Timeframe: During Book VI, Chapters 5 & 6 of "The Return of the King."
Disclaimer: The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien owns all the characters in this story and no copyright infringement or profit is intended by its writing & circulation.
Foreword: This is my little effort to show more of the friendship between Eowyn and Merry, and suggest the impact it might have had on Eowyn's decision to marry Faramir.
The waiting is indeed the hardest part.
I should be used to it by now; I have done it a thousand times before, watching silently from the steps of the Golden Hall as Eomer and his men saddled up, faces grim and swords sharpened, riding forth to challenge another band of marauding orcs. I would mutter a soft prayer under my breath for my brother's safety, imploring Earendil to shine its kindliest light upon him, wishing I rode by his side ready and able to defend him. I spent most of my life waiting, as all women learn to do from the cradle, despite my skills with blade and bridle.
But waiting kills me now—now that I have been blooded in battle, now that I know precisely what my innermost heart longs for. I am not like other women; I need fresh air in my face, the muscles of a horse between my thighs, and the feel of a well-forged sword in my hand. I should be riding with the men of Rohan and Gondor to fight the final battle against the Dark Lord and his foul minions, for am I not the one who slew the Captain of the Nazgul, the Witch-King no man could touch?
Thanks to the wounds I took in that struggle, though, I am now marooned in the gilded cage of Minas Tirith, only able to follow events in my mind's eye as I stare from the window of my room in the Houses of Healing, seeing nothing but the tiles on the roofs below. I might tolerate matters better if I had some other Eorlingas with me, my own folk, who would understand why I rode out to seek my destiny, and why I so mourn my uncle and king.
Instead I am surrounded by the women of Gondor, fluttering about in embroidered silks and delicate paints, clouds of exotic perfumes trailing after them as they carry trays of dainty food to my bedside—to tempt my wan appetite, they say smilingly. I know how hard they are all trying to be kind and make me comfortable while I recover. There is no luxury the ladies fail to proffer—soft pillows, beautiful clothes, even sweet-voiced birds in resplendent plumage that sing endlessly and perch on my finger while drinking from a glass of water.
However, all this comes with a steep price, because I can see the burning curiosity and speculation underneath the smiles, the questions surfacing in the kohl-rimmed eyes. What manner of woman is this fair-haired barbarian from the North? How dare she don armor and take up a sword like a man? Does she think any man will want such an untamed shieldmaiden, when she might turn on him? Or perhaps she does not care, because she prefers her own sex? I sometimes sense the suppressed excitement in the younger ones, piquing their jaded sensibilities by daring to look upon my alien self. It rankles me to accept hospitality even while I am treated as an oddity. I would become still more odd if I reveal my longing for Aragorn's love—I have no doubt the covert scorn would be open then.
A knock on the door interrupts my thoughts. I turn away from the window with a sigh.
"May I come in, Eowyn?" I recognize the soft voice—Lothiriel of Dol Amroth, my distant kin through my grandmother Morwen of Lossarnach. I relax, for Lothiriel never has questions in her eyes and radiates nothing but decency. I hurry over and open the door. Lothiriel stands on the threshold with a large tray of food. The smells of the different dishes is far more appetizing than the usual foreign fare I am offered. She smiles when she sees the eager look on my face.
"I suspected you were not eating much because of the meals, not because of your health! I contrived to find a cook here in Minas Tirith who actually knows something of Rohan's food, and he prepared heartier fare especially for you, Eowyn."
"T—thank you," I stammer, overwhelmed at her thoughtfulness. Lothiriel places the tray on the table, brushing a lock of chestnut hair off her face that has escaped its neat bun, and begins to lift the plate covers.
"Duck with dried cherries, apple pancakes, good cheese and cider from the Eastfold—and here, we have the most important thing of all!" She reveals it with a flourish. "Mushrooms and peas in a spiced cream sauce, said mushrooms having been specially picked for the Lady Eowyn by one very determined and stubborn little hobbit." Her violet eyes sparkle with laughter. "Despite the edict of the Chief Healer, when Master Merry learned I was arranging a dinner for you, he climbed out a window and persuaded a guard's son to take him to a small wood outside the city walls, just so he could pick the first crop of spring mushrooms. From what I can gather, hobbits are utterly greedy for them, so it is quite a sacrifice for him to give them to you. He is now under strict orders to keep to his room, but he stoutly told me it was worth it if you enjoyed them."
Tears sting my eyes. I cannot believe the depth of friendship this shows—for Merry has his own worries, I know, with his injuries and his kinsmen and friends risking everything at this very moment to destroy the darkness and evil hovering over all Middle-Earth. Yet he still holds me so dear as to take such trouble on my behalf, simply to bring me a little happiness. I feel my cheek grow slightly damp from a stray tear and impatiently dry it with my sleeve, ashamed of my weakness.
"Eowyn, are you ill? What is wrong?" Lothiriel touches my arm, concern creasing her brow.
"I am well, but moved beyond belief at such gallantry—many are the knights of both Gondor and Rohan who could take lessons in courtesy from our noble halfling." I sit down as I straighten my shoulders. "Come, cousin, please join me in eating this splendid supper. It is your doing, after all, and I would like you to share it."
Lothiriel shakes her head. "How I would love to, Eowyn, but I promised the healers to help with some of the other wounded. May I come back later? I shall bring more food, so do not feel obligated to save anything for me."
I force a small smile. "Of course. I shall eat as much as I can—I know how much that will please you."
"Indeed it shall. Goodbye for now, dear cousin."
She leaves in a swirl of lavender skirts, closing the door with a soft click. I allow a sigh to escape. I am delighted with the food, but am lonely; Lothiriel's company would have been very welcome. I lean forward and spear a piece of cherry duck, resolved to make the best of this unlooked for opportunity. I savor the taste; it is as delicious as any made by the finest cooks in Edoras. I sip sweet cider, transported back home as I do, and reach for the mushrooms.
A sudden loud crash just outside my door breaks into my concentration and brings me to my feet. "Who's there?" I demand sharply.
No answer. For a fleeting moment, I wonder if Grima Wormtongue has somehow found his way to Minas Tirith, bent on tormenting me once more. My heart tightens with fear, and I catch my breath. Then I tell myself not to be a fool; it cannot possibly be that evil spawn. I say loudly, "Who is there? Tell me now!" My reply is a small whimper. Truly angry now, I storm over and wrench the door open, ready to deliver a tongue lashing to some clumsy page.
The words die on my lips when I discover the little hobbit on the floor, clutching a small covered plate to his chest as he gazes up at me imploringly.
"Merry Brandybuck!" I exclaim, completely surprised. "What ever are you doing? Are you not suppose to be in your room?"