Through Shadows

Chapter 25

Chapter 25

"All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more." Éowyn to Aragorn, quoted from: The Passing of the Grey Company, The Return of the King; Book V by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 1st April, 3019 Third Age

Suppressing a sigh, Éowyn rose from the wicker chair to let Tórdes help her get dressed properly again. The woman had not only combed her hair, but also washed it and evened out the irregular strands. She had never been one for being cosseted, but the woman's fingers massaging her skull had simply been bliss. Having fixed the laces of the kirtle, Tórdes smiled, and motioning to Éowyn to sit down again, started to brush the slightly damp hair dry. Closing her eyes, Éowyn surrendered to the soft strokes of the brush, until her nostrils caught a faint, fresh and yet sweet smell of some kind. She blinked. Was the woman using some kind of perfume?

"My lady?"

"What is that smell?"

"It's lemon oil, my lady. I use it on the brush to ease the dressing of the hair. I know it's only a poor scent and a lady would certainly use something more expensive, but..."

Éowyn shook her head. "I'm not complaining, Tórdes. The smell is pleasant enough. I just did not know what it was."

The woman was puzzled. "Don't the Rohirrim use oils on their hair?"

"They certainly do. Why, some hair is impossible to tame without." Turning to the woman, she added: "We also use flowers and plants to scent it. I just did not know that lemons could be used for it, as they don't grow in the Mark. It really is a nice and refreshing smell and I do not care if it is not expensive."

Encouraged by her approval, the woman nodded eagerly. "It is very wholesome, my lady. It is said to lift dark moods and to refresh the mind." She hesitated a bit, but then handed Éowyn a small glazed earthenware bottle. "Keep it, my lady. And if you feel troubled, just dab a drop behind each ear. You can also add it to the water you wash your face with."

Smiling, Éowyn thanked her, feeling truly refreshed by both the smell and the simple gesture of kindness. For all their differences, there certainly were things Gondoreans and Eorlingas had in common.

It took Tórdes only a short time to finish her hair, and Éowyn could not help the feeling of regret at the lack a mirror and not being able to have a look at the result. She shook her head at her own fancy. She was not going to preside at a stately banquet but only paying a visit to Maeron the archer at the Steward's request.

Entering the ward of the Gondorean wounded a little later, she immediately spotted Maeron. They had carried the chief archer out into the yard on his pallet to enjoy the sun, which he did, lying back propped up by a number of pillows. His face still looked haggard and slightly feverish, but to Éowyn's utmost surprise it had been shaved painstakingly clean. She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. As if the man did not need other care more necessarily than a shave!

Nodding a greeting to the healers and patients alike, who bowed to her respectfully as far as they were able to do so, she walked towards the archer, who – sensing the sudden hush in the general bustle of the yard – opened his eyes. Sheer disbelief showed in his face for a split second before his expression changed to a broad smile.

"My lady Éowyn! You have really come. I never..." He stopped and blushed. "Excuse me, I should not... "

Éowyn laughed. "Never mind, Captain Maeron. Let's say I come as one warrior visiting another and set protocol aside."

The grizzled warrior smiled. "And what a warrior! I cannot say how much I would have liked to see you riding up in shining mail and killing that terrible demon."

Éowyn shook her head. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the royal mail was hidden under common garment as I rode in disguise."

He grimaced. "Ah, my lady, often the best things are not visible at first sight, but they are there nevertheless, and the world is a better place for their existence."

He tried to sit up further, but winced in the attempt and then started to cough. Immediately one of the healers knelt down beside the pallet, supporting him by shoving his arm behind Maeron's back. When the coughing fit was over, Éowyn handed him the mug that stood on a low stool near the pallet and the archer drank in small, careful sips.

"I'm afraid lying hamstrung for so many days has affected his lungs." The healer's explanation sounded like an excuse, and Éowyn hurried to put him at ease.

"I am convinced you did what you could."

The healer sighed. "I wish we could have done more."

