Through Shadows

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Heart's Ease

He looked at her, and being a man whom pity deeply stirred, it seemed to him that her loveliness amid her grief would pierce his heart. And she looked at him and she saw the grave tenderness in his eyes, and yet knew, for she was bred among men of war, that here was one whom no Rider of the Mark would outmatch in battle.

quoted from:The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book V by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Minas Tirith, March 22nd, 3019

When she woke the dim light of dawn streamed through the open window. Slowly she sat up, her mind still lingering on the last shreds of the nightmare she had had. She did not remember much, only that she had been lying face down in cold mud, a weight she knew to be a booted foot pressing her deeper into it while she had been desperately groping for her sword without being able to reach it. She did not remember having dreamt that before, but it fitted in with the patterns of her usual nightmares. But the reason she had woken was much more mundane. With an angry groan she gathered the folds of the nightshirt and went over to the chamber pot. Yards of cloth! Those Gondoreans really had a way to make people's lives difficult!

Having done with her ablutions, she thought of getting dressed. Perhaps watching the sun rise over the ragged ridge of the Mountains of Shadow would lighten her heart. She hesitated, pondering. She certainly could just put that ridiculous lounge robe on top of the night gown, thus making one atrociousness cover the other, but she would not be able to lace those straw-soled shoes with one hand. Pouring herself some water for a fast wash, she decided to go barefoot.

The pain in her broken arm had lessened considerably and what was more, the throbbing had given way to a dragging kind of pain, a certain sign of the healing process having started. Only that the few days they might have left would not suffice for a healing of any kind. She angrily bit her lower lip. It was no use to fool herself. She had better prepare for whatever last stand they had to make. She needed to train to regain strength; to train and to eat. Even the mere task of washing herself was strenuous, but then she had not eaten anything save the breakfast she had had with the Steward the morning before and one of those tiny meat pasties they had served at the council in the evening.

Attending said council had been an ordeal with her arm pounding violently, but for the sake of Elfhelm her presence had been useful. Never, not even in the darkest days of the Worm's machinations had she seen the marshal that much on edge. Éowyn was sure he had held back only for her sake. He had informed the Gondoreans with curt words, actually speaking solely to the Steward and taking no notice of the other men being present, and he had only responded to the Steward's questions, ignoring any remarks from the other lords. Though the Steward's room was larger than her own, it had been overcrowded and the mixture of different scents and perfumes the lords present had applied to themselves had nearly made her gag. With the commanders of the various troops agreeing on what parts of the town were to be frequented by which divisions, where and when rations were to be issued and how they were to participate in the manning of the walls and the guarding of the only provisionally secured gates, the important part of their conference had been closed, and Éowyn had been desperate to leave by then. The Steward's man had served wine and small pasties to those attending, but she had refused both. She had had no chance to get any painkillers and the constantly increasing pain had worn her mask of composure thin and caused her to break out in a sweat. To her utter embarrassment and fury she had felt beads of perspiration gather on her upper lip, just at the moment when the Steward had looked over to her, while the Captain of some brigade from Lamedon had complained about his soldiers having been taken advantage of at yesterday's distribution of arms. The Steward's face had not given away any hint that he had noticed her state, but he had motioned to his man, and a short while later Beregond had brought her one of the typical lidded mugs of the Houses of Healing.

His face displaying nothing but courtly politeness, the Steward had nodded to her. "You must excuse me, my lady. I forgot you are not overly fond of wine. I should have ordered some tea earlier."

Hiding her irritation, she had opened the lid, only to notice at once that he had provided her with a mug of steaming meadowsweet-tea. She had sipped her tea, nibbled at a pasty Elfhelm had more or less forced into her hand, too relieved to gainsay him and had simply let the men's talk wash over her as it turned to minor problems. When she had finally left for her room, she had fallen asleep as soon as the woman who helped her undress had left the room.

Standing beside her bed, she flexed her shoulders. No problems there either. Her bruises obviously were fading, and with them the limitation of her movements. A slight queasiness was all that was giving her trouble, and certainly that could be mended by eating something. Searching the bedside table, she found three nut cakes and a number of ginger pieces in the small earthenware pot. She had just popped one of the spicy-sweet cubes into her mouth when a soft knock at the door caught her attention. It was Anwen who entered, the veil and the apron the healers normally wore removed. The girl looked tired, and Éowyn spotted several stains on the grey garment where the blood of the wounded had soaked through the apron.

"Good morning, Lady Éowyn. I've finished my work for tonight, but the Warden is a bit worried and bid me to find out if you needed some more painkillers before I went to bed."

