Through Shadows

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Chard and Carrots

"War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend..."

Faramir, quoted from: The Window on the West; The Two Towers; Book IV by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 24th March 3019, Third Age

The sun had visibly wandered westwards when Éowyn went out into the garden again, and only few people lingered, strolling along the paths or resting on the benches. High on the walls that faced the Pelennor a single man stood, and though she could only see his back, she immediately recognised the Steward. Eager to learn what he had found out in the Southrons' camp, she walked towards the wall. She had climbed but half of the steep stairs when he appeared at the top, looking down on her with that characteristic half-smile of his.

"Greetings, Lady Éowyn. You are wearing Master Randir's boots? I hope they are to your liking."

"Only to my liking?" She laughed. "They are simply perfect, fitting like a glove and as soft as one on the inside. I have been walking for hours in them and have not got the tiniest blister."

His smile deepened. "I'm happy to hear they find your approval. Randir was quite uneasy when being told to make a pair of sturdy shoes for a lady."

She nodded. "He told me so. And even when I assured him they were what I wanted and needed, he obviously thought those slippers he had also brought much more fitting."

"Well, such slippers are the common footwear for ladies in Gondor. I hope you were not displeased by them." The look he gave her was as near to sheepish as she could imagine that this grave man ever could look.

Vehemently she shook her head. "No, not at all. They show excellent workmanship and are very convenient. To tell the truth, I thought them splendid, a mayor improvement compared with the cumbersome lacing of the other shoes and the best I could get before he showed me the boots." Smiling, she stretched out one foot and looked at the boot, again admiring the clever combination of beauty and functionality.

"It is often like that, my lady, that we do not know what we truly desire before we find it in front of us."

Surprised by the sudden graveness in the Steward's voice, she looked up. Their eyes locked and she felt her mouth go dry. How could a gaze be so intense, so deeply sad and yet so warm and friendly? What a stunning difference from his stern, unreadable mien that morning. She swallowed nervously. Was he opening up to her deliberately, allowing her to see his true feelings? Was he really trusting her that much or was it just a ruse, a trick to lull her alertness, to lure her into letting down her defences? The moment these doubts formed in her mind, she knew they were wrong, were nothing but nasty repercussions of what had been necessary under the cunning rule of the Worm. And yet... She felt the cold hand of mistrust claw at her mind. Could it not be that she wanted them to be wrong? Wanted this man who looked at her with her cousin's eyes to really be like Théodred: A trustworthy guardian and friend, an accomplished warrior with a caring soul, a confidant she could open her heart to, unashamed of her own weaknesses? Confused, she averted her eyes, controlling her breath in the attempt to regain her composure. Wasn't she of the House of Eorl? How could this man so easily disturb her equilibrium, make her wish for his confidence and what bothered her even more, make her want to console him, to erase the deeply rooted grief she saw in those grey eyes and make them shine with mirth?

Trying to shake off her confusion, she squared her shoulders and changed the topic. "What did you find out in the Southrons' camp, my lord?"

He grimaced. "Nothing to allay my worries. Everything I saw and heard confirmed the woman's statements. Whoever I talked to confessed to have taken part in the killing of that Xurbo, all said he had been a sorcerer and the prince's right-hand man, and that they had felt forced to act to prevent further evil. The branding on the corpse was still intact, and it differed from the marks all the others show. They claimed it was a sign of magic and they did not dare to touch it, as the only safe way to destroy it was by fire. Besides that, there was that special obsidian knife hidden under Xurbo's cot."

Seeing the scepticism in Éowyn's gaze, he shrugged. "I know that all those things could have been arranged, could be a stitch-up, but I talked to those boys Elfhelm had mentioned." He stopped for a moment, looking intensely at his fingernails before with a sudden jerk of his head, he faced her again, his eyes and voice filled with bitterness. "I spoke with them, Éowyn, and as horrible and disgusting as the sight of that skinned corpse was, for me the most terrible part was the talk with those children." He shook his head, as if still not believing what he had learned.