The archer gave him a lopsided grin. "Stop being such a sentimental fool. It is a wonder you managed to patch me up and keep the fever from killing me. The rest just needs time now. And a little mollycoddling perhaps." He turned to Éowyn. "So the Lord Faramir really told you that I had pestered him about you?"

Éowyn laughed. "No, he never did. And if you had not given yourself away I would never have known. He only asked me kindly to pay you a visit because he was too busy to do so himself today."

Maeron shook his head. "He is still recovering and should not overtax himself. It comforts me that at least he stays in the Houses, for otherwise I'm afraid his counsellors would eat him alive."

He was interrupted by the healer who brought another low stool for Éowyn to sit down beside Maeron's pallet. The archer drank a little more with the healer's help and then sighed. "To think he has come every day to look in on me since the day I woke, and all stupid me has done is to pelt him with questions about the Shieldmaiden."

"So it was you who told him the stories about the Shieldmaidens of the North when he was a boy?"

"No, my lady." The haggard face again lit up with a fond smile. "That was Prince Imrahil's stable master Cuthwulf. The finest story-teller I have ever come across. His father was one of those enterprising Rohirrim who now and then take the tricky passages over the Ered Nimrais. And once in Dol Amroth he tickled the eye of a quite well-off young Gondorean widow, who convinced him to stay. And Cuthwulf obviously inherited his father's skill with horses and took up work in the Prince's service. And that's where I met him. You see, I hale from Dol Amroth and became an archer there. Spending the evenings in Cuthwulf's company and listening to his tales was a favourite pastime with the men. And when Lord Boromir was twelve the Steward Denethor sent him to Prince Imrahil to learn something about horses and the younger brother was simply sent along." The man stopped, obviously exhausted and struggling for breath.

Soothingly, Éowyn touched his shoulder. "Don't talk if it is too strenuous for you, Maeron. I'm sorry I didn't realise it before."

He raised his hand in refusal. "Never you worry, my lady. It certainly is strenuous, but the more I talk, the deeper I have to breathe and the greater is the chance that I'll be able to avoid the lung fever."

She nodded and motioned to the healer to refill the archer's mug. "My brother told me that Prince Imrahil keeps the only cavalry worth mentioning in Gondor."

"So he does. And only greys to be sure, for they look quite impressive with the dark blue of Dol Amroth. The Prince has a penchant for the dashing." He chuckled, but immediately started to cough again. Alerted, the healer helped him to sit up and held a cloth to his mouth to wipe away the lumps he was hacking up. Éowyn chewed the inner part of her lip. There certainly was a dilemma. While it was true that deeper breathing would free his lungs from clots she was not sure how much strain the freshly healed tissues were able to take. Perhaps she had better leave if her presence agitated the old warrior that much, though on the other hand she did not want to disappoint him by leaving so quickly.

Maeron was lying back again, looking almost spent. Perhaps if she talked more and did not make him talk too much? It was at least worth a try. Smiling, she addressed him again. "And it was then when you came to know the Lord Faramir?"

He nodded and before he could say anything she asked : "Am I right that both brothers enjoyed dealing with horses?"

"They certainly did. Though it was obvious from the very first day they had a very different approach to them." He smiled, as if recalling something. "To Boromir they were simply horses, a means to get from one place to the other, and to show off a bit while doing so, while Faramir..." He faintly shook his head. "Cuthwulf said that Boromir's attempt was to get onto the horse, while Faramir wanted to get into it. He was convinced the boy could understand a horse's mind."

"That's fulsome praise, coming from an Eorling." For a split second she wondered why that thought was making her feel so warm and glad, but her attention was immediately claimed again by the archer, who cleared his throat cumbersomely but to her relief did not start to cough again.

"The stable master was quite taken by the boy, and when he learned that Imrahil's guest loved a good tale, he told the boy all the traditional Rohirric ones."

Éowyn winked, understandingly. "And that was when the Lord Faramir first heard the shocking tales about the Shielmaidens."

Maeron shrugged."I doubt that the boy really understood the meaning of what Cuthwulf told him. But those tales had a most profound effect on him. Just imagine: He asked Prince Adrahil if he could start weapon training at once, because he needed to become a very good warrior to be worthy to win a Shieldmaiden's hand in marriage."

