear that stink!"

Berhtulf shrugged, unfazed. "Don't eat it then. The more there will be for me. And as for the stink: You keep eating onions, and Béma is my witness, your onion farts are ten times worse than a little innocent garlic sausage."

Laughter rose around them, and good-naturedly Grimbeorn joined in, and then turned to Anwen, who still stood beside the pallet, unsure what to do and not understanding anything as the men had fallen back to the language of the Mark. He cleared his throat awkwardly and then said: "Well, Dear, it is certainly nice of you to bring the promised treat to this ill-bred whelp, but you had better leave now, lest Mareth spots you and scolds. I'm afraid I had a little disagreement with her, and I do not want you to get in trouble once she finds you here."

Anwen smiled shyly. "I won't get into trouble. She knows I'm here."

"She knows?" Grimboern's deep frown more than proved his disbelief.

The girl simply nodded. "Yes, I told her I was going to the Rohirric wards."

"You... But she your guardian, isn't she? You have to accompany her when she shifts to another ward."

Again she nodded. "That's right. I have to stay under her supervision as she is responsible for me, but she won't shift to another ward."

"She won't? But she said..." The seasoned captain was at a loss.

Looking slightly self-conscious, the girl shrugged. "I told her I would not go with her if she changed the ward."

"You did what?"

"I told her I wanted to stay here and she would have to drag me bodily if she wanted me to follow her to a different ward. And I told her that I thought the Rohirrim were right to kill Acwuld, because he wanted it. And that I hoped if I was in such a state someone would heed my wish and not stick to cold principles."

Grimboern sighed. "Ah, Wrénna, it is not only the thing about Acwuld. I wanted to make it up with her this morning and ended up insulting her."

The girl nodded, her face in a half-smile. "And she answered blow with blow. Lhindir told me; said both of you were as stubborn and aggressive as two fighting ibexes. He was really worried. But she will stay at the ward. She does not want me to work here alone. But I had better go to the kitchen now to get you some tea for the night." Taking the empty plate from Berhtulf's hands, she again bowed to Éowyn and then left, not seeing the men who stared after her retreating figure in utter surprise.

After a while the man on the pallet next to Berhtulf's sat up, a middle-aged Rider with a bandaged head, addressing the captain in the broad lilt of the Eastemnet. "You should have let that Mareth be, Grimboern. Women are like that, and you are old enough to know their moods. It's the moon, I tell you. Take my wife. The sweetest thing you can imagine, but when she's near her flows she's a real harpy. Just give her another sennight and let her man have laid her, and I tell you, she'll be as right as rain."

"Is that so, Céorl?" Éowyn's voice was icy, and the man blanched, blinking as if realising only now that she was present. She could barely control her fury. Did these idiots really think any problem and discontent a woman had could be solved by a stiff cock?

The man swallowed. "I... I didn't... I mean, I certainly meant no offence. But it's a husband's duty to please and pleasure his wife, isn't it? She's been working for nights on end, so how can we expect her to feel good and be gentle? And it's spring, Éowyn Cynesweoster, a joyless one no doubt, but it still is spring, and the body needs the rut."

Approving murmurs rose from the men around them, silenced as Grimbeorn spoke up. "These healers do not shag, you fools. They are not married, have no sweethearts, no families. They dedicate themselves to healing, and healing only, and instead to children of their own body they give their love and care to their patients."

For a moment there was stunned silence, and then all men started to talk at once. It took a while till they had calmed down, agreeing on the assumption that the healers must have some bargain with the gods, to enhance their healing powers.

Éowyn grimaced. There certainly were few men more valiant and loyal than the Eorlingas, but as certainly there were few in the whole of Middle Earth that were more superstitious. Especially as far as any aspect of virility was involved. She felt the urge to kick them good and hard, and squaring her shoulders she turned to leave, when Berhtulf spoke up.

"They may have taken an oath, and they may be cared for when they are sick or old, but who will defend them should things come to the worst?" The young man struggled to stand and then addressed the men around him. "If they forego the joy of having offspring and care for us instead, should we not see ourselves as their true sons?"

Éowyn stood and stared, not heeding the hubbub that rose again around them. Was that really the Berhtulf she knew? The jester, the charmer, the happy-go-lucky fellow who was convinced that neither foe nor woman could resist him? Berhtulf lifted a hand to regain his comrades' attention. "We should all dedicate ourselves to an individual healer we promise to especially care for." He grinned, noticing the dirty look Grimbeorn gave him. "I'll adopt Mother Goose. I really like her, as she reminds me of my grandmother's sister. And I like to have someone who talks more than I do myself."