"None of them is older than six, some are as young as three or four, mere toddlers. They are well cared for now by the prisoners and a number of Rohirrim I reckon are some kind of stable hands. At least the children seemed to be relaxed in their company. But it needed fairly little to change that situation completely." He paused for a moment, absentmindedly knocking the quiver-like tube he held in one hand against his knee.

"I had decided to talk to them individually, to prevent them from influencing each other, assuming I might thus find the crack in a possible wall of lies. But as soon as I picked out what I thought to be the eldest and ordered him to come with me, he almost had a seizure and all of them showed signs of utter terror. So I let them stay together and removed the adults save for one young woman the boys seemed to be especially fond of. It took me quite a while to calm them enough to be able to answer my questions, but finally I wormed out of them that before the Rohirrim freed them they had been kept in a cage, like a pack of kennel dogs, sleeping on the bare ground. There had been more of them, though they were not able to tell me the exact number, but they told me that every now and then Xurbo had selected one of them who then had been taken away not to come back. At least the older ones seemed to have understood what had been going on, and their fear had rubbed off on the younger ones, who at any rate understood that nothing good was going to happen to them." He grimaced. "It makes me sick to know they feared I had come to do that monster's job, as they had seen the sorcerer's knife, that one of Elfhelm's men had found, in my hands."

For a while neither of them spoke, until Éowyn could not but state her incomprehension. "But how can the Southrons kill their own people, even if they do so in the service of the Dark Lord? Don't they see that they are sacrificing their future, by killing their children?"

With a sigh the Steward shook his head. "It's not that easy, my lady. Far-Harad is by no means a united realm. There are fights and rivalries between the different tribes and peoples of the South as much as there were and still are in the countries of the West. Similar to the conflicts and clashes between the Dunlendings and the Rohirrim for example. Those boys belong to the same people as Irodebasa, the River Tribe, as they call themselves, a people the prince that Xurbo served had subdued, and the other slaves belong to at least three other different areas of Far-Harad."

Still Éowyn shook her head stubbornly. "Be that as it may. The Eorlingas have never taken a life to sacrifice, and no man of the Mark would kill a child, not even a Dunlending child."

"I'm afraid that cannot be said of the Númenóreans, no matter how superior they think themselves. In the days of Ar-Pharazon, the last and mightiest king of Westernesse, incited by the evil whispers of the Dark Enemy, they made sacrifices to Morgoth, burning people alive in his temple."

Éowyn starred, struck by his statement and the bitterness of his voice. She had been taught about Númenor's downfall, knew about Ar-Pharazon's presumptuousness that in the end had caused the changing of the world, but she had never heard of human sacrifice in Westernesse. Yet she did not doubt the Steward's knowledge for one moment. But with regard to the current situation there still was something that puzzled her.

"Even if you are convinced that Xurbo was a sorcerer, serving the dark Lord, how could he be so sure of himself as to try and plan a sacrifice in the given situation? He must have known the others, the former slaves, hated him, and the Southrons' camp was guarded by Elfhelm's men. Wasn't it suicide to lay hands on one of the boys? Elfhelm surely would have had his head in the morning."

The Steward shrugged. "I'm not sure, Lady Éowyn, but there might have been something that man feared more than simple death. Perhaps it was just a frantic effort to get the Dark Lord's support, to assure his master that he had stayed true."

He thoughtfully walked the few steps to the parapet and looked out over the Pelennor. "Irodebasa said that the moon was right. I'm not sure if I really understand what she wants to communicate. Was there a monthly ritual in which regularly a child was killed, or is it that he really had some magic, or at least some mental connection to his evil master, and he deemed the time right? Or was it just that he supposed the Army of the West that had overthrown his prince's forces would reach the Black Gate by now?" He sighed. "I wish I spoke their language better."

"But you sounded fluent." Éowyn found it impossible to hide her surprise.