"The Warden?" Éowyn found it difficult to imagine the old man having stayed awake and kept any overview in last night's chaos and did not really believe he had even remembered she existed. Or was he an early riser? A lot of old people were, so that was more likely.

Anwen nodded. "Yes, my lady. He's about to retire too, and as he keeps the account of the more potent potions like poppy syrup and henbane seeds, so no misuse can happen, he would like to know if he should leave some for you." Éowyn's disbelief must have shown, for the girl hurried to explain further. "When the lord Faramir sent his man to fetch some potion for you last night, the Warden wanted to sent you some poppy, but Mareth remembered that you preferred meadowsweet and insisted on sending that, but he doubted it was strong enough."

Mareth! The mention of the healer's name did nothing to improve Éowyn's mood. How could she have erred that much in the judging of a person? "The draught was strong enough, Anwen, thank you." Her voice was clipped and she was about to send the girl away when she realised that with Anwen's help there was a chance to get dressed properly. So she asked for her garment and the young healer brought the clothes from where the woman had hung them last night. Holding the shift, Anwen frowned.

"To get you into this I would have to move your broken arm, my lady, and I don't think that would be a good idea. So if you don't mind, it would be much easier and better for your arm if you just put the underdress and the kirtle on top of the nightgown. And if you want to go outside it would be warmer, too. The wind has freshened up a bit."

With Anwen's help getting dressed took but a few minutes, but when the girl turned to leave, Éowyn saw her sway slightly. With one step she was beside the healer, catching her elbow and leading her to the wicker chair. "Feeling faint?"

Anwen nodded.

"Did you eat at all?"

Again a mute nod, and then some mumbled explanation: "There was not much time to eat anything, but like always when there is much work, they had prepared honeyed water for the healers to drink. And Lhindir had given me your cherries, telling me to chew one if I felt hungry or wobbly."

Éowyn gritted her teeth. A night of strenuous work on nothing but a handful of sweets! And she had thought the Riders' rations on their way to Mundburg to be poor. Brusquely she shoved the nut cakes into Anwen's hands. "Eat. They will do you good."

Colouring with embarrassment, the girl started to nibble a cake and Éowyn poured her a mug of water. "Take your time. You are not going to leave this room before you have eaten at least one cake. And have some water, too."

The young healer had two in the end, taking the third one with her, and Éowyn could not help feeling convinced it would end up in Lhindir's mouth.


There was a noticeable coldness in the air, but being an early riser by habit, she knew it for the ordinary morning chill that would give way as soon as the sun was up. Nevertheless she was quite thankful for the additional layer of cloth her nightgown provided her with as she stepped out into the garden. With its orderly patterns of regular squares of lawn, its straight paths and lines of trees it lay empty and lifeless in the grey light. She turned towards the stairs that led up to the walls when out of the corner of her eye she saw a movement to her left. Somebody was standing near the pine, the first tree in the last row, and when she stopped for a closer look a grey figure stepped out of the shadow of the tree. The Steward. A wave of anger rose inside her. Why couldn't they leave her alone for once? But she immediately checked herself. It was no private garden and anyway there was worse company than the sharp-eyed Steward. Forcing her features to expressionless politeness, she walked up to him, and when they finally met, she was surprised at how tired his face looked despite the faint smile that played around his lips.

"Good morning, my lady. Did you sleep well?" His eyes were clear, but there were shadows under them and his shoulders sagged though he pulled himself up the moment he felt her scrutinizing gaze. In the Mark she would have asked any man who looked like that for the reason, be he lord or lowling, but perhaps it was not appropriate in Gondor? Lowering her head in a greeting, she decided not to care for Gondorean prissiness.

"Good morning, my Lord Steward. Thanks to your care I did sleep well, but you don't look like you did. Does your wound give you trouble?"

He shook his head. "No, my lady. It's healing adequately. I..." He hesitated and cleared his throat. "I had a talk with Lord Badhor after the council last night, and what he told me disturbed my night's rest somehow."

Éowyn felt uneasy. Could it be he knew? Could it be that old councillor had told him about the circumstances of his father's death? Had not Éomer told her Greyhame had advised the healers to withhold that news as long as possible? She cast him an enquiring look, not knowing what to say, and wordlessly they started to walk towards the battlement.

"Did you know about it?" The Steward's question caught her by surprise. "My father's death, I mean," he added with a sad smile.