Like on cue, Ioreth's voice could be heard from the yard, rising a little shrill over the men's laughter. "No, young man. You stop right here. And don't you try to pretend you don't understand me, I remember your face quite well. I told you the day before yesterday: No spirits in the Houses of Healing. And here you turn up with an entire keg! What? It is ale, not spirits? Oh, you impertinent...! Be it as it may. No! Take it back to where you got it from."

The men looked at each other, grinning. Only Berhtulf rolled his eyes. "Thus passes away our chance of a cup! Aelfhun is such a twat. And Deornoth is not better. Got caught the last time, and here they go again."

Just then Merry's voice piped up. "I beg your pardon, Mistress Ioreth, but it was me who asked them to carry the keg for me, as it would have been too heavy for me alone, as you certainly can well understand."

Éowyn saw Grimbeorn's eyebrows rise, and intrigued she went to the door, followed by any Rider in the sickroom who could walk.

Just opposite, on the other side of the small ornamental pool, Ioreth stood, arms akimbo, glaring at two young Riders, one of who was carrying a small wooden keg under his arm. At their side Merry had stepped up, smiling his most innocent smile as he tried to convince the old healer.

"You?"

"Yes, me. I...I got it as a present, you see. And at least in my country it is thought very impolite to turn down such an offer. And just as I was thinking about how to transport it all the way up from the fourth circle, fortunately these two well-behaved young men turned up and asked me if they could be of service. Well, and here we are."

Though visibly bewildered, Ioreth held her ground. "My Lord Perian, I certainly have no right to tell you what presents to accept, but these well-behaved young men tried to smuggle in beer just the other day..."

"To smuggle in?"

Éowyn found it hard to suppress a snort at Merry's hammy performance. The healer frowned, but obviously did not think it her place to call the "Prince of the Halflings" a play-act.

"Patients of the Houses are not allowed to drink any spirits. It could be dangerous, because some of the drugs and potions do not agree with alcohol. I told them. But if there are things they do not want to listen to, these Rohirrim just pretend not to understand. They..."

"But look, Mistress Ioreth," Merry interrupted her, putting on his most charming smile, "I do not have to take any potions anymore, so there would be no danger. And you would not deprive a convalescent soldier of a mug of well-earned ale, would you?"

Ioreth wavered, but before she could say anything, the door opened again and Mareth entered the yard, tall and erect, her face in an unreadable expression. Not knowing how to react, Ioreth stared, keg, Rohirrim and Perian obviously forgotten. Mareth just gave her a short nod. "Good to find you here, Ioreth. I need someone skilled to help me change Herelaf's bandages."

As soon as Ioreth turned her back to them, following Mareth across the yard, the young Rider with the keg swiftly retreated into the nearest sickroom. Éowyn was still grinning at their prank, when Mareth turned and spoke again. "Grimbeorn, I need you to translate." Without another word, the healer walked over to the opposite sickroom, Ioreth in tow. Grimbeorn just shrugged and followed them, and only when he had disappeared, did Berhtulf dare to chuckle.

"Worse than our old lead-mare, but I'm bloody happy to have her back."


"Not in my wildest dreams had I expected Anwen to stand up against Mareth." Éowyn shook her head. "She seems so frail, so docile. But after what she had told me about her work in the Houses I should have know better. She not only looks like a reed, but she also has the resilience of the reed."

The Steward smiled. "That certainly is one of the jokes of history that we are spared further complications by an obstinate Gondorean slip of a girl and a conciliatory Rohirric warrior. Not really the thing that could have been expected."

Éowyn shrugged. "Grimboern is an accomplished warrior and a stern captain, but he is known in the Eastfold for his soft spot for wilful women. His wife was said to be as much captain as he, and when his daughter decided to marry my brother's friend and second in command, Grimbeorn grumbled and truly behaved like a wounded bear, but he did not gainsay her."

"That friend of your brother's still lives?" The Steward pulled a wry face but his eyes were laughing. Éowyn could not help a grin.

"He does. Éomer told me when their first child was born, Grimbeorn simply melted and turned into a doting grandfather over night, and with them having three offspring by now and his daughter being content, Grimbeorn has even found it in himself to forgive Éothain for stealing his one and only daughter."

Unprepared the thought hit her like the blow of a pole-axe: What would become of them? Of them and the others? The women, children, old people left behind in the Mark? And what about those who had been evacuated from Mundburg, hiding now in the mountains of Gondor?

"My lady?"

Looking up, she met the Steward's eyes, grave again and full of care. She shook her head and turned away. "I'm sorry, but I just thought of them, of all those people, our people, the people of Gondor and the Mark. They are doomed, should the warriors fail, and yet there is no real chance..."

"There is but a faint one, lady. But it is every lord's and warrior's duty to do what can be done to protect those who are dependent on them. That's what they are fighting for, why they march on the Black Gate, making themselves a bait..." He stopped and their gazes met again. "My uncle informed me as far as he thought wise before they left, and I did not ask any questions. We truly live in dire times, as secrecy even between kin and friends is necessary."