The Steward gave her a wry look. "I'm far from being fluent. I know the basics, but as soon as there are some unusual phrases and expressions, I have to fall back on guesswork. And then what I speak is the Southron equivalent to the Common Speech, and even if all people of Harad know it, except perhaps for some remote and isolated villages, certain expressions differ in the various areas of those vast lands. Also there are quite a number of different languages and dialects people will use to communicate amongst themselves. If I knew at least the dialect of the River People it would have been a lot easier to understand the boys. And I'm convinced that Irodebasa could tell me quite a lot of things about that sorcerer and the political situation in Far-Harad in general if I were able to ask her in a more sophisticated way."

"So you believe what she told you about their reasons to kill that man, and yet you thought her to be a sorceress in the beginning." Thinking how he had placed himself between her and assumed danger, Éowyn felt torn between anger and something else she was not sure of. Admiration? Thankfulness? She pressed her lips together. She was no helpless child or whimpering maiden that needed a man's aid... And yet his action had seemed so natural...

The Steward shook his head. "She no way is a simple slave, you know that as well as I do. I'm well aware she kept silent about more than she told us, but I feel as far as the killing of that Xurbo goes, I can trust her."

"Elfhelm must have believed her from the very beginning, otherwise he would not have bothered to bring her before you to understand fully what she had to say." Éowyn met the Steward's glance, and he nodded appreciatively.

"He is a most prudent leader. Not many men in his position would have swallowed their pride and asked for help when at first sight there was nothing more at stake than the lives of some prisoners of war."

Men and their pride! Angrily she shook her head. "Elfhelm certainly is proud, my lord, but he is neither arrogant nor stupid. Are we not allies? He knew there was a fair chance you could understand her language, perhaps even knew about life and traditions of Far-Harad for Boromir so often mentioned your qualities as a scholar when he was at Meduseld."

For a split second sadness darkened the Steward's gaze, but he regained self-control immediately, switching back to the impenetrable façade she had seen him hide behind so often these past days. With a pang of guilt she checked herself. How could she be so thoughtless as to put salt into this good man's wounds by mentioning what he had lost? Did she not know too well what it meant to grieve for a loved person? A sibling... Unbidden, the image of the host trudging north rose before her inner eye. Seven thousand men, and Éomer one of their captains. Her big, overbearing brother... What was he facing in the very moment that she stood on the walls of the city? Was he still alive?

Shaking herself out of her brooding, her gaze fell on the Steward's motionless features as he stared out over the Pelennor with unseeing eyes, and she felt a surge of alarm. She had to get his mind off the track she had set it on.

Softening her expression, she fell back on their former topic: "A good leader has to be valiant but prudent at the same time, my lord. Elfhelm sensed there was more to it than simple revenge, and he wanted to judge correctly. If you have a learned man amongst your friends and allies, you would be an abominable fool not to ask his help. And I assure you, for all their pride the Rohirrim are no fools."

He turned to her and nodded, but he did not smile when he answered, his voice thick with emotion. "The more I see of your people, Lady Éowyn, the more I come to understand why my brother was so fond of them."

She felt awkward, sensing that some kind of response was expected from her, but she could not think of anything that would not add to their mutual embarrassment, and so she simply remained silent and went up to the parapet to stand at his side. They stood in silence for a while, and when at last the Steward spoke again, his voice was focussed and sober.

"I talked to Elfhelm, my lady. It is a sennight since the Captains of the West left for the Black Gate. I'm afraid it was no coincidence that this sorcerer from Far-Harad planned to kill one of the boys exactly that night."

It took her the short moment of a deep breath to keep any agitation out of her voice. "So you think everything is lost?" She could not help her fingers clutching into a fist, and she wished to grab the hilt of her hidden dagger, just to assure herself that it was there.

The Steward shook his head. "No, I don't think so. If Sauron had gained what he is searching for, we would have known. Don't ask me how, for I don't know. I'm simply sure we would. But the crucial outcome could happen any moment now."

Again she breathed slowly and steadily through her nose. "And how long would it take till the Enemy's hordes are back before Mundburg?"

