Through Shadows

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Night scented gilliflower

"I would have you command this Warden, and bid him let me go," she said; but though her words were still proud, her heart faltered, and for the first time she doubted herself.

Éowyn speaking to Faramir, quoted from: The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book Five by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Minas Tirith, 20th March 3019, Third Age

She was still fumbling with the sash that held her robe, when Anwen and Mareth entered the room. While the young healer busied herself cleaning up the mess caused by the upturned washstand, Mareth helped Éowyn don a clean nightgown after having assisted her with getting out of robe and chemise. Still under the cloud of Oswin's death, none of them spoke. Finally Éowyn broke the oppressive silence. "Why did you leave him to suffer for more than four days?"

Mareth shook her head. "He had been quite stable until last evening." She drew a deep breath. "See, it was a clean arrow-wound, no poison, no barbs. His general constitution had been good, and as we had been informed that the Rohirrim rode on small rations, there had been a fair chance that his bowels had not been filled when he had got shot. There had been a realistic possibility that his entrails had not been pierced, and the first days seemed to confirm that as his abdomen did not swell." She shrugged and went over to straighten the bedsheets. "We kept him on small amounts of honeyed water for three days, but there obviously had been some minute perforation."

They fell silent again, and only Anwen's suppressed sobs could be heard, as she mopped the floor, avoiding the other women's gaze. Finally she left the room to discharge the waste and fetch a new washing basin.

"Mistress Mareth, why do you keep that girl? She is obviously overtaxed by what is going on and not able to cope ..."

The healer stopped Éowyn, raising her hand. "Don't judge too fast, my lady. True, she is no trained healer, but we need every willing hand. You saw the men sleeping in the yard? They are lightly wounded, not fit for battle but not in urgent need of constant medical care. We offered for them to move into houses prepared for them in the city, but seeing our needs, they stayed, thus easing our work and their comrades' sufferings. Anwen has been sitting all these past nights with Oswin, wetting his lips or giving him small amounts to drink when the healers told her to and informing us about any change in his condition. She followed orders in that, my lady, not fully understanding the context, but that does not mean that she was less devoted to her task and patient. And don't you forget: She is still a child, aged but fourteen."

"But why then don't you employ her during the day? Why does she work night shifts?"

"Because I'm a coward."

They had not heard Anwen enter, but there she stood, her face flushed from weeping. Walking over to the washstand, she put the basin down on it and took the jug to refill it.

"That doesn't make sense," Éowyn stated bluntly. "Certainly there is nothing more frightening than the night watches, surrounded by the wounded and dying."

The girl shook her head. "No, my lady. I'm not alone in the sick-room. There are those who need me and those who support me." She blushed and averted her eyes. "And sleeping during the day has the boon to wake to light, should bad dreams trouble me. I could not bear to wake alone in the dark, that's why I work at night."

With a swift movement Mareth pulled her close, hugging the girl shortly but fiercely. "Go and get some sleep, Dear. There will be much work tonight, as the Riders who went to fight the orc host on the West-Road might be coming back and that means more injured."

The girl nodded. "I'll just get some water."

Mereth's gaze followed her as she left the room and then turned to pick up the discarded nightgown. "We all fight our own single battles, my lady, and each of us must use the weapons we are able to wield." She sighed. "I'm just afraid she might get into trouble with the Warden after tonight."

"Why that? Certainly he cannot blame the boy's death on her?"

"That's not the problem. It's just that you should not have been there. You are still supposed to stay abed for more than a sennight."

Éowyn snorted. "Nobody knows she fetched me. So what?"

Mareth gave a short, bitter laugh. "Nobody would even think that she might have. No, my lady. The Warden will assume you yourself got the idea, but she led you to the Rohirrims' sickroom and did not stop you.

Béma, did these Gondoreans really think that slip of a girl could have stopped her, even if Anwen had wanted to?

Noticing Éowyn's expression, Mareth grimaced. "None of us healers has any illusions about gainsaying you, my lady. And not only you," she added with a wry smile. "Those Rohirrim are quite a handful, even if they are seriously handicapped."