She felt her throat go dry. But he probably knew anyway, and what use was it to deny? She'd be better to keep things straight and clear. "My brother told me about it. And the king's squire mentioned it in connection with his worries for his kinsman who had looked into some similar kind of the Enemy's devices."

The Steward nodded. "Master Meriadoc told me about the Palantir of Isengard, but these orbs are no devices of the Enemy, my lady, though no doubt he can use them for his evil aims."

"What is there in this Middle Earth he cannot corrupt and make use of?" The bitterness in her voice caused the Steward to stop and look at her with that earnest expression that reminded her so painfully of Théodred.

"No, Lady Éowyn. Believe me, there still are things and people beyond his reach. And even those he can reach, he can not totally bend to his will if they are strong at heart, though certainly he can twist and weaken them."

She gave a derisive snort. This idiotic notion of hope these Gondoreans clung to! Had she not seen what had happened to Théoden King? And even Gríma the Cursed had not always been treacherous. She was not sure when exactly he had started to change, to take side with the wizard at Isengard and when all his up to then wise council had become crooked and evil, aiming at nothing but to weaken Eorl's House. Frithuswith had been the first to notice, but even to her Théoden King had refused to listen.

Their gazes met, and with an angry jerk of her head she looked away, irritated by the calm depth of his eyes. "His arm reached as far as Meduseld, my lord." She silently cursed the brittleness of her own voice.

At once she felt a soft touch at her elbow. "My lady, forgive me. I do not know what precisely happened in Rohan, nor what caused you to ride with the host to Gondor's help. But whatever it was, given how much your people value prowess in battle, do you not feel you overcame it, smashing the Dark One's mightiest captain?"

Éowyn frowned, unsure what he was aiming at. More to gain time than anything else she continued towards the battlement. "Théoden King's mind was darkened that much by the Enemy's evil whispers that he imprisoned my brother," she finally said.

The Steward nodded. "That certainly is grievous, but did he not realise his fault? I was informed that he himself named Éomer King of Rohan before he died on the battlefield."

"So he did," she admitted. "But things would have ended very differently had not Gandalf Greyhame come to Meduseld to wake Théoden King from his mental decline." She swallowed, willing down the bitter lump that formed in her throat. Greyhame had come, bringing with him that kingly stranger, dour and war-worthy, like a hero out of the tales of old. She felt the heat of tears rise, and angrily blinked them away. What did it matter now that Isildur's heir had returned to Gondor, what did it matter that men flocked to his banner, what that her brother sang his praise?

"My lady, I do not ask you to hope, for there certainly is not more than a fool's hope. But I beg you not to despair." The Steward's voice was soft but clearly audible. "Look about you, Éowyn of Rohan, and see the life and beauty that still prevails, and prevail like it. Do not let darkness conquer your heart and mind, for then our enemy will surely win."

She could not but smile lopsidedly. "That's more or less what I told Master Meriadoc but two days ago. Obviously I should stick to my own advice more stably."

He nodded, that strange serious smile of his deepening. "Don't think that my heart is without doubt, my lady. But doubt, fear and despair are the most fell weapons our enemy can wield, and only if we see them for what they are, can we withstand them. And we cannot withstand if we stand alone and isolated. We are human, my lady. We need the encouragement of human company, and our people need ours. If we lock up into ourselves, without confidence in friend or kin, our loneliness and doubt will finally drive us into despair and madness." He heaved a breath and then added: "As happened to my father."

Éowyn bit her lip. What was Éomer's imprisonment compared to Denethor's attempt to burn his son alive? Carefully schooling her voice, she said: "I'm sorry you had to learn it while you are still recovering."

Faramir shrugged. "Lord Bahor tried to keep it from me, but I mentioned that I wanted to go down to Rath Dínen today to pay my respects to my dead father. So what could he do when his attempt to convince me that I was still too weak to do so was of no avail? He had to tell me." He paused for a moment, and then the faint smile was back on his face. "I'm afraid I'm quite good at getting information out of people."

Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "So I had better be careful in your company."

Suddenly serious again, he shook his head. "No, my lady. I would abhor the idea that you told me anything you had not meant to tell me."

They had reached the wall by now and climbed the stair. The breeze was much stronger up here and Éowyn pulled the shawl close. Immediately she felt his gaze on her.

"Have they not provided you with a cloak, my lady?"

With a nonchalant shrug she tried to disperse his worries. "No. They probably did not think it necessary because they could not imagine me being up and about this early. And the days are fairly warm already."

