AN- Sorry for the long delay in-between updates! I had an attack by Darth RL, which caused me to put this story aside for a bit. But hopefully, my life will be trouble-free long enough for me to finish this story. There's about 5 chapters remaining to be written, plus a large appendix, then this will be complete.
And yes, Éowyn is a bit of an annoying sod in the second half of this. But I couldn't help it – she really wanted to be a sod, I guess. Enjoy! And thanks for clicking.
"Éomer King located part of the company of orcs, milady. But the rest appear to have disappeared into the mountains."
Éowyn frowned, and flicked at the corner of her veil distractedly. "Did he not search near the fords of Isen? Bandits have sought refuge there before."
Gamling shook his head. An old man during the war of the Ring, he was now ancient by Rohan standards. He walked with two canes, and his face was creased and lined with thousands of tiny wrinkles. But though his body was failing, his mind remained strong. Éomer had years past appointed him an unofficial ambassador to the Gondorian court, in honor of his heroic deeds at Helm's Deep. However, he retained the position because of his straightforwardness and honesty. Éowyn liked the man; he never shied away from voicing his opinion. Gamling provided a helpful perspective on all topics.
"He did. My son's son," he stated, gesturing to a youngish Rider seated among a group of soldiers in the tavern's far corner, "tells me that King Éomer pursued his hunt from the Entwine to north of Isengard. He believes he found only half of the ambush group. I am sorry, milady."
"Tell my brother that he must not cease the chase so quickly. I am certain that if he continued, he would discover the remainder of the party."
Gamling frowned. "Milady, is that necessary? Vengeance will not resurrect the King."
She sat up straighter. "Do not speak nonsense. But should not his murderers pay for their crime? If I allow evil to roam free with no retribution, who knows what may happen next?"
"It was a twist of fate. A sorrowful event, but one still out of our control. Milady, do not become possessed with the desire for revenge. Lord Elessar would not have wished you to act so."
Éowyn tilted her chin downwards and let the delicate fabric shield her face. She had learned that such movements hid her expression from others; it was useful to conceal her pain. She must not look weak. "It was my fault, Gamling. If I had not insisted-"
"No," he cut in. "You did not cause his death. The King knew the dangers of that road, and chose to take it. You should be thankful that the rest of your family survived."
She sighed. "I was always urging him along perilous paths. Glory was foremost in my thoughts; I wanted his name to be renowned, and mine through association. I sacrificed happiness for celebrity. I should never have left Rohan."
Gamling took her hand in his work-hardened one and patted it consolingly. "We all make mistakes. Some more serious than others. But that is no reason for you to wallow in self-pity. Release your grief, instead of caging it inside. Even the bravest warriors may cry."
"I have tried - around the children - to be strong. But I do not know how to comfort them. Anardil is so restless, and it is difficult to speak with him. Gamling, how could you continue on after your wife's death?"
He lowered his head. "It was . . . difficult. I never thought Yrs would leave us so suddenly. At first, it was very painful. How could I survive without her? She had left behind five children, and our youngest was barely twelve years of age. I was not used to raising them, for often I had ridden with the Company assigned to the Westfold while she remained at home. There were times when I wished our places could have been exchanged.
"But I began to look at life one day at a time. Harvest time, then wintertide, then spring - my memories of her remained, but the ache lessened. It did not hurt as much to think of the past. We must always look ahead, milady, but never glance too far into the future. Concentrate on the present. Your love for him will always stay, but as the years increase the pain will begin to fade away."
Éowyn was prepared to correct him when she paused. Why say anything? Why tell anyone the true reason for her elaborate mourning and solemnity - so that no one would discover her feelings towards her husband? She did not love; most likely, she never had. But she would respect him, and show the proper courtesies. She rose quietly and released Gamling's hand. "Thank you for your kind words. I will not forget them."
He nodded gravely. "May you and your children be blessed, Queen."
She left the little building at a quick stride and hurried back to the Citadel. Anardil had been alone for nearly two hours, and she dreaded what damage he could have caused in so long a time. Her skirt trailed against the rough pavement, gathering pale dust on its dark hem. She grabbed a handful of the thick muslin with a gloved hand and held it higher as she marched into the King's Hall.
That was strange. She had expected riotous noise and ear-piercing war cries. Meriadoc and Peregrin had taught her son the most irritating screams several days ago. But there was nothing, not even the sound of footsteps.