Éowyn could not help a grin, but immediately sobered, thinking of some pompous, high-handed old man, rebuking a girl that had felt nothing but pity for the boy in her care. Her jawline set, she turned towards the window. Judging the sky outside, there were still some hours till breakfast. Her mind made up, she nodded to the senior healer. "Well, Mistress Mareth, I suppose someone is in for a major lesson on the chances to gainsay a Rohir. When does the Warden come to the Houses in the morning?"

"Normally with the second bell." Catching Éowyn's eye, the healer now grinned openly. "Poor man. He will never know what hit him." Folding back the cover of the bed, she gave Éowyn an enquiring glance. "Do you want me to assist you to lie down?"

Éowyn declined, and with a short bob of her head Mareth left the room. Éowyn scrambled into bed, once more cursing the voluminous folds of the nightgown, and had finally managed to pull up the covers when Anwen came in with a filled jug and a mug in the other hand. "I brought you some lime blossom tea, my lady. I thought you might want something soothing and hot after the exertion."

Sitting up again, Éowyn took the mug, eyeing the girl appraisingly. Fourteen years? And working night-shifts with severely wounded. How had she passed the very day of the battle with the wounding coming in, the stench, the gore and the grime, the cries and moans, the dying?

"Why do you work here, Anwen? You should have left the city well before the siege began."

"I know." The girl fidgeted, rolling down her sleeves. "But there was no one to go to." Seeing Éowyn's enquiring gaze, she added: "I have no family left but for my brother Anborn. And he's one of the Lord Faramir's rangers. One of the men he sent to reinforce Cairn Andros." She swallowed. "So staying means at least a chance of seeing him again. Though there is little hope. They say Cairn Andros has fallen."

Looking into the girl's pale and tired face, those down-cast eyes, Éowyn shook her head. Hope! For how long would these Gondoreans go on fooling themselves? And what did they hope for, anyway?

As if sensing her derision, the girl raised her head. "I know, Lady, that there is no real hope, not for me and Anborn, nor for this city. But there are so many who fought bravely against the darkness and never gave up. I can't wield a sword nor draw a bow, but at least I can show my gratitude to those who came to our aid in the bitter end, though I might not do much more than just hold a dying man's hand." She swallowed and turned her head, avoiding Éowyn's gaze. "It was just that he was so very young."

"You are not older, Anwen."

The girl raised her head, a smile on her weary face. "I know, my lady. I would not have dared to address you, had you not been so kind as to send me those sweets through Lhindir."

"Lhindir? Is that the young healer with..." Éowyn hesitated, but then decided to utter obvious things plainly. "the limp?"

Anwen nodded. "Yes. He broke his hip in an accident as a child and had to stay for months in the Houses. That was when he decided to become a healer. They say he's a quite skilled one, though he is only seventeen." A faint blush crept into the girl's pale cheeks and Éowyn smiled.

"Yes," she said, "I think he's a good healer. But go to your rest now, Anwen. The Rohirrim will need your support tonight."

The girl nodded and rose to leave, when Éowyn stopped her again. "Oh, and Anwen, be assured that the Warden will not take you to task for not stopping me to leave my room."

The girl smiled shyly and scurried out of the room. Éowyn lay back, a grim smile on her face. No, the Warden certainly would not. He would be quite busy standing up to the challenge himself.

She rested for some hours, but when one of the women came to collect the breakfast tray again, Éowyn had risen and demanded to be assisted with getting dressed. The woman gaped at her and hurriedly left the room, assuring her that she would immediately send someone.

Within a few minutes the door opened again and Ioreth barged in, puffing with agitation. "But my lady, you are expected to stay in bed for at least six more days. You're not healed yet. You can't..."

"Good morning to you, too, Mistress Healer." Éowyn's voice was as cold as hoar-frost covered steel and well as cutting. "I decided on the white kirtle to go with that light green surcoat." Having had a critical look at the garments brought to her the day before, she had thought those to be the most convenient.

"But, my lady! The Lord Aragorn... I mean the king... He said..."

Éowyn raised an eyebrow. "I answer but to one king, and that is my brother, Éomer King of Rohan." She found it difficult not to laugh, as the plump healer gulped for air, her mouth resembling that of a fat carp, caught in the fisherman's net.

