"You fool! No man can kill me!"
The Witch-King of Angmar prepared to deliver the killing blow, but in this bleakest hour, the halfling came to Dernhelm's aid, stabbing the monster in the knee with his small blade.
No man. Yet Dernhelm was a man. Should he just let the dwimmerlaik win? No! He staggered to his feet. "I will try." With that, he drove his sword into the creature's face, or where the face would be in a living man.
When he came to himself, his brother Éomer was there, and confirmed his fear; Theoden King has fallen.
"What about the dwimmerlaik? Is it ...?"
"Dead, slain by the holbytla."
"Hobbit", Dernhelm corrected.
"Alright. Hobbit, then. It seems not being, strictly speaking, a member of mankind, he was able to do what the creature said no man could do."
"That is a relief." Of course. Merry had dealth the killing blow. It could not have been otherwise.
"My brother ..." Éomer spoke in a whisper. "I must ask you to maintain the pretense that you are a woman, as long as you are in the Houses of Healing, or at least as long as your arm is not healed. They would not understand."
Dernhelm closed his eyes. "You know I loathe to be called a lady. Do you not remember that Wormtongue did so?" And even speaking the name left a bad taste in Dernhelm's mouth.
"I know I ask much. Yet ... you need not speak much to anyone. Keep to yourself. You know they would not understand, and here you are in the hands of healers. They might think you out of your mind, and keep you here longer than needed for that reason."
Dernhelm had to agree. But it was with a heavy heart that he said farewell.
He tried to heed his brother's counsel, and keep to himself. Yet sitting idle was not for him, and as soon as he was enough recovered to get out of bed, he asked for clothes.
What was offered to him was, predictably, a woman's dress. How demeaning to a Rider of Rohan! But he would have to make do, pretend to himself that it was not much different from a robe, and did not wizards wear robes?
Talking to the Steward in a woman's dress would not help his case. But he had to try.
Predictably, the Warden introduced him to the Steward as Éowyn, Princess of Rohan.
Dernhelm stated his case, made it clear that he was a warrior, and would seek death in battle, now that all hope was lost.
"What would you have me do, my Lady?"
Dernhelm ground his teeth. This would not do! "Order the Warden to release me!"
With infuriating calm, the Steward stated that the host had already left. Dernhelm persisted, and finally, the Steward offered him at least the freedom to walk in the gardens. Though he did as much as demand Dernhelm's company as payment for this, claiming that it would make him feel better.
When Dernhelm asked why, and would not back off, Faramir spoke of beauty. Beauty!
"I am not one of your decorative Gondorean maidens!" No maiden at all! "I do not exist to please your eyes, Steward, and would rather stay in my room than suffer such insults!"
The Steward stumbled backwards as though Dernhelm had hit him. "I beg your forgiveness, Lady. You asked for a honest answer, and that was it. I never meant to imply that beauty should be your purpose in life."
Dernhelm turned and went back to his room.
Much to his surprise, the next morning, the women who helped him dress said that the Warden had given him permission to walk in the gardens, and that as soon as a room with a window to the east was free, he would be given it.
So perhaps the foolish Steward had not given up hope yet. Dernhelm loathed to be predictable, but in the end, his desire to at least see the sky won.
He considered asking where the Steward was, so that he could avoid the insolent man, but this would be most likely interpreted as wish to see him. And it would be mistaken for ... perhaps even for a maidenly crush!
Dernhelm well remembered how Aragorn had mistaken him for a shieldmaiden, and his admiration for a worthy warrior for ... for girlish nonsense!
So he ventured outside without inquiring after the Steward. And as bad luck would have it, the Steward was out there, gazing at the few early flowers. What a wimp!
"We will be overrun by the enemy ere these flowers wilt", Dernhelm stated. "Your arms are hale, why not grab a sword and ride to battle? The host has left, yet a lone rider may still overtake them. But I forget, you are no warrior."
The Steward froze. "I am a ranger, and the wound that brought me here was acquired in battle", he said slowly. "Yet you are right, at heart, I am not a warrior, for I love not the sword, only what it protects. You would like my brother better than me."
"Where is he, that brother of yours? Ridden to battle, I would wager, for there is no other reason why I would like him better."
"Dead", the Steward replied quietly. "Boromir is dead."
"Boromir." The name rung a bell. "I have heard of him. He fought valiantly, and his death was honourable enough. You are right, I should have liked him."
"I thought so." The Steward's voice sounded choked, as though he was crying.
"Do not mourn him, then, for he found a glorious death, while you will be slaughtered like a dog. Envy him."
"Rest assured, I do." He turned, and now Dernhelm could see that he was indeed crying like a little girl. How pathetic!
"Is it your own fate you mourn, then?"
"In part, it may be." He schooled his expression, and the tears seemed like drops of rain now. "Tell me of your deeds. I have hard that it was you who smote the witch-king of Angmar."
"I drove my sword deep into his face. What then became of him, I know not, for his foul magic then got to me."
The Steward nodded. "Was your shield-arm already broken, then?"
"It was. And had not Merry – Meriadoc, that is – attacked him, I would not have stood a chance. It might have been him who dealt the killing strike."
"Your modesty is admirable."
"I merely speak the truth."
There was a long silence after that, and at last, the Steward turned to wards the flowerbed again.
"What of your deeds? You claim to have been wounded by the same enemy as me."
Not bothering to turn around, the Steward gave a short account of a battle that Dernhelm could not imagine this delicate scholar taking part in.
"You are pulling my leg."
"It would hardly be appropriate for me to touch a lady's leg", the Steward replied drily, and Dernhelm wanted to hit him. Could he not see that Dernhelm was no lady? Moreover, had he perhaps used the wrong word in the common tongue and was now being made fun of?
"You have not mentioned the dwimmerlaik, yet."
"Patience. I shall get to that."
His report left Dernhelm no other choice but to grudgingly respect him, for no one could have made up the feelings that the Black Breath brought. This pathetic man must speak the truth, unlikely as it seemed.
As there was no other distraction to be found in the Houses of Healing, and the healers would not let him into Merry's room, Dernhelm often walked in the gardens, and more often than not met the Steward there. Out of sheer boredom, Dernhelm talked to him, and inquired the names of all the flowers. Surprisingly, the Steward knew them all.
It was cold, and though Dernhelm would not admit it, more often than not, it was the cold temperatures that made him retreat inside the houses.
One time, he could not stop his teeth from chattering.
"I would offer you my cloak, my Lady, but I fear you would not like that."
"You are right."
"I could send someone to fetch my brother's old cloak. Would you accept that?"
"It would be preferable to no cloak at all."
"Surely, some old blanket can be found, that would be fit to be used as cloak, but it would cause gossip. People would see it as insult to Rohan." He paused. "I must admit that giving you Boromir's cloak would also lead to that."
"It is a soldier's cloak, not befitting your station. The only garment that I could offer that would befit your station would be one that my lady mother owned, and you would never accept that."
"That is true."
"I thought so."