Éowyn nodded. "I was informed by my brother." Her gaze wandered to the dark square of the window. Out there to the east, marching north to face the Enemy in a hopeless attempt, were those she cared for, - her brother, men she had known from childhood, him!She clenched her fist. "I wish I could be with them."

"So do I, my lady. But we both know we would not be up to it."

No, they certainly would not. And so they were waiting for the inevitable to happen. Waiting like that little red-golden haired girl in the Wold who held her brother's heart, like Eorthwela, Éothain's wife, most beautiful woman of the Eastemnet in the eyes of the herders, like Frithuswith, old but unfailing keeper of Meduseld and so many others she did not know and who yet suffered the same uncertainty. All of them were facing the same fate, the same torture... And somewhere far in some hidden valley in the north there was Elrond's daughter...

The Steward's movement as he shoved a filled goblet across the table towards her shook her out of her thoughts. So the Eorlingas were not the only ones to disobey the rules of the Houses! She nodded her thanks and squared her shoulders. "So we have to wait and use the time that is left to prepare for the moment the unthinkable might happen and steel ourselves to face whatever might come our way."

Tilting his head in agreement, the Steward raised his cup. "But we are not forced to stay idle, my lady. Quite on the contrary it is our duty to do what we are able to do to keep up the spirit of the people who share our fate and wait at our side. We are responsible for them."

They drank in silence. It was white wine, surprisingly light and refreshing, very different from the rich, sweet red one Théoden King had preferred, and Éowyn wondered if it had been watered. When had she drunk her last cup of wine? She remembered drinking wine at her betrothal to Erwig, remembered Théodred's laughing eyes as he had filled their cups repeatedly, his banter getting more suggestive with every cup they had emptied, and finally she had turned hers upside down to prevent him from filling it again, much to Erwig's amusement. He had been a good man... Erwig of Westfold. She took another sip. They had served mead at his funeral, only a sennight later. She could not remember drinking any kind of spirits after coming back from the Westfold, always wanting to be alert under the cunning gaze of the Worm. But she had served wine to the Riders and to him when the éohere had left for Helm's Deep, led by Théoden King after Gríma's exposure. Rich, red wine, dark as clotted blood. Lost in thought, she swirled the contents of her cup, thankful for its golden clearness. It was the Steward who finally spoke again, his tone casual in a noticeable attempt to ease the atmosphere.

"So we were certainly lucky that Grimbeorn was steeled by life for the pertinacity of women. Not many men, be they Gondorean or Rohirrim, would have borne Mareth's wrath with as much patience and understanding."

Éowyn grimaced. "There are enough problems without that. Berhtulf reported there had been a severe disagreement because some of the Gondoreans had thought horseflesh a welcome addition to the staple diet."

"Severe disagreement?"

"Bloodied noses," Éowyn elucidated.

The Steward raised an eyebrow, the typical faint smile playing around his lips. "The Rohirrim certainly have a convincing way to make their point of view clear. I'm sure nobody will think of horses as meat as long as they are present. Anyway I doubt that the Gondoreans had meant any offence. They just did not know better. Horses never played a role in the city as there are not more than the dozen the Steward keeps for the message riders. Those people probably never had come closer to a horse than they had come to a deer or hart."

Frowning, Éowyn put down her cup. "They should at least have known about the special bond the Rohirrim have with their horses, as even the name you give us in your tongue points it out."

The Steward shook his head. "Only few commoners in Gondor speak Sindarin, my lady. They use the name and yet may not know what it means."

She knew he was right, and yet it felt like a debasement of her people. Lifting her chin, she proudly looked him straight in the eye. "The Mark paid with blood and bone for fulfilling the oath we had taken, my lord. And Minas Tirith would have come to ruin without the Riders and their horses. So certainly we can expect the people of Gondor to respect our valour and the traditions and beliefs they are based on."

The Steward nodded. "You certainly can. And I doubt that there is a single soul in the city that is not thankful for the deeds of Rohan's Riders. But beliefs and tradition differ, Lady Éowyn, and for simple people it sometimes is difficult to understand these differences and take them for what they are: Just different ways of different people from different places to try to cope with just the same challenges of life." His voice was low, and yet it held an authority that could not be unnoticed.

"In actual fact we are all the same, Éowyn, no matter where we have been born: Men. Mortals with all our weaknesses and strengths."