They turned their faces north-east now, and for some time they stood side by side, taking in the view. The Pelennor stretched out to the still dark band of the Great River, and Éowyn noticed that the number of fires had decreased. Far ahead the black wall of the Ephel Dúath loomed and the eastern skies were covered by a vast canopy of threatening clouds, leaving out only a thin strip of clear sky just above the mountains. And through that strip now the fierce red glow of the rising sun pierced, slowly changing to orange and yellow, casting the lower edge of the clouds into a ghostly light. They stood in silence, and all of a sudden Éowyn felt as lonely and forlorn as never before. Somewhere at the foot of those forbidding mountains was her brother. Was he feeling as miserable as she, facing the ever-growing clouds? But then, being that close to the mountains, could he see them at all or was his sight hampered by the ridge itself? She clenched her fist. Was he marching heedlessly into the enemy's maw? Gritting her teeth, she checked herself. It was no use to give in to hysterics. Éomer had known what he had been doing when he had left, and so had the others. Into the Enemy's maw they might walk, but open-eyed and with a sound reason. Her gaze wandered north. Somewhere over there was the Black Gate, the place where they would meet the Enemy's assault. Turning for further information to the Steward, she stopped dead, holding her breath with surprise.

She had noticed his tiredness before, but looking over to the mountains of Mordor, his face was grey with exhaustion and the line of his mouth did nothing to conceal the pain he felt.

"My lord?"

He did not hear her, lost in anguish. Reluctantly, she touched his elbow. "My Lord Faramir? Do you hear me?"

He blinked and shuddered, like someone coming out of a bad dream. Looking down into her worried face, he sighed. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, my lady, but as much as I try, I cannot forgive him."

Thinking of his father! She should have known. She swallowed, trying to make her voice sound even. "My lord, we must assume that he was not himself in the end, otherwise he would not have tried to kill his son, and..."

He shook his head with a mirthless smile. "You get me wrong, my lady. I certainly understand that he wanted to kill me, believing the city lost and seeing me helpless and faint. No, I even understand the cursed logic of burning me and himself, thus leaving no corpse for the enemy to defile..."

For a fleeting second Éowyn thought of Háma, her uncle's doorward, whose dead body Saruman's Uruks had hacked to pieces in front of the Hornburg, of the poor herders of whom they had never found more than smashed skulls and gnawed bones... Yes, Denethor certainly had had a reason to burn himself.

The Steward heaved a breath. "I can accept his wrath at my return from Ithilien before the siege and him wishing me dead in Boromir's stead."

"What?" She could not believe her ears. Not in his darkest state of confusion would Théoden King have uttered anything like that.

Seeing her bafflement, the Steward shrugged. "He was beside himself, thinking that had he been in my place, my brother would have brought him... something my father thought a mighty weapon. I told him he was deceiving himself. But I understand that his wrath was born out of worry and care for Gondor. I am even prepared to accept that he sent me on what everyone in the council knew to be a suicide mission to Osgiliath the next morning. But I cannot forgive that he sent soldiers into useless peril for nothing but disappointment and hurt pride."

Stunned, she watched as in a flash of anger and frustration he kicked the wall.

"My lord,..."

He swivelled round. "No, Lady Éowyn. No captain has the right to do so, and who was he at that moment, if not Gondor's Captain General? He should have given up the garrison at Osgiliath and drawn the men back behind the Causeway Forts. It was folly and I regret that I went, but I did not know what else to do when in council he asked if there still was a captain in Gondor to do his will."

His shaved cheeks did nothing to conceal the bulging of his jaw muscles as he gritted his teeth, his lips pressed into a thin line.

"I lost one third of my men that day, and it is of no help that those I led came with me of their free will. You are the daughter of warriors, lady, you know that a captain's order may cost lives and lead to injuries and I do not shrink from that responsibility, but that day I led my men into battle without any chance and without any plausible reason."

She could not help feeling fascinated by his unexpected display of temper. His annoying composure gone, she saw the warrior, male strength and hardly controlled fury. And then it was gone like the sudden flash of resin wood thrown on a fire. He heaved a breath, and only his clenched fists gave away how much it took him to rein in his feelings.

"And it would have gone worse but for Mithrandir's intervention, for he held the Nazgul at bay and protected the transport of the wounded back to the city. That is of all those who were still fit to be transported."

He turned away from her, once more looking out over the Pelennor and it took some time before he continued, his voice low and bitter.

"There were some, my lady, good men, brave soldiers, who we had to leave behind as their injuries were too severe and there were too few wains to transport all."

Éowyn gasped "You did not let them fall into the hands of those vile creatures, did you?"