Not heeding the flustered woman anymore, Éowyn bluntly pulled the lacing that tied her nightgown at the neck and wriggling her uninjured arm out of it, she shoved the garment down. Seeing her strip, Ioreth shot over to the wardrobe, hastily taking out one of the delicate lawn chemises and helped Éowyn donning it. Her face deadpan, Éowyn waited for the old healer to fetch the clothes she had ordered. Being dressed, she walked to the door. "Well, and now Mistress Ioreth, you will be so kind as to lead me to the Warden of these Houses. I would like to have a word of some importance with him."


Her head held high, her shoulders squared, Éowyn of Rohan strode back to her room. She was sure that her bearing did not give away her true feelings, as the last years at Meduseld had been the ultimate training for composure, but the corridors seemed to stretch endlessly. Once she had closed the door behind her, she sagged against the frame, her strength and self-command spent. She could hardly breathe, her diaphragm blocked like after a blow in the guts. How could she have humiliated herself thus, crying in the face of that man, that Steward, that...Gondorean!

Everything had started so well, when the Warden had taken her to the Steward, that Lord Faramir. She had planned to get out of the healers' care, to do something honourable and useful, and then... What had got into her to tell the Steward that her window did not look eastwards? How immature and stupid her words had sounded to her own ears, like a child's mindless complaint when facing a dull task. And on top of all she had cried. Cried!

A wave of uncontrolled fury rose above her shame. Three fast steps brought her to the foot of the bed and with a powerful kick she smashed the low stool against the wall, for a split second relishing the sound of the splintering wood. Looking at the broken piece of furniture, she heaved a breath. It was useless to try to fool herself. She was not Éomer and this display of uncontrolled anger was not helping her to regain her equilibrium. And that she needed to be able to think, to analyse. As bitter and humiliating as her weakness had been, she struggled to understand its reasons, its roots, to rip them out once and for all. Twice...twice in but a handful of days she had lost control, had lowered herself to the pitiful and impotent display of tears in front of a stranger. She...

"My lady?" The door was opened a crack. Out of the corner of her eye Éowyn spotted lank hair, brushed back from an intelligent face. Lhindir. "Oh." Seeing the smashed stool, the young healer stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He wordlessly picked up the remains of the stool, his face in a deadpan expression. "I hope you have not hurt yourself, my lady."

"I haven't." How could it be such an effort to keep her voice even!

The healer gave her a scrutinising look. "Do you want to lie down? Shall I send for the women to help you undress?"

Éowyn raised her chin. "I am no invalid."

Lhindir nodded, and putting down the remnants of the stool by the door, he poured her a cup from the covered mug the women had left after breakfast. "Be careful to drink enough though, my lady. It will help to prevent dizziness. How is your arm today?"

She recognised his businesslike tone for what it was: An attempt to overcome the embarrassing situation, but she nevertheless found it helpful. "It's not the broken arm that bothers me, but rather the numbness of the other."

He took her right hand, and one after the other, pinched her fingertips with his nails, asking her if she felt it. Impatiently, Éowyn pulled back her hand. "I do feel it. But the feeling is different from what it used to be. Somehow muffled. And my grip still is less precise and strong." She gave a mirthless laugh. "But I'm working on regaining its full use."

Lhindir smiled. "Persistence seems to be a very Rohirric trait."

"Persistence?" She snorted. "Feel free to call it stubbornness."

He hesitated a little, before continuing, changing the topic. "My lady, I would like to thank you for having talked to the Warden."

"You care for Anwen, don't you?"

Her remark made the young man blush. "I certainly do, but it is not only for her that I was worried." He shrugged, smiling wryly. "The Riders seem to have adopted her as some kind of mascot and if the Warden had really given her any trouble, I'm afraid Captain Grimboern would have taken him by the collar."

"And rightfully he would have done so."

Lhindir shook his head. "The Warden is not a bad man, lady. He may be strict and have a keen eye on the healers' work, but that is for the good of our patients. He is very dedicated to his profession, and he is not unjust. But these last days were certainly demanding for him." The young healer shrugged and gave Éowyn an uncertain look. "He does not know how to deal with the Rohirrim."

"And there are quite a number of them. Poor man." Éowyn's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"No, lady, don't get me wrong. He is thankful, as we all are, and he truly admires them, but he does not understand them. And by that I do not mean their language. And anyway they do not care overmuch for his requirements and orders. It's like they have taken over the Houses."