Again a shrug. "That depends on where his forces are stationed at the moment. From the Morannon to Minas Tirith they will need at least five days, but he might have forces at Minas Morgul, or troops still coming in from the south. But I am not even sure if Sauron would attack the city."

"But..."

He swivelled round, leaning his back against the rampart. "Éowyn, when he did in the first place, Minas Tirith was fortified like no other town of Gondor, and the centre of decision of the realm. From my talks with Meriadoc I learned that Mithrandir handed the Palantir of Isengard to the Lord Aragorn, who claims to be Isildur's heir. What if Sauron learned of it? What if he sought to destroy the city before Isildur's heir could assume command over Gondor? Minas Tirith was a symbol that had to be brought low. With the gates broken it is but an empty shell of past glory and stands no chance whatsoever of surviving an attack or a siege. It is no threat any more, and I doubt that Sauron will care much for it, except perhaps to gain or destroy Elendil's insignia. But he will be in no hurry. And, Éowyn, if the enemy does not march on the city immediately, I see no sense in keeping the men here to defend it."

"So you would flee, hide in the mountain woods like a hunted stag and leave the city and her people..." Disbelief and contempt nearly made her choke, but his expression stayed as composed as before.

"No, my lady. I think you got me wrong. I will stay here, and many of the soldiers will, at least as long as there are wounded who cannot be transported and healers who are determined to stay and tend them. But there are men from all parts of Gondor, men that are not professional soldiers, but farmers and fishermen who came to the city's help because we knew that the first blow would fall here. And these men have families, wives, children, old parents they feel responsible for and would wish to protect, or at least be with should it come to the last. No, Éowyn. I will stay, if only to win some time for those who leave, but I will not force any of these men to do likewise."

"But what will these men win, if they run and hide? What life will they lead? Who will want to live like that and not prefer to go down fighting valiantly? There is no future under the Black Lord's sway."

A deep crease formed between his brows. "Was there any chance of a future for the Northmen of Rhovanion when the Wainriders conquered their land and Gondor proved too weak to aid them? They retreated, left their ancestral territory behind and yet survived as a people, rising again as the Éothéod when the time was right and becoming the Lords of Rohan, the Son's of Eorl, a people Gondor has looked to for help since. Who tells me there is no chance that out of the root of our peoples one day resistance may rise again? I have no foresight and do not know about Gondor's future, but I do not deem it my right to dictate the death of her people."

A Gondorean to remind her of her people's history! She felt her face flush with the heat of embarrassment, for there was no doubt that he was right. Swallowing her hurt pride, she nodded her acceptance. "And what are your plans, my lord?"

"I am still waiting for a sign and have agreed with Elfhelm not to talk to anybody save you until the outcome at the Black Gate is clear. If things go astray, I will send a few trusted men, guards of the Citadel, to take Elendil's crown into hiding, and I will stay, till the last living people have left the city or the Enemy comes to take it. Elfhelm will send those who are fit and wish to leave for Rohan to do so under Captain Arnulf's command, but he himself will stay with everybody willing to do likewise to secure their retreat, guarding the West Road as long as possible. For what we face loyalty is more important than order. The weapons and supplies of the Citadel will be issued to all men available, no matter whether they stay or leave, for everywhere these things will be needed." He gave her a wry smile. "I'm afraid, Lady Éowyn, I will be in for another stretch of waiting."

"So you are awaiting that sign any moment, aren't you?"

He nodded. "And whenever it comes you will have a short time to decide what you want to do in the end, my lady. But I wanted you to know beforehand."

She laughed. "No, my lord, I do not need any time to decide, for I will not go into hiding. I could have cowered at Dunharrow if I preferred a life stripped of honour. And anyway I doubt I would be able to make it back to the Mark. And there are others who have no choice but to stay, being injured far more seriously than me."

"It is not your broken arm that worries me." The Steward's voice was soft. "I'm afraid that despair might assault you should you come under the Black Breath again."

She snorted and faced him boldly. "Only me, my lord? As far as I know I was not the only one who fell under that evil spell."

