Disclaimer: The characters herein belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. This is nonprofit fan fiction. No copyright infringement intended.
Sleep does not come to the troubled easily. The Lady Éowyn had much in her mind after the events of the day, and in the early hours of the morning, sleep still evaded her. After only the briefest of rest, she had lain awake on her bed and pondered the happenings of the day over and over.
Four most unusual guests had arrived to the Golden Hall of Théoden King, and their arrival had brought changes. For one, the King's counselor, Grima Wormtongue, had been overthrown from his position and exiled from Rohan. That alone was enough to earn the guests the approval of the King's court, but the visitors had done wonders to the King himself and given him new vigor. They had shared with him tidings of the gathering of enemies, and he had listened to them with the interest that he had lacked for too long a time. It had seemed that the King might even consider Rohan joining the war with Minas Tirith, and that pleased Éowyn, the proud and passionate descendant of the House of Earl.
Though the news of the outside world held great interest to the Lady, to the visitors, it held even more. Gandalf the Grey she knew, of course, but the three other guests were enigmatic. The elf and the dwarf were a sight in the Mark, and the last companions she could have imagined to see with the fourth visitor, Lord Aragorn.
Aragorn intrigued Éowyn. He had not introduced himself with high names, and yet there was something regal about him. His appearances were unruly, but his demeanor was composed and more than dignified. He was not like the lords of Gondor, though he was as tall and impressive as the best of them, and he would certainly not be taken for a man of Rohan, either. Something about him reminded Éowyn of the said grace of the men of Dol Amroth, but she could not say what actually gave that impression.
The thoughts on the new tidings of Rohan's fate, and on the unusual company, denied the Lady of Rohan her rest. Frustrated, she decided on a walk in the garden outside. She donned a warm cloak and slippers, and left her room quietly.
The guards posted by the entrance were surprised to see the lady awake at such an hour, but they bowed and opened the doors at her command. The side door Éowyn had used took her to a small garden, which was more for decoration than for actual gardening of plants or grain. The night was pleasantly dark, and the air was cold and fresh. She enjoyed the chill, and sought a seat on the bench in the shade of the thick bushes.
The peace did not last for long, though. Soon she heard footsteps approaching from behind.
"Halt!" she cried and stood up. "Who is there?"
The footsteps stopped, and a deep voice replied, "It is Aragorn, Lady. May I join your company?"
Relieved and surprised, Éowyn bid him to come forward. With only a few steps, Aragorn stepped out the shadow, and Éowyn realized he must have been much closer than she had guessed. She harshly berated herself for being surprised so easily, and vowed for better vigilance in the future. Aragorn had an air of weariness, though he did not appear sleepy. He was wearing the clothes from the day before. Éowyn noted all this, and guessed rightly that he had not rested.
Aragorn was the first to speak. "I hope I do not disturb you, Lady Éowyn. A word from you, and I will leave you to your thoughts." He sounded apologetic.
"There was nothing to disturb, Lord Aragorn—merely thoughts that were better thought at a better hour."
"I see I am not the only one whom sleep evades tonight," Aragorn said.
"Indeed not. If you are as tired of the lonely night as I am, perhaps you would care to join me for a while?"
"It would be my pleasure, Lady." Aragorn followed the motion and sat on the bench by Éowyn's side.
There was silence, and then Éowyn spoke: "You travel in strange company, my lord. Delighted as we are of your visit, never have the Eorlingas witnessed a man with an elf and a dwarf as travel companions." There was inquiry in that tone, almost a demand for an explanation.
Aragorn gave a laugh. "Indeed, Lady. Strange may my companions seem to you, yet more worthy are hard to find."
"You have, without doubt, shared your mission with the King, but I have not been present at any meetings. Pray tell, what brings your company to Rohan, for I would like to know?"
In reality, the King Théoden had only little knowledge of the true nature of their mission, as Gandalf had sworn the companions to secrecy until the right hour, if ever that came. Éowyn was undoubtedly aware of this, as—even in the royal halls—the walls have ears, and little passed without the knowledge of the Lady of Rohan. Éowyn was seeking to determine, on her own, whether the visitors would bring friends or foes to her land. There was also curiosity in her mind.
Aragorn could hardly deny all knowledge to the Lady, and so he told her about Merry and Pippin. "We came here after a trail of Uruk-hai, who had captured two of our company."
"Who were these men, may I inquire?"
"Not men, but hobbits. Halflings, if you may, for 'hobbit' is the name they use among their kind."
"Halflings? You travel in strange company indeed, Lord Aragorn." Little could the posture of Éowyn betray the curiosity she felt toward the matter, but her tone had youthful excitement. Even a royal maiden, usually forced to conceal emotions, could not hide the desire for knowledge.
Aragorn, however, was seeking a way to divert the conversation to other routes. The Ring and the matters related did not belong in Meduseld, not yet.
"So it may seem. We traveled to Rohan on foot, and, with effort, kept their trail fresh. We might not have been able to rescue them, though, had it not been for the intervention of the éored, led by the Lord Éomer. They slew the orcs in battle, giving our friends the chance to escape. For that, we are ever thankful."