Éowyn gaped in disbelief. "At the age of seven?"

The archer nodded, grinning broadly. "He was very determined, much to the amusement of the entire household. And as the old lord indulged him, I was ordered to make a bow and arrows fitting for him and he started archery. He was quite impressive for a boy of his age, and Prince Adrahil commended his skill and determination to the Lord Steward. So when the boys were to return to Minas Tirith at the end of the summer I was sent with them to continue the Lord Faramir's training."

"You must have done a good job to become his chief archer, though I doubt that the Lord Denethor was very pleased to learn about his son's plans to marry a Shieldmaiden," Éowyn remarked drily.

Maeron chuckled again, and she worriedly expected him to start coughing, but nothing worse than a slightly laboured breath happened. Exhausted, the archer closed his eyes, his face still crinkled in a smile. "I don't know, my lady. He has become such an excellent warrior, a leader of men, and now he even is the Steward of the realm, but I can't help it - I still see the seven-year old, squinting with excitement and determination at his first archery lesson."

She patiently waited for him to open his eyes again, but when he did so, his gaze went to somewhere behind her shoulder, his eyes widening in utter surprise. "Lendis?"

Turning her head, Éowyn became aware of the woman who must have approached them while they had been talking. A woman seemingly in her late fifties, with an obvious tendency to be plump, her dark hair streaked with grey gathered into a bun at her nape. She was clad in simple garb and her pleasant, round face openly showed her worries as she looked down on Maeron. The archer feebly stretched out a hand to her, and wordlessly the woman rushed past Éowyn to kneel down beside the pallet and take his hand.

"You have returned quickly, Dear." The archer's voice was thick with emotion.

"Stay quiet and don't work yourself up. Milwen and I arrived last night, and we only learned today that you were in the Houses."

"And the other girls?" The concern in his voice was audible.

"They are still staying at Aunt Faelien's. We came as a vanguard to find out if the house was still standing."

"And?"

The woman soothingly patted his hand. "No need to worry, Maeron-Dear. Everything is still in its place and even the cat was there to welcome us back."

The archer squeezed her hand and sighed with relief. Only then his gaze fell on Éowyn, and she could not help the feeling that there was a spark of mischief twinkling in his eyes. "I am sorry, my lady, I am forgetting my manners. But as you claimed us being fellow-warriors I hope you will not hold it against me. Lendis, meet the Lady Éowyn, Shieldmaiden of the North, sister to the King of Rohan, who the men call Wraith-Bane, for she smote the Lord of the Nazgul."

The woman blinked, utterly confused and not knowing what to do, and then she raised her hand to her ample bosom and still kneeling beside the pallet, bowed clumsily. Smiling, Éowyn rose.

"I'm happy to meet you, mistress Lendis, and I am sure the Steward will be pleased to know that I left his chief archer in your hands." She nodded a greeting to both and turned to leave, but she had not yet reached the door of the ward when behind her back she heard the woman's hushed voice: "Goodness gracious, Maeron. And she really is a Shieldmaiden?"

Fighting to suppress her laughter, she left the ward and then decided to look in on the Eorlingas' for a chat with Grimbeorn and to hear his version of his talk with the Steward. She had not gone far though, when the sound of fast approaching bare feet caught her attention. And then Merry scudded around the corner.

"My Lady Éowyn! I was looking for you." Merry's face was all aglow, the grin almost too big to fit onto it. "Guess what! News has finally come, and the boats for Cormallen are to sail at noon. And the healers agreed to let me go along."

Éowyn smiled. "Congratulations. That certainly is good news. Has the daily gift from Prince Imrahil's housekeeper already arrived? I would deem it a welcome fairing for your friends."