He held her gaze, and her heart sped up, realising that there was no pity, but understanding and agreement. "I know you do not fear death, Éowyn of Rohan, but what fate holds in store for us might well be death without glory."

She nodded. "I know. But that is true if I flee or stay. I wish to fight, and that demands valour, and if it is not rewarded by glory, it nevertheless is honourable."

"So be it." He held out his right hand to her, and expecting a courtly kiss, she held out her own, when to her utter surprise he grabbed her lower arm in a warriors' embrace, his eyes shining with admiration. For a moment she stood transfixed, and when he released her arm she turned to look north, to the place where far away, under the threatening ridges of the Ephel Dúath, the Black Gate might open any time soon. They stood in mutual silence until at last the Steward addressed her again.

"Will you lend me a hand, my lady?"

Surprised she turned towards him at this request, and he smiled at her inquiring gaze. "I noticed you were quite interested in the map you saw in my room. I would have given it to you, but it contains important information about my rangers' position in Ithilien, and I am bound to keep these secret. But I thought of something else."

Opening the tube, she had noticed him carrying, he took a carefully furled parchment of about an ell's length out of it. He loosened the linen strap that held it together and motioned to the flat strop of wood that was fixed to the parchment. "Hold this, my lady, so we can unfurl the parchment. I'm afraid it is a bit long."

It certainly was. When they had spread the entire length, it reached from Éowyn's outstretched right hand to the Steward's left, leaving her stare with open delight at the quite unusual map that unfolded before her.

Like a blue-grey serpent a river ran through its entire length, rising in a great bow in the middle of the map before it delved again towards the lower side, emptying in a many-branched delta into the sea at the right hand end. All along the river little sketches had been drawn, and names of places written, added by dates, short sentences and sometimes even several lines that gave the impression of stanzas. Right where his thumb lay, two small figures flanked the river on both sides, and below them the scrip said: Argonath, built 1248-1250 under the regency of Romendacil (Minalcar, born TA 1126, regent since TA 1240, crowned 1304 as Romendacil II, died TA 1366).

Following the course of the river, Éowyn spotted the lake of Nen Hithoel with the sketch of a lonely island that almost looked like a spike at its southern end before the waters reached the falls of Rauros. But what caught her eye were two pictures near it: An eye on the right side of the river and an ear on the left, together with the lines Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw. When she asked Faramir about it, he pointed at the tiny figures of the Argonath. "Romendacil put great work in the protection of Gondor's borders, and though we do not know much about the magic secrets he might have had access to, there still are stories about the Hills of Hearing and Seeing which enable a person sitting on the ancient stone seats on their tops to behold what goes on in the entire realm, and they are regarded as sacred."

She too knew about sacred hills, and swiftly her gaze followed the river on its way till she found what she was searching for: Amon Anwar, Halifirien in the language of the Mark, the westernmost beacon-hill at the border between the Mark and Gondor. But besides the information she had expected, the reference to the oath of Eorl the Young and Cirion, Steward of Gondor in TA 2510, there were other words she did not understand: Eilenaer, Elendil. Enquiringly she looked at the Steward.

"After the victory of the Last Alliance the hill Eilenaer was the centre of the realm of Gondor, and therefore, before he left for Arnor, Isildur buried the remains of his father, High-King Elendil there. Cirion removed the tomb after Calenardhon was given to the Rohirrim, and placed it in Rath Dínen."

Letting her gaze wander over the map, Éowyn now registered references to Gondor's history everywhere : Minas Tirith, built SA 3320 as Minas Arnor, siege SA 3429 – 3433, rescued by Last Alliance, Great Plague TA 1636, Royal Residence since TA 1640, TA 2002 renamed Minas Tirith. She knew enough of Gondor's history to understand these notes, and also the ones she found for Osgiliath, Minas Morgul and Pelargir. And there in the South another proof of the alliance of Gondor and the Mark caught her eye. Near the ford of the river Poros, where the Great Southern Road crossed into Harondor, she spied the sketch of a mound and the words: Haudh in Gwanur, TA 2885 Folcred and Fastred of Rohan.