With a grim smiled he turned to her. "No, my lady, certainly not. I stayed with the rearguard to keep the retreat from becoming a rout and I was the last to leave the Causeway Forts – and I left nobody living behind."

Their gazes met. Sorrow, anger, pain... Grey pools of everlasting grief. She turned her head, fearing the sudden burn of unshed tears behind her eyes.

"Those men trusted me, Éowyn, and I cannot forgive him, having reduced me to that." His voice was a mere whisper, and yet it caught her like a vice, threatening to crumble her composure into nothingness.

Her eyes still averted, she finally spoke. "Let us go down, my lord. Here is nothing that can ease your pain."

Coming down from the walls, they did not take the main path like the previous day but followed the one leading along the walls of the outer ramparts, and as they silently walked along the tile-covered path, she felt how she slowly regained the command of herself. All along the foot of the wall herb beds with shade-loving plants stretched, most of them still only recognisable through the small orderly labels, but when they reached the far end of the path where the herbs she had already noticed the day before grew, she spotted the abundance of heart's ease on what seemed like a small artificial slope. Tiny blue, violet and yellow blossoms were cascading from halfway up the wall down to the path. How could it be that she had not seen this beautiful patch before? And how cleverly the gardeners had arranged them, making sure they got the rather dry and slightly sandy ground they preferred. Only when she felt the Steward's enquiring look did she realise that she was smiling. "I did not expect to find these in such abundance in this garden, though they certainly are very useful."

A slight frown appeared on his brow. "Has everything to be useful to please you, my lady?"

His voice was soft and serious, causing her to bristle instinctively. She was not going to talk about the emotions this simple beauty stirred inside her, nor would she tell him about the encouragement she had felt finding that pot on her windowsill. Breathing deep, she pulled herself together. She was behaving ridiculously. Schooling her features, she turned to the Steward: "My lord, I would not spurn usefulness if I were you. Certainly they are beautiful too, especially at this time of the year when there is not much blooming and they are proving the end of winter, but does not that beauty add to the plant's usefulness, as it lightens our hearts?"

"So you like them?" His voice was even, but she did not know what to make of the expression in his eyes. Was there really a hint of self-consciousness? It probably was just a trick of the light. With a last look at the flowers she turned to walk back towards the Houses.

"I certainly like them. Who does not? But I did not know they..." She shrugged before continuing her attempt to explain. "Well, they seem to have a certain importance in Gondor I do not know about."

The Steward shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know about any, my lady. But what makes you think there is?"

"Someone put a pot of them in my room yesterday. And it certainly is nice to have something colourful and living in all this cold, white stone, this death-like order and constraining walls..." She stopped abruptly, realising what she was saying. Why did she have the tendency to make a fool out of herself in front of this man? "I'm sorry, my Lord Steward. I'm being unreasonable. There certainly is nothing to complain about with regard to my room and as well the quarters of the men are better than anything we could ever have expected, not to say anything about the tireless efforts of the healers. It's just that everything seems to be white here. It all is so colourless, so..." She shrugged, not knowing how to proceed.

"But I thought you liked white." His gaze swept over her garment.

Éowyn shook her head. "No, certainly not. It is just the easiest dress to put on with my broken arm. Yet it is not unfitting as white is the colour of mourning in the Mark. Winter's garb."

The Steward nodded thoughtfully. "I see. Then the marble of the White City must be truly depressing for you."

They walked in silence for about half an hour, breathing the fresh morning air, until the Steward's man called them for breakfast. As the previous day Beregond had laid the table for them in the alcove near the pine tree but additional to the food he had provided then, today there also were boiled eggs and a small bowl with finely chopped chives.

Pouring her some tea, the Steward smiled at her. "What would you like me prepare for you, my lady? Cheese and honey or something more hearty?"

"An egg would be nice, and some chives with it." Éowyn disliked depending on his assistance, but she had to admit to herself that if she tried to peel the shell off the egg on her own, she would most probably create a mess that was far more embarrassing than any need for help could be. Soon a buttered chunk of bread dipped into chives and an egg cut into halves were placed in front of her, and when she started to eat she realised how hungry she had been. They ate in silence for a while, and though she found it difficult in the end, she finished bread and egg and then asked for another mug of the fruity-tasting tea. Refilling her cup, the Steward urged her to eat some more, but she declined. "Thank you, my lord. I will gladly take another cup of tea, but I already feel more than full."