The hobbit shook his head. "No, it hasn't. But with the Prince and one of his sons being at Cormallen I do not doubt mistress Hwinril will be sending enough delicacies upriver to last the entire host. I just meant to say goodbye, my lady. I've already been to the ward to talk to Grimbeorn and Berhtulf, and the captain promised to tell the others that I did not have enough time to say goodbye to all. Tórdes is so kind as to pack some things for me, a change of clothes and the like, and then I will be given a lift on one of the carts taking bandages and other healing utensils down to the river."

Éowyn grinned. "It certainly is a fitting way of transport, Holdwine, for your appearance will surely have a healing effect on your friends."

Merry reciprocated her grin and then asked: "I don't mean to interfere, my lady, but is there any message, or a letter perhaps, that you wish me to take to your brother?"

For a moment Éowyn felt taken aback. She had thought about going to Cormallen herself, but it had not occurred to her that Merry going there might be a way to send a message to Éomer. She slowly shook her head. "No, Merry, I have not written, and I doubt he expects me to do so, but tell him I am improving. My shield-arm is duly healing, I am training my sword-hand and last but not least, I am eating and he will probably have to roll me down to the camp when we are to leave for the Mark if I keep up gaining weight like this."

Smiling, the hobbit shook his head. "I doubt you will ever be other than slender and lean. But I am sure Éomer King will be delighted to hear that you are truly healing. Will you too come to Cormallen soon?"

Éowyn shrugged. "The healers told me that riding is not an option for more than a month. But I dare say a journey by boat should not pose a problem. We'll see. I'll certainly come if they let me go. Do you have anybody you know to travel with?"

Merry nodded. "Lhindir is coming, and some other healers I don't know that well."

"Lhindir?"

"His guardian sent message from Cormallen for him. But even without that any healer who is not needed urgently over here will go upriver to support the few healers that went with the host. Lhindir said that with the brunt being over and the women coming back, everything will soon be back to normal with only the seriously wounded staying in the care of the Houses."

Only the seriously wounded... What was she, with her arm maimed and her mind probably still bearing the germ of the Black Breath? She shook her head in an attempt to get rid of the fit of self-pity. Forcing a smile onto her face, she held out her hand to Merry. "Well then, Holdwine Cyningaethe, have a good journey, and may you find your friends recovered and well."

He took her hand, and bowing clumsily, kissed it. "Farewell, my lady. I..." Looking up into her face, he smiled. "I'm afraid, my lady, we Hobbits are not made for great and courtly words. I simply wish that you may recover from injury and grief and live to be happy and whole."

She stood for a while, even after the Halfling had left, pondering his words and then turned to go to the garden. Crowded or not, it would at least give her the opportunity to see the open sky.

Nevertheless she did not take the main path but immediately headed towards the stairs that led up to the ramparts. The men walking in the garden or sitting on the benches, enjoying the sunshine, looked up as she passed and recognising her, they greeted her politely. Up on the walls the slight south-western breeze was much more noticeable and closing her eyes, she turned her face to it. Somewhere out there was the sea - grey, endless and mighty. She had never seen it and she wondered if she ever would. So many things she had heard of lately, so many images had filled her mind and yet she knew they would stay only that: images, imaginations, ghosts of the reality seen by other eyes than hers. It was her duty to go back to the Mark, and so go back she would, no matter if her mind was captivated by the tales about the sea, the sweet scented valleys of Lossarnach and the fairy gardens of Ithilien.

She opened her eyes and turned to gaze northwards. Did she really want to go to Cormallen? Doubtfully, she cradled her broken arm. She envied Merry, who seemed to have overcome any effect that the stabbing of the Witchking had had on him for his undimmed joy to meet his friends. True, she longed to see Éomer again, but going she would also have to register who of those she had called friends back in the Mark were no longer amongst the living. And then there was the Prince Imrahil she was loath to meet, and even worse, there was him, victorious leader against the Black Lord, King of Gondor, though not been crowned yet. And if she went, there was no way to avoid him.