Éowyn snorted. "They are Riders, Lhindir. Warriors. Who does that Warden think Théoden King sent to fight the Dark Lord? His minstrels?"

"Certainly not, though I have to admit they are singing quite often." The young healer shrugged. "Probably it's that singing, their general attitude towards death, the way they take everything in their stride that irritates the Warden. They simply do not seem to be afraid to die."

Éowyn raised an eyebrow. "Why should they? Die we all will one day, and what better way than to fall in battle, fighting for the glory of the House of Eorl?"

Seeing Lhindir's doubtful look, Éowyn shrugged. "They certainly do not seek death wilfully and not a few might be troubled thinking of the process of dying. But what is there to be feared about death itself?

Lhindir grimaced. "It is difficult to accept when it befalls one that is dear to your heart. Anwen had so much hope that Oswin would survive."

Hope! Éowyn could not help her lips curl in derision. A fool's hope! What were these Gondoreans babbling about? Her gaze met the healer's eyes. "There is no hope, cniht. But it does not matter."

Solemnly the young man nodded. "That's what Captain Grimboern said. They are eager to mend to be able to fight a last stand, if necessary on their knees and one-handed, but fight they will."

Éowyn smiled, her heart swelling with pride. That was true Eorlingas' spirit. "And what else would you expect them to do if the Dark Lord unleashes his forces? Give up and cower under the sheets like a child suffering from a nightmare? And would you like to fall into the enemies' hands alive?" With contempt she saw the young healer's face pale. "No, Lhindir. There is no hope, but true valour does not need hope."

"But I'm sure they have some kind of hope left, my lady. And it is you who gives them hope." Seeing her eyebrows rise, Lhindir blushed. "I am sure they would be delighted if you visited them, all of them, I mean. They talk about you, they sing about you. Not that I understand the language, but I can make out your name, and Captain Grimboern tried to translate for me, though I admit I have difficulty in understanding. He said something like they would be delighted if you would sing for them, and I'm not sure if that can be correct." He shot her a questioning gaze, and Éowyn could not help the feeling of grim satisfaction with which she lashed out to destroy his weave of deceptive hope.

"They certainly want me to sing for them, but it is not hope they expect me to give them, but honour. It is a woman's task to sing the soul of the dying over the threshold of the Halls of our Ancestors. It is women in the Mark who bury the dead. And as there probably will not be anyone left to care for the fallen, how better to prepare oneself for death than by having sung the warrior's praise and lament beforehand? I am of Eorl's House, and they certainly would feel honoured if I visited them and sang for them. And I certainly will do so, as it is my duty to my people."

Lhindir stared at her and gulped, and suddenly Éowyn felt a strange kind of pity for this young man. How could it be that they lived in the same world, faced the same foe and yet judged things so differently? She smiled. "At least you can be sure, Lhindir that once the enemy attacks there will be no hysterics, and I assure you that the Rohirrim will praise you for anything that will enable them to stand and resist a little longer."

He silently nodded, and picking up the broken stool, he left.

The room felt cold and Éowyn pulled up the blankets. Those Gondoreans were an enigma. So weak, and yet... Those healers were a strange lot: a young girl who shook in her shoes and yet carried on, a limping youngster, confronted with pain and death daily, and still yacking about hope, that gossiping crone who nevertheless cared for the sick and injured day and night... And that Warden? How different from what she had expected him to be he was. She would even have pitied him had he not been droning about the impossibility of a warrior also being a healer. That dolt! And yet she had felt his genuine worry, his sincere care. But he was totally focussed on the patients in the Houses, without any connection to reality outside. She shook her head. The young healer had called him strict, but all she had seen was an old tired man in the same plain grey garments all healers seemed to wear, the only difference being a woollen overcoat of the same colour, but that might have been owed to the quite chilly morning. There had been nothing of the arrogance and pomposity she had prepared herself to deal with. And what about Mareth's remark in the morning? Had that been a hint at his lacking realisation of reality or simply a sign that she did not like him? Anyway, seeing the Warden, she should have been prepared that things in Gondor were not what she expected them to be. She should have been more careful in her interaction with that Steward and not let her defences down the way she had.