Éowyn lowered her eyes. She had heard the like from Théodred, listening to his heated discussions with his father. Théodred, who despite the constant skirmishes with the Dunlendings had tried to come to an agreement with them in an attempt to give the Westfold peace. And she remembered well his low and serious voice, scolding them when one day soon after they had been taken into fostering by Théoden King he had found Éomer and her relishing in a vivid praise of Helm Hammerhand, picturing his ways of killing the Hillmen in the most gruesome ways they could imagine. But had not even Théodred sometimes shook his head at Boromir's praise of Gondor, her culture, her courage and age-old history? Had not even he frowned when his friend mockingly had called the Eorlingas younger brothers or even toddlers? She wasn't sure though how far this display of haughtiness had been really condescension or just part of the constant banter Boromir and Théodred had relished in. Yet Théodred had grudgingly admitted that Gondorean steel was by far superior to anything they produced in the Mark. But Boromir had fast learned that for all their splendour and true advantage when fighting on foot the Gondorean longswords were simply useless when fighting on horseback.

Looking up again, she found the Steward's eyes on her with grave concern, and with the blush of embarrassment, anger rose inside her, pushing her to object. "We may all be Men, my lord, but Gondor never failed to point out our differences and her superiority."

He merely shrugged. "We only differ in the way we were brought up, in what we were taught, in our traditions and beliefs. And as necessary and valuable these traditions and beliefs are to give us an identity, if we are not able to call them into question when necessary they become mere prejudices."

She clenched her hand, his steady calmness itching her like a wasp's sting. Whose prejudices was he referring to? Whose traditions and beliefs was he calling into question? Had not even Boromir joked about the traditions of the Mark? Was it not only haughtiness in disguise, the patronising attitude of one who thought himself superior beyond doubt? Superior he might be, but he would not find her giving in that fast. "They may be prejudices, my lord. Yet even prejudices might be helpful in exceptional situations, situations that leave us uneasy and disorientated, like a stick is helpful and an aid to a weak or injured person."

He nodded gravely. "That certainly is correct, my lady. But as we should strive to overcome weakness and try to walk freely, we should check our prejudices, check if we really need them. And we should be careful not to turn them into a weapon, for they are a knife that is all blade: It cuts the hand that wields it."

Éowyn laughed mirthlessly. "Wise words, my lord, but it was the royal family of Gondor who started the Kin-strife, deeming Eldacar not worthy for being of mixed blood. It was the pride in Númenórean blood and heritage that caused death and war within Gondor for years, not the fault of those you call Middle Men."

"Alas, you are right, Éowyn, and Gondor paid heavily for it. But yet it does not render my opinion wrong: Pride without duty and care is shallow."

She did not know what to answer and let her gaze wander to the dark square of the window. She wished she could push his words aside, tell him he did not know about duty, did not know the cage she had felt around herself for years, but she knew better. If anyone knew about duty, it was the man in front of her. A man who had been sent out to a futile fight at the proud whim of his father, and who had taken it upon himself to go, out of duty. How she wished that but for once she could wipe out this word, smash it, stomp it into non-existence. To be free, just for once, just for a moment to soar unbound, unhampered over all the petty affairs of life...

"Believe me, I know what you feel."

Again the Steward's low voice woke her from her musings. She shook herself. Futile musings. She had better concentrate on the tasks at hand to be prepared for what was to come. How had she become that weak as to whine for things that could not be had? Everything had started with them discussing the behaviour of Mareth and Anwen. Prejudices? Yes, she admitted to herself, she had been prejudiced against both of them, the strong, confident healer and the meek little girl, and in both cases her prejudices had not been met. She shrugged, her gaze still on the window. "I have been blind, my lord, and perhaps I even wanted to be blind, wanted to see what fitted with my expectations. Anwen's behaviour really was an eye-opener, and I am still surprised. On the other hand I am not sure if I will ever be able to accept Mareth's attitude, but I can see and understand now what makes her behave the way she does."

All of a sudden she felt her fingers that were holding the empty cup engulfed by a large, warm hand.

"We must open our eyes, Éowyn, our minds and hearts to see things and people as they are. There are things we can only behold if we are prepared to do so. But I admit that doing so can be dangerous as it might lead us to realize uncomfortable truths, or things that disturb our balance of mind strongly."

Their gazes locked. Grave, grey eyes. Théodred's eyes. And for the first time that did not disturb her.

Annotations:

Wormwood: In ancient herbalism this very bitter plant was believed to be able to counteract the effects of poisoning

trembling disease: my transliteration for the Parkinsonian syndrome

Cynesweoster:(Old English/Rohirric) - King's sister

wrénna: (Old English/Rohirric) – wren

Éohere: (Old English/Rohirric) – cavalry

Eldacar: Son of King Valacar of Gondor and Vidumavi, princess of the Northmen of Rhovannion. In TA 1432 he succeeded his father on the throne of Gondor, causing members of the royal family to rebel against him because of his non-Númenórean mother. The civil war that followed lasted several years and left Gondor seriously weakened.


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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.