Listening to her inner voice, she realised with surprise that she did not feel any rage. There was the sting of humiliation, but its keen bite was strangely blunted. Her mind worked soberly, admitting that those who had seen her kneel in front of him, begging to let her ride with him, were honourable men and would not gossip about her. His heart had been given, and she had made a fool of herself, approaching him the way she had. And yet she had done nothing that any Eorling would regard as indecent. It was a woman's right to let a warrior know of her interest in him. But he was no Eorling. He had not acknowledged her as a woman nor as a warrior. But had she not proved herself in battle, without his leave and approval? She squared her shoulders. She did not need his approval.

But she was not past bitterness, no matter what she tried to tell herself. Would she be able to face him? She would certainly have to meet him, but would he not be sensitive enough not to force his company upon her? She grimaced. He certainly would do anything that politeness demanded, and even more, he would deal with her like with some delicate being that had to be spared any unnecessary grief. He would be gentle, and treat her like he was used to treat women: respectfully, carefully, as it was appropriate when dealing with what he certainly saw in women: a precious possession of men, a being under men's guidance and authority.

And he was Éomer's friend. That was certainly good for the Mark, and anyway had not she herself admired his prowess in battle? She proudly lifted her chin. She would go and meet him and have done with it. Better sooner than later! Smiling, she remembered Frithuswith's motto. The dragon of Meduseld would not shrink from a task like that, and nor would she. Prince Imrahil was quite another thing, as she would have to thank him for recognising that she had not been dead. Annoyed she kicked the wall with the tip of her boot. She could have died gloriously, had that man not stuck his nose into her affairs. She nearly laughed at herself, realising that her anger had cooled down to mere annoyance in but two weeks. Who knew what her feelings towards the Prince would be like in a year's time?

Shaking her head at her own thoughts, she made up her mind. If she went, and that depended on the mending of her arm, she would go to see Éomer and anybody else she would simply take in her stride. She heaved a breath. She certainly would go to see him. Her high-handed, overprotecting, obnoxious elder brother whom she loved from the bottom of her heart, and who loved her back at least the same. What would any awkwardness, any humiliation weigh against the joy of seeing him victorious and hale. A fond smile stole onto her face. That big oaf of a brother was King of the Mark now, and whatever grievance she felt towards him, of one thing she was sure: He would do whatever possible for the good of the realm.

Far below the roads that crossed the Pelennor were thick with traffic, and she regretted not having asked Merry if the boats would leave from the Harlond or from Osgiliath, for in both directions carts drawn by what must be mules or donkeys were rolling. Also the south-western road was busy again with people returning to the city, and she wondered what life would be like in Minas Tirith, once its inhabitants were back.

So much was about to change. Her gaze wandered along the broad silver band of the river, scanning it for boats going upriver, but all traffic seemed to be heading for the piers at the Harlond. She never knew when her gaze was caught by the hills on the southern banks. The hills beside the water... Would he find peace and happiness there, healing from the dreadful influence of the Black Breath? Faramir, Denethor's son... She frowned, realising how much this question mattered to her. But did he not truly deserve happiness? Her eyes roamed the slope of the hills, steep in some places, while in others the slopes rolled down to the Great River in soft folds. Certainly he would be able to build the garden he dreamt of there. A terraced garden like the one at Edoras, with a path winding down from the Golden Hall to the foot of the hill. Where would a hall be best placed on the hills across the Anduin? A hall, a home surrounded by the woods he loved so much. A house that would smell of pine resin, brimming with colours and life, the contrary of the white, dead stone city.

Lost in the view of hills and river, she started to construct the house in her fantasy, the hall, the rooms, even the yard and stables, but irresistibly her mind was drawn back to the garden, and soon she found herself considering the possibilities of one of the gentler slopes, filling it with all kinds of flowers and aromatic plants. Beds of roses alternated with blooming shrubs, and meandering trails led to hidden bowers, overgrown with clematis and honeysuckle. And only when the bell of the citadel rang out noon did she realise that she was standing on the ramparts of Mundburg.

Turning round to descend the steep stairs down to the garden, Éowyn beheld the tall figure of a woman standing near the pine at the opposite side of the garden. Not one of the healers, she realised at once, though the woman was clad in grey.