But then: What had she expected? She had known he was Boromir's younger brother, a man somewhere in his late thirties, one of these Numenoreans who were so proud of their ancient bloodline. And at least as far as his looks went, there was nothing that had surprised her. Only a fool would expect anything else but a tall, dark-haired man and most probably an accomplished warrior when Lord Denethor's offspring were considered. No, she certainly had been prepared for a true and stern Numenorean in all his dark glory, a second Boromir and not brainlessly expected some sandy-haired youth with puppy-eyes, who would melt at her biding, but she had not been prepared for a man like the one she had actually met in the gardens.

True, this Faramir did resemble Boromir, having the same colour of hair and being as tall as his brother though of lighter built. Also the general lines of the faces were alike, and yet if there was any man he reminded her of it was not his brother Boromir, a man so much like the Sons of Eorl in bearing and temperament despite his black hair, but him, the ranger from the north, who was now leading seven thousand men to a hopeless but necessary battle at the Black Gate.

But she was not sure what made this so. She sat down on the bed and thoughtfully tapped her knuckles against her teeth. Was it the leaner frame? Something in his bearing? His voice? One by one she debunked her assumptions. But how could it be that this clean-shaven man reminded her of a bearded one, more than double his age? She bit her lower lip, trying to recall the very moment she had started to cry at Dunharrow. And then it dawned on her, painfully and clearly: It was their eyes. Those grey Numenorean eyes. Not the blueish or greenish grey a lot of the Eorlingas sported, but that strange dark grey like an overclouded sky at dusk. Boromir too had grey eyes, but not that kind of colour. Not that strange shade and not that glance that seemed to come out of the depth of time. She clenched her fist. And in both cases these eyes had looked down on her, filled with condescending pity!

No. Biting her lower lip, she checked herself. Not condescending. She needed to think precisely, undisturbed by her emotions. She would not have cried had there been any hint of condescendence but have become furious, reached out for that cold fury that had helped her to concentrate her willpower to keep any outer evil from touching her soul in the dark days of the Worm.

So what had been there in those grey eyes that had made her lose control that profoundly and unforgivable, reducing a Shieldmaiden of Eorl's House to a crying little girl? She heaved a breath, realising she was close to finding out what she aimed at and fearing it at the same time. It felt like the terrible pain when the healers had removed that barbed arrow from her thigh after that orc attack on the herds three years ago in the Eastemnet. Only that now the arrow seemed to have pierced her soul. She gritted her teeth. Think, Éowyn Éomund's Dohtor! Think, for your brain is your only weapon, now like back in those days of Théoden King's decline.

Steadying her breath, she recapitulated: There had been pity, but no condescendence. Rather some kind of sympathy, even understanding...And something else... Some troubled expression, like a glimpse of care or even guilt. The regret of not being able to...?

She gulped. Troubled grey eyes in the face of an accomplished warrior. Guilt. The distress that he could not change anything, had to say what would cause her pain... An accomplished warrior. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pricking of tears that welled up hot behind her lids. Théodred! Her guide, her cousin, her chosen foster-father. He had had the grey eyes of the Numenoreans through Morwen of Lossarnach! Grey eyes full of care and understanding, grief and pity looking down on her. Twice he had brought her the news that the man she had chosen to love had perished, twice nothing had kept her alive and sane but his care. Théodred... Not a month ago he had been slain at the Fords of the Isen, leaving her numb and forsaken, unable to weep... And then this ranger from the north had appeared. Isildur's heir. An accomplished warrior, King of Men, a hero... And he had rejected her. And in the moment of her most bitter humiliation he had looked at her with pity, understanding and guilt... Had looked at her with Théodred's eyes.

Clutching the folds of the bedcover, she bit down on them in a futile attempt to stop the violent sobs that racked her body. And then she curled up, crying for the one she truly missed.

Annotations:

night scented gilliflower: (Hesperis matronalis) A flower blooming in spring and early summer. (looks a bit like the better know phlox). Though the flowers are open during the day, the scent gets stronger in the evening and the flower is the host plant to both, butterflies and moths.

cniht : (Old English/Rohirric) boy Here used by Éowyn in a condescending way.

dohtor: (Old English/Rohirric) daughter


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