He nodded, and only then Éowyn noticed that he himself had not finished his first slice of bread yet. Seeing her frown, he shrugged. "I know I have to eat and I'm trying, but I don't have any appetite. I have talked about it to the healers and they take it for a symptom of the Black Breath, as almost all patients suffering from it show it."

"So it is still giving you trouble?"

He shrugged. "Now and then. I tire easily and I feel moody and exhausted, but I am convinced I can overcome it, time given."

Time given! What time did this man think they had? But she only lowered her head in a polite nod. "Certainly. But perhaps you should try some ginger my lord, to invigorate your appetite. I got some cubes from Prince Imrahil's housekeeper, and not only are they very tasty, but they also seem to have a very positive influence."

A sudden smile lightened the Steward's features. "Ah, good old Hwinril. Her husband certainly is the best cook and baker in all of Gondor. I'll pay a visit to Amrothos later, perhaps I should ask him to convince her to send me some of those dainties. But I'm afraid I'll have to lay down a bit first. It is no use to fool myself about my state of health."

Éowyn put down the cup. "Then I will not keep you any longer from your needed and well-deserved rest, my lord. I intend to look in on the wounded Eorlingas and with the number of freshly wounded that will take quite some time."

"You shouldn't go right now. It is still early and wounded and healers might be busy with the regular morning ablutions."

With slight embarrassment she realized how early it was. "You are right. I had better wait some time. And I can use it to exercise my hand anyway. I did not train yesterday for I slept away most of the day."

"Did you?"

She did not know what to make of the expression on his face and shrugged. "I am sure my body needed it and it helped my healing. But as I am feeling better today it is time to start training in earnest. I had better send for Elfhelm. I need a knife, or even better a dagger. I do not want to be unarmed should the enemy conquer Mundburg, and most important of all: I do not want to be taken alive should that happen."

Wordlessly the Steward removed the dagger from his belt and shoved the sheathed weapon across the table. The sheath was made of dark brown leather and bore no decoration save the embossment of a stylized tree. The hilt consisted of almost black wood, smoothed by long and regular use and also the metal of the crossbar was black. Éowyn frowned. That was certainly not how she expected a Gondorean dress dagger to look.

"It's a ranger's weapon, my lady." The Steward's voice shook her out of her musings. Startled, she looked up. Was there laughter hidden under his seriousness? "It is meant to blend in with the surrounding shades of the woods as stealth is our sharpest weapon against a foe that outnumbers us heavily. So you will find no shining metal or decoration that might catch the sun or give away the bearer when the knife is unsheathed." He reached for the dagger and pulled it from its sheath. A slender, pointed blade with straight edges, blackened like the crossbar, the fuller running down almost the entire length of it. And then she gasped with surprise. The razor-sharp edges did not show the shine of honed steel, though honed they obviously were, glimmering in the faint morning sun like black ice. Black steel! It had to be black steel, harder and yet more flexible than any metal save mithril. This mysterious metal only Gondor possessed, treasured from ancient times when the Great Seamen brought it with them out of the West. She heaved a breath to calm herself. A weapon of black steel, the dream of any warrior, strong enough to pierce the hide of a dragon.

"It has been a heirloom of my House since the days of Mardil. Take it my lady, and may it serve you well."

Swallowing hard, she shook her head. "No, my lord. You cannot give me that. It..."

"I can. This and anything else you should desire, my lady. And anything I can give would repay only a small amount of what you did...for Gondor and for me."

Blushing furiously, she averted her gaze. How could eyes look that way, smiling and serious at the same time, filled with a warmth that... She was at a loss and rose to end the awkward situation. Rising likewise, he sheathed the dagger and held it out to her.

"Take it, my lady, for it would ease my heart to know you armed with Gondor's best."

Her fingers trembled as she took the knife and hid it in the folds of her shawl. "I will have it fixed to the splint so I'll be able to draw it." Her voice sounded agitated in her own ears but she could not help it.

The Steward smiled. "Do so, my lady. But let the healers guide you, so that your arm will not give you additional trouble."

She could not help a mirthless laugh. "My lord, what do you think my arm will matter the moment I have to draw this dagger?"

Their gazes met, and she saw the same sadness and resolve in his grey depths she knew her own eyes showed. He nodded and with a calm movement took her hand, brushing a kiss over her knuckles.

"I truly wish I could promise you life and happiness, Éowyn of Rohan. But as it is we had better prepare for death and sorrow."

Annotations:

White as colour of mourning was widespread in European countries in the Middle Ages. The custom of wearing black garments as a general sign of mourning is not much older that 150 years.


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