Théodred set his cousin down. Her hair was mussed, half-spilling out of her thick plait, shining like spun gold. Her room was small and near her brother's so that she could creep into his room at night, if she felt the need. That there was only one small window, usually covered by a heavy woolen curtain, and the walls were panelled with heavy wood meant that her room was almost always dark. She sat up straight, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and her mouth was set. He hunkered down to take off her shoes as she said, "I can undress myself, you know." Éowyn looked distinctly irritated with him, and Théodred thought it best to give in tonight – her stubbornness was legendary.
He pulled her long white nightgown out from under her pillow and handed it to her. "Fine, then." She took it from him, and gave him a look signifying her deep and unending suspicion, and Théodred had to stifle a laugh. His cousin flounced over to the small wooden screen and proceeded to get changed behind it. She flung her clothes from behind it, and he had to pick them up – a heavy velvet green dress, a linen shift, and thick woollen stockings. He hung them over the board at the end of the bed, and waited for her to emerge. The dying embers of the fire filled the room with a low light; Éowyn's few toys were clustered in front of it – that was where she played.
Éowyn had clung to him a little since her arrival a year before. She was a little frightened of his father the king, and besides, Théodred had been the only person who wasn't unnerved by her silence. Until today, that was; a stranger had arrived from the South, and suddenly his cousin had found her voice. Théodred knew little of the dark man, save that his father knew him, and his name was Thorongil. He had an urgent journey far in the North, and would leave the very next morning for the Gap of Rohan – it must be urgent indeed for him to travel in the middle of winter.
Éowyn emerged from behind the screen, twisting her shoulders in an attempt to reach the end of her plait. "I can't reach the tie, Théodred!" She sounded like she was about to start whining, and he was certain he wouldn't be able to stand it, so he turned her round and swiftly undid the leather tie. She sat beside him on the bed and let him brush out her hair. As usual she twisted and turned like a fish whenever he hit a knot, except tonight it was accompanied by shrieks, and finally an anguished complaint, "You're hurting me, Théodred!"
Finally he managed to get her into bed. It was something of a struggle, but he managed it. When Éowyn's nurse told him that he could do it quicker than anyone he had shuddered out of sympathy for the poor woman; he found it difficult enough as it was. Perhaps it was because, by some chance, he resembled her father.
Éowyn was bright-eyed with tiredness but she sat up to ask him a question. "That man, Thorongil, he's very handsome, isn't he?" Théodred was aghast; Éowyn was only eight years old! She wasn't supposed to notice things like that! But the little girl wasn't finished; she looked down at her hands and said, "Only Éomer said that only people with gold hair could be beautiful, but it's not true, is it? Sometimes black hair can be nice too. Can't it?"
Finally Théodred let his laughter go; the ideas Éomer put into his sister's head! Poor thing – she believed everything her older brother told her without question. He must speak with Éomer about that particular prejudice, though – the young hellion was quite capable of mentioning it in front of their Gondorian allies, and Théodred doubted it would go down well with them.
He bent to tuck Éowyn in, but it was plain that something else was bothering her. She looked up at him, and her mouth quivered and she said "Am I really like Mama?" Théodred swallowed his smile at the look on her face; obviously this was important. His voice was serious as he said, "You look very like her, Éowyn. And my father says she was very like you when she was young."
"I don't want to be."
"Cause Mama died. She got sad and she died, and she left us all alone! I don't want to die, Théodred. I don't want to be like Mama."
How to explain this? All she knew was that her mother was dead; that her mother had despaired of life, and left her daughter behind. She had been forced to watch as Théodwyn wasted away, for there had been few nurses in the Eastfold, and when no one else could, a six year old had been deemed strong enough to sit with a dying woman. He touched her face. "Éowyn? Look at me, child. Your mother was never very strong, and she loved your father very much."
"More than she loved me?"
"No, sweetheart – it was just different, that's all. And you're different too, Éowyn."
"Will I die too?"
Théodred sighed, and thought that perhaps, for once, the simplest answer would be best. "No, Éowyn – you'll never die, you're too strong for that." She seemed comforted, and snuggled down in the bedclothes. Her four-poster bed was large enough for four of her, and took up most of the room. He tucked her fleece around her face; she'd had it since the day she was born, a gift from his father, and showed no sign of letting go of it. She smiled up at him sleepily and said, "That man smelt nice, Théodred, like that plant Mama used to grow."
He smiled at her and tousled her hair. Bending down he kissed her forehead, and growled, "Now go to sleep!" She was nearly there, but he asked anyway, "Do you want the candle?" She yawned and said, "No. It's a wooden house, if you left the candle, the house might burn down." Éomer said the same thing sometimes – though as he was now twelve, he was attempting to leave such 'childish' things behind – some of the similarities between them were almost eerie. Perhaps Éomund had told them that – it sounded like the kind of thing he would have said.
Théodred bent and blew out the candle. He waved at Éowyn from the door, but could tell that, with her eyes half-closed, she hadn't seen it. He walked back to the hall, where he would drink with his father and their guests, all the time musing over what Éowyn had said. He wished his aunt and uncle had lived; he doubted very much that he or his father could give Éowyn and Éomer what they needed.Author's Note
"To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;"
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1