Folcred and Fastred, twin-sons of Folcwine King, who had ridden to the aid of Gondor and fallen defending her against the Haradrim. A rush of pride surging through her, she lifted her chin. They had kept their oath, paid with blood for their people's home, and Gondor had acknowledged their valour sending rich wergild to Folcwine. Looking more closely for dates and places of battles, she found them everywhere on the borders, Dagorlad, with different battles in the Second and Third Age, Minas Ithil twice conquered by the foe, Osgiliath, nearly destroyed in the Kinstrife, and Pelargir, where Castamir the Usurper had been thrown down in 1447.

What a pity that there would be no one to add the victory over the corsairs and the winning of the fleet. The thought brought the present situation back to her mind with painful suddenness, and her gaze fixed on the upper part of the map. Ephel Dúath, Mordor, Morannon. She closed her eyes, heaving a breath. Seven thousand men and a thousand horses, nothing but bait for the Evil that threatened to end the world they knew.

Opening her eyes again, her gaze fell on the sketch of the Mouth of the Entwash, where the largest river of the Mark emptied into the Anduin in a multi-branched confluence. Whoever had drawn the map had slightly smeared the ink there and obviously tried to erase the blunder, causing tarnished spots on the surface of the parchment. Looking for similar flaws, she soon found them: blurred letters, tiny blotches of ink, a part where the bending of the river had been corrected, leaving a rather large stretch of rough vellum. When she passed her thumb over that spot, the Steward cleared his throat.

"I hope you will not judge the making of this map too harshly, my lady, for it is a child's work."

Surprised she looked up. "A child's?"

Smiling faintly, he nodded. "A boy's of twelve, to be exact."

"And how do you know?" She knew the answer before she had finished her question. How could she be so daft! But he only smiled, reaching out to also pass his fingers over the flawed spot.

"My brother never was one for lore. As much as he delighted in tales about Gondor's ancient battles, his mind was rather bent on strategies, weapons and battle order, and to our teachers' dismay and our father's anger he kept forgetting or messing up even the most important dates. But he had a good eye for the lay of the land, a quite important talent for someone who was designed to be Gondor's Captain General one day. And with his interest in the landscape went a good understanding for Geography in general. So I started to sketch maps for him, to help him remember the aspects of lore he had no real interest in. I did not know whether he still had these maps, but I searched his study and found this one and all the others I had given him, carefully stored away."

Boromir. How close these siblings obviously had been. She glanced at the Steward from the corner of her eye. How old had he been when their mother had died? Five...six? Younger than she herself when her mother had followed her father. To imagine how long it must have taken the child to draw this map, and the others beside it. She cleared her throat before speaking, annoyed by the sudden tightness in her throat, and smoothed the edge of the map with her thumb.

"They must have meant much to him."

"I suppose they meant much to both of us, as they were a means of showing each other affection. But I am sure, my lady, Boromir would never have begrudged you this map, but would be happy if it could be of use again."

She shook her head determinedly. "You cannot mean me to have this map, my lord."

"And what if I do?"

"You have given me so many things, precious and thoughtfully considered things already. And I have not even thanked you properly for the boots."

He laughed. "Lady Éowyn, you killed Angmar, deprived our foe of his mightiest captain, and thus no doubt have done your part to enable me to still stand on these ramparts and give you things, precious or not. And as for thanking: I have not even thanked you properly for saving poor Romdir."

"Romdir?"

"Your hapless admirer in the wards the other day. He's the blacksmith at the Citadel. A good man, but nearly deaf. He certainly thought he was whispering."

She shrugged. "That's what I thought. So there was nothing to feel offended about. Have you been there again to see your archer?"

He nodded. "I have. And I am impressed how fast he is improving."

"You certainly have excellent healers."

"That we certainly have." He paused. "I talked to Anwen about Anborn's death."

Finally! She would never understand why he had kept the girl in suspense in the first place. "How did she bear the news?"