As soon as she reached the ground and made for the ambulatory of the Houses, the woman approached her, a footman in grey and black livery following her in respectful distance. Her stance clearly showed the noble woman, and when she reached Éowyn, the woman dropped into a graceful curtsey.

"My lady?" Éowyn did not make any effort to hide her disconcertment. The woman rose, and only now Éowyn realised that she was old, at least in her sixties, though it was difficult to tell the exact age with these Númenóreans. And Númenórean blood she doubtless had. Tall and slender she stood, her face showing the typical high cheekbones and the thin-bridged, slightly aquiline nose. There were not many wrinkles, only a couple of crow's feet around her eyes, but the deep furrows down from the wings of her nose to the corners of her mouth betrayed her age, as did her almost white temples, while the crown of her head was still dark.

"Greetings, Lady Éowyn. I am Lady Saelind, Lord Bahor's wife. I came back from Lossarnach yesterday..."

"And the Lord Steward could not leave you some more time to rest from your journey before he set you on my trail?"

In place of the offended look Éowyn had expected, a wry spark of mirth showed in the woman's eyes. "I'm afraid I do not answer to any Steward's orders, my lady. But I have to admit that my kinsman Faramir spoke highly in your favour and was worried you might feel lonely and bored. He does not know I came, and if you find my visit unpleasant, he does not need to learn about it at all."

Éowyn found it hard not to snort. "And you truly believe, Lady Saelind, that anything can happen in the city and the Steward does not get to know it?"

Smiling lopsidedly, the woman bowed her head. "Shall we walk, my lady?"

While the patients who had spent the morning hours out in the sun made for the Houses to have the usual light midday meal, Éowyn walked down the main path at Lady Saelind's side, looking her over out of the corner of the eye. Had she been what Gondoreans would call a beauty as a young woman? Éowyn was not sure. Her features were more interesting than harmonious, her nose a bit too large, her lips a bit too thin, and the high arcs of her carefully plucked eyebrows gave her face a certain aspect of haughtiness. And yet that impression was utterly contradicted by the intelligent warmth of her grey eyes. After a while Lady Saelind spoke again.

"Faramir told me he had wanted to put you up at Prince Imrahil's but Amrothos had behaved in quite an unacceptable way, to express it politely."

Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "And the Lord Faramir expressed it politely?"

To Éowyn's surprise and amusement, the Lady Saelind's left eyebrow twitched. "Oh, he certainly possesses the required eloquence."

"I never doubted that, my lady." Carefully, Éowyn schooled her features. It was surprising how this aged lady's dry wit reminded her of the Steward.

Her expression deadpan, Lady Saelind waved her hand nonchalantly. "Let's say he expressed his heart-felt wish to administer certain irreversible changes to the Prince's physiognomy."

Éowyn did not wholly manage to suppress a snort of laughter, and Lord Bahor's wife now grinned openly. They continued side by side, and again it was Lady Saelind who began to speak, her voice now serious.

"Faramir is worried, my lady. He is afraid you might feel isolated in the Houses and thereby be hindered in your further recovery. He wanted you to have a chance to mix with people, to be able to receive visitors, and to benefit from the comforts of a noble household."

Why did everyone have to interfere with her affairs? Éowyn suppressed a sigh. "I know, and I certainly appreciate his care, but as I told him: I do not want any kind of hospitality that is only given because the Steward asked it."

Lady Saelind did not answer, and for a while they walked in silence. At the end of the path they turned and continued along the foot of the inner wall, and only when they had nearly reached the tree at the end of the path did Lord Bahor's wife stop to face Éowyn directly, her expression open and artless.

"My Lady Éowyn, I can understand your reluctance, as much as I regret it. But I would very much like you to come and associate with the ladies of my family."

Feeling touched by the older woman's gentle seriousness, Éowyn nodded reluctantly. "I would certainly appreciate meeting them some day, my lady."

The smile that showed on Lady Saelind's face now held nothing of her former irony. "Shall we say tomorrow afternoon? I'll send you a footman to show you the way."

