Warning: TTT movie-based. Possibly very slightly slashy.

Dedicated to Una, for daring me to write it.

Keeping Secrets

After the battle, I went to see the girl I had spoken with on the trail. It was hard to find the Lady Eowyn, for after she led the women and children back from the caves and did the necessary to see to their well-being she immediately disappeared. Then I thought more about the words I had heard from her, and realized where she must be.

She was in the armory, of course, polishing her sword. She asked me many questions about the battle, and specifically about the warlike deeds of the Lord Aragorn. I asked her how the battle had been for those sheltering in the caves, and she told me, but although she seemed to have done as well as any leader could her voice fell as she spoke, as if her deeds were unworthy of her.

"You told me on the trail that Dwarf women go out dressed as men," she said, finally. "Do they go to war as well?"

"They do," I answered her, "and are counted among the great warriors of our people."

She gripped her sword, and I could see the question in her eyes.

"You could," I said, "if you can do more with that sword than polish it while waiting for your uncle to allow you to fight."

Eowyn jumped to her feet. "How much of that beard do you want to lose?" she said.

My axe was immediately in my hand. "How close to it can you get?"

She attacked immediately. Her first stroke was from above, and I parried it easily. Then she spun, and her sword flew from all directions, clashing hard against the blade of my axe. I tried to use what advantage I have by moving under her, but her long dress blocked me. We turned, again and again, axe and sword flashing against each other. She was far stronger than I had expected, from a human and a woman. At last we stood bracing our weapons against each other. An axe is better than a sword at close range. I lunged to disarm her, and in that moment her sword shifted, and my axe flew from my hand.

Eowyn pressed her sword against the chain armor that still covered my chest. "Have I answered your question?" she asked.

"I am at your service, my Lady," I said, bowing as low as I could without touching my face to her sword. Which was scarcely at all.

A twitch of her sword, and two hairs fell from my beard to the floor. "If I have answered your question, then answer mine," she said. Her sword made a small circle around the left side of my chest, and then the right, and then returned to the centre, where it lay between my breasts.

"How do you fit yourself into chain mail?" she asked.

So she understood what I had been trying to tell her. Good. "Dwarf women are somewhat less endowed than mortal or Elven women," I said. "Still, it is somewhat tight. I think you could manage, though. What men," or Elves "do not expect to see is easy to disguise."

She lowered her sword. "But there is a secret far more difficult to keep inside," I said, "and I don't mean your snickers when they tell all the women to hide in the caves." She grinned at that, and I wondered how many of the women in her care had gone to defend the wall of Helm's Deep, indistinguishable from their too-young sons. "I mean the knowledge that the one you love could die, right in front of you, and that all your skill might be powerless to save him. And if he does, you must go on fighting anyway, whether or not it will kill you. You may laugh together, counting numbers of fallen Orcs, but you must never say that you love him as a maid loves a man, or let him know what your world would be if he falls." This made her uncomfortable to hear, I could tell, but she needed to know what she would face if she followed Aragorn into battle.

"And there is something else you must know," I continued, "and that is although you may die for him, and he for you, it is not your face that he will see at night. Battle does not make a woman more fair. He will call you comrade, and love you as warriors love their friends, but the only touch he will give you is hands clasped in friendship at the end of the fight, and when he returns home it may be to another woman's arms, a beloved or even a stranger. Can you face this? And can you hide it?"

What Eowyn did next could not have surprised me more. She bent over, and touched her lips, softly, to mine. An offer, perhaps, of comfort, or shared understanding, so rare between women of different races even in this time of war. Then she folded her arms around me, and I clung to her, and it was as if I could weep then, all the weeping I could not do in the moments I feared Legolas would not return.

Finally she released me, and stood back. A wry smile passed across her face. "Better than you can, Gimli," she said.



If you want to read more about this Gimli, please see my story 'Sapphires Set in Diamonds.'