He sighed, smoothing a corner of the map. "I suppose she expected her brother's death after the news came that Cair Andros had fallen. I wish I could do something for her, get her to the relative safety of the White Mountains. I told her so, but she said she wanted to stay at the Houses, as she felt useful here...and safe."

"She certainly is right in both cases. The Riders appreciate her commitment and cherish her. They treat her like a sibling under their protection. Should it come to the worst the enemy will not take her alive."

"I want her to live, Éowyn, not to be kept from even more serious harm by a mercy killing. She will have to leave should the Enemy approach, as will the other women, save those healers who have taken their oath. But even to them I will give the choice, no matter what the Warden should insist on."

"Why then don't you give that choice to her, too? Lhindir is not able to travel, Mareth will not leave the injured, no matter who or what approaches... No, my lord, you have no right to take this choice from her. It is her life, and she is no immature child or some imbecile who needs someone to think and decide for her. Why should she fear death? There are times when dying is easier than living."

Frowning, he shook his head. "She does not have your pride, nor is she a battle-steeled shieldmaiden."

"And yet..." Their eyes met, and she almost felt pity at the resignation in his gaze.

"I wish I could protect her, Éowyn. Give her some hope, some dreams, something to live for."

Éowyn did not even bother to suppress a snort. "Hope and dreams are futile, my lord. What we need is a clear mind and a strong body."

"Futile?" One of his brows twitched in the by now familiar way. "No, my lady. As long as hope or simple daydreams and wishes help us to stay strong, they are not futile."

"How can hope and dreams achieve that?" Warrior or not, she would never understand this man!

"They can, because they motivate us, set us an aim or simply give us an opportunity to let our mind wander and find rest and recuperation to cope with what we have to face. I rather view it like I view sleep. It would not avail anybody to only sleep, but nevertheless we need sleep to keep our strength and sanity."

He pointed at the map, his finger dipping at what seemed to be a group of hills south of the city on the opposite side of the Great River. Emyn Arnen Éowyn read, and below three slightly larger letters in tengwar said R ND R. Arandur, King's servant, the Sindarin title of the Stewards of Gondor.

"When I was a small boy, each time I felt downcast because of the sombre atmosphere in the house, or overtaxed by my tutors' demands, I climbed the parapets of the citadel to look out over the river to that place in fair Ithilien." He pointed to the wooded hills they could see in the distance, rising in a pattern of browns and greens. "I could not go there, save in my imagination. But standing here in the city, I let my mind wander in the impressive holy-oak and pine woods of the ridges, delve into the shadows of the chestnut groves in the dales, follow the murmuring brooks to moss-edged pools, and I found peace and strength."

He shrugged, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Once it was the site of the Stewards' mansion, and still the ruins can be seen, but their stones never stirred my heart. I imagined myself building there, but always it would end up in the construction of gardens, full of fruit and flowers, covering all the area from the slopes of the hills to the banks of the Anduin."

His smile deepened, and with a chuckle he said: "Not to forget that my garden only held my favourite vegetables, but those all around the year and in abundance."

"Your favourite vegetables?"

He grinned. "I was, and still am, very fond of a special kind of carrot they grow in Belfalas: small, round, crispy tubers of an unmatched sweetness." Still grinning, he winked at her. "And though I have made my peace with it when growing up, none of my countless imaginary gardens ever held chard. I simply put a chard-ban on Ithilien."

Éowyn could not but laugh. "I would have banned celery, though I have even come to like it in the meantime."

Re-rolling the map, he put it back into the quiver and held it out to her. "Then, Éowyn, while we wait for fate to strike, let me invite you to the dream gardens of Emyn Arnen, to walk in them and draw strength and joy from their splendour and to add to them the images of your mind."

Annotations:

The names and dates in italics given on the map are taken from the appendixes of The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien and from The History of Middle Earth, edited by Ch. Tolkien.

Concerning the inscription on the Stewards' standard: In tengwar ND is a single character known as ando.



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