Taken by surprise, Éowyn agreed. They parted after a few more polite words, and watching the older woman leave, Éowyn wondered why she not only had consented to visiting the lady, but even felt looking forward to meeting her again.

Deep in thought, she went to her room, and soon Tórdes brought her a vegetable soup which she was eating without much appetite, sitting on the edge of her bed, when an energetic knock at the door brought Marshal Elfhelm to her room. The marshal had never been known for a jovial temper, but his current mood seemed even darker than usual.

Putting down the bowl, Éowyn eyed him appraisingly. "Problems?"

The marshal shrugged. "I'm not sure, Éowyn. But have a look for yourself." Opening the messenger's tube he was carrying, he pulled a rolled up parchment out of it. "This arrived this morning from Ithilien for you."

"And you only give it to me now?" She eagerly reached for the parchment but stopped mid-movement. Instead of being sealed with Éomer's signet as she had expected, an official lead seal dangled from its side, showing the signet of the King of the Mark. Her brow in a deep frown, she unfurled the velum and then simply stared.

Elfhelm cleared his throat. "I don't know what has got into him. Perhaps being king and victorious has got to his head a bit."

She slowly shook her head. "I would understand that, Elfhelm. But this letter is written in Tengwar, and what is more, in Westron."

The marshal grimaced. "It was written by a Gondorean scribe, Éowyn. I got one too."

"What? A scribe?" Not believing him, she started to read.

Given by Éomer, King of Rohan, Lord and Captain of the West..."

She looked at Elfhelm, blinking in disbelief. True, she knew her brother was not one given to writing letters, but to send her an official missive, written in the Common Speech instead of the language of the Mark... She simply could not grasp it.

The King forwards his greetings to his sister, the high-born Lady Éowyn and expresses his wish to see her at Cormallen as soon as her condition of health allows her to travel. He especially desires her to meet his trusted friend and brother in arms Erchirion of Dol Amroth.

She wordlessly handed the velum to Elfhelm. Reading, the marshal shook his head. "He must have been drunk, Éowyn. Look at his signature. It was the same scrawl in the letter I received."

The rune Éomer used to sign his letters with was there, but the lines tilted in an irregular way, making it look like a child's first attempt in writing. Drunk! Éowyn found her anger forming a solid lump of ice in her stomach. He had to have been drunk, but how could that be an excuse for such a blundering insult?

With a furious move, she threw the role against the wall. When it fell to the ground the hollow clatter of the lead seal called forth a bitter laugh. "That bloody, big-headed moron. I can only too well imagine him, sitting at the camp fire with his trusted friend and brother in arms. And being bladdered enough it's all "Hey you saved my arse, brother, why don't you have my sister." Éomer, King of Rohan! Pha! What is he trying to prove by that? That he can disgrace himself or that he's more Gondorean that the Gondoreans themselves?"

Elfhelm went over to pick up the missive. "I don't know, Éowyn. But it certainly would not do to let any of the healers spot you throwing the king's missives at the wall. He might already regret having sent these letters, and even if he disgraces himself in what I only can assume to be complete intoxication, we should not make him lose face."

Éowyn sneered. "Oh certainly not! How could I forget my place as a woman. What a convenient coincidence the King of Rohan has a sister he can offer to his friend. And why should he not trumpet it across the entire camp. What else is a women if not a prize for a victorious warrior?"

The marshal sighed. "I expected you to get furious, Éowyn, and I did not want you to act in haste. That's why I waited till the boats had left before handing you the letter. Think about your answer carefully. There might be more to it, though I hope it really is just the bee in your sloshed brother's bonnet."

She stood up from the bed and strode over to the door. She felt strangled, deprived of anything she valued. She needed to get out. The doorknob already in her hand, she turned, addressing the marshal over her shoulder. "Just tell me, Elfhelm, where is the difference in losing or winning a war when the result is to become a trophy in both cases?"

Annotations:

lung fever: archaic term for pneumonia

Cyningaethe: (Rohirric/Old English) someone who has the right to call himself a liegeman of the king

The hills beside the water is the English equivalent of Emyn Arnen.


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