Éowyn's eyes brightened at the mention of her brother. Now, she bade to hear the rest of the tale. "What became of your halfling companions? Why did they not join you to enjoy the hospitality of Théoden King as well?"
"Gandalf the Grey searched for them and sent them on vital errands. The nature of these errands is not mine to tell, and I bid you not ask me of them." With a polite tone and courteous words, Aragorn conveyed that he would not speak of the matter any further, even if it were the Lady's desire.
Éowyn did not ask more. Instead, she chose another approach. "I will not, if that is your wish. But, if it is not a mission of secrecy as well, may I inquire where you and you companions now fare?"
"I, for one, am going to Minas Tirith, where I was heading before the Uruk-hai attacked. For my companions, I cannot tell, for we haven't discussed the matter yet. Much has happened since we learned about the unexpected rescue of our friends, and we have had little chance to consider plans further. If they wish, they shall join me, or return to their respective peoples."
The companions held little value to the Lady Éowyn, for her true interest lay in this grim and kingly man. There was power, even danger, hidden in him, and she felt it, yet was attracted to it. She was also surprised at the ease in which her brother had accepted Aragorn after only the briefest of acquaintances. The Lord Éomer, Marshal of the Mark, was anything but a fool, and Éowyn suspected that he knew more about Aragorn than he revealed.
"Then what does the Lord Aragorn seek in Minas Tirith?" she asked, eager for answers.
"The same as the Lady Éowyn seeks in Rohan," replied Aragorn. "She strives for the good of the people, as does he. I must join the war, Lady."
The war had been discussed tonight briefly. Gandalf, always the doom-bringer, had said that an open war was coming, if not already being fought. As reluctant as the Lord of the Mark was to believe it, their kinsmen at Gondor were facing more than the ever-present threat of Mordor. Gandalf had warned that there was a "malicious presence, feeding off destruction and havoc, willing to destroy anything worthwhile" loose, and it was only a question of time before the havoc would find its way to Rohan. Though not a Gondorian, Aragorn had expressed strong sympathy for its people, and it made sense that he would not stand idle. Aragorn would go to war, and the thought was a bitter reminder to Éowyn of her position. In a flash of anger, she spoke:
"The Lady Éowyn would give everything for her people, if they allowed her to. But, as I am a woman and not a man, they keep me here like a precious jewel, bound to damage if not treated with kid gloves. I handle sword as well as any man, and ride with the ease of a war captain, and yet they will not have me fight."
Éowyn halted there, and turned her head away from Aragorn. As he rightly guessed, she regretted having spoken so openly in front of a stranger, and yet he condemned her not. He could see the nobility and courageous spirit of the Daughter of Kings, and he could only guess what a bane the wrong gender could be to such a personality.
"There may be times ahead, when gender will not matter—only the fighting skills. Then will you, Lady, be in the first ranks of the éored, leading them to victory." Aragorn wished to raise Éowyn's moods, though he dared not hope for victory in this war. At times, he could not deny that the war against Sauron seemed a hopeless one, though he would not have spoken it openly.
Éowyn turned to face Aragorn, and for a moment, their gazes locked into each other. She saw wisdom and a touch of optimism in those gray eyes; in hers, he read sorrow and frustration which were quelling the hope for her people, and for her own happiness.
"Maybe, Lord," replied Éowyn, who had been touched by the kind words. At that moment, she felt inexplicable affection and gratitude toward the stranger who had less than a day ago entered her life and changed it so much.
The delicate moment was broken when heavy footsteps approached them. The nightly garden was not as deserted as it had seemed.
"Aragorn. Lady Éowyn, forgive my interruption."
"What is it, Gimli?"
"I was looking for you. Gandalf has news. Théoden King bids you to come to a council immediately."
After delivering the message, Gimli left them. Aragorn rose from the bench, and turned toward Éowyn.
"Alas, I must beg leave of your company, Lady. Gandalf may have vital news for us."
"Yet it is only you who is summoned to the council, and not I, the Lady of Rohan," said Éowyn, unable to conceal her bitterness. Again, she regretted her thoughtlessness and lack of self-command, both of which the soothing demeanor of the stranger seemed to evoke. She rose from her seat.
Aragorn understood her feelings well, yet he did not know how to comfort her. He merely bowed, and kissed her lightly on the hand. He took a few steps to leave, but then he stopped and turned around.
"The tides will change, Lady Éowyn. When they do, the people of Rohan will trust their lives with you."
"Perhaps," she replied, and added quietly, "Thank you."
Aragorn bowed to her again, and left. The Lady of Rohan stood in the garden for a while, and her spirits were more aloft than they had been in years.
But she answered: "All your words are but to say: you are but a woman, and your part is in the house. [...] But I am of the House of Earl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either death or pain."
"What do you fear, lady?" he asked.
"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.
(Éowyn and Aragorn,
The Return of the King, The Passing of the Grey Company, page 54)
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Hearty thanks to Gypsie (Gypsie Rose) for the beta'ing!
Published November 18, 2003. Revised 2010.