Éowyn crept towards her chamber softly. Perhaps Míriel was taking her afternoon nap. Then one of her waiting women might have consigned Anardil to the courtyard for play; however, she had not seen him. She turned the corner and nearly collided with a tall man hiding behind the doorway. Her veil twisted sideways, her foot caught on a loose stone, she staggered backwards - he grabbed her arm and steadied her as she regained her balance.
"Milady, are you hurt?"
She blinked and looked up dizzily. It was Faramir. "Lord Steward. I am not injured. May I ask, though, what you are doing in my chambers?"
He smiled. "The Prince requested I play a game with him." He motioned towards a shaking, sniggering curtain. "Excuse me one moment."
Éowyn sank down into a chair in the corner and watched mutely. The drapery continued to move and quake, then a small black head peeked out from the side. She waved; Faramir looked around the room, perplexed, and searched under a table. "My Queen, I cannot seem to find him."
The laughing increased, and Faramir winked. She bit her lip in an attempt to not giggle and pointed towards the cradle. "Have you tried over there, Lord Steward?"
"I do not think the Prince desires to become an infant again, milady. Perhaps . . ."
He pulled back the curtain, and Anardil jumped out happily. "I would never have thought!"
Éowyn stood and took her son's hand possessively. "Now, that is enough fun for one day. Go to your lessons. What did you wish to speak with me of, Lord Faramir?"
Faramir straightened, and resumed a serious expression. "I have come to offer my extreme condolences on the death of your husband, milady. In a time of such sorrow, I think it right that I-"
She held up a hand. "Excuse me, milord, but first I must thank you. So much. Anardil has been - for the past fortnight - almost intolerable. You have made him happy. And please, let us speak outside. I cannot bear this darkness any more."
Éowyn smiled bitterly to herself as she watched her brother stomp across the ramparts of the Houses of Healing towards her. His attire was elegant and kingly; his demeanor greatly lacking in noble patience. Éomer slowed to a halt beside her, then leaned his arms across the wall as he studied the fields below.
"I thought that the Warden had granted you leave to return to Meduseld."
"He did. But I prefer this House, for those within do not force me to partake in celebrations of which I hold no interest."
His gaze shifted from the Pelennor to the garden behind them, and he frowned. "The people of the Mark place you in great esteem. You disappoint them by remaining in Gondor."
She set her lips firmly. "There is nothing for me in Edoras. You know why the King has sent for you?"
"When I arrived in Minas Tirith this morn, he summoned me to the King's Hall and announced his intentions. Do you grant them full willing?"
"Sister, I do not understand. You wish to accept his hand?"
Éowyn nodded. "Must I repeat it again? You grow slower, not swifter in your old age, brother."
He ignored the mild affront and turned his attention towards her. "I did not expect such news. Elessar was betrothed to the Lady Arwen mere weeks ago. Think not ill of me if I say that such a proposal seems rash."
"Rash? In what way?"
"Do not have to adopt pretenses with me, Éowyn. Before the Battle of the Morannon, the King and I spoke of these matters. It would be folly for you to wed him, for neither of you feel anything towards the other. You deserve more than a loveless marriage."
She ground her palms together and assumed an expression of forced composure. "Ah, but you forget. I am a shieldmaiden, a passive resident in a lonely house. Becoming Queen of Gondor might perhaps be an improvement over my current situation."
"I speak no jest. If not love, then what may Elessar offer you in matrimony?"
"The sustaining power of a fame that extends beyond our own people; the dream of allowing my name and legacy to live on past the faulty memory of the Riddermark. I love our homeland, brother, but if I stay in Rohan I resign myself to an unfulfilled life."
Éomer's eyes shifted from an open blue to cold, unflinching ice. "I have never heard such absurdity before. Renown and celebrity are lofty goals, but I would not consider them the most important of achievements. Love for one's family, one's people, one's country: that should be foremost in one's heart. I would have thought that your experiences during the Battle of Pelennor Fields would have caused you to realize that."
"You cannot even imagine what I learned during the war," she said, pointing towards the ground far below. "Life is far too short to waste it dreaming about futile ideals. You know what the people of Gondor call the Rohirrim, Éomer? 'A lesser race.' Twill not be long before we join our Uncle under the simbelmynë. I want to seize any chance at immortality, even if 'tis only the possibility of having my name preserved in the Annals of the Kings. I may not be eternally blissful as the Queen of Gondor, but at least I will be remembered."
"Not all greatness bears a title. If you wed Elessar, your name may not be forgotten, but what of your character? Recollection may be negative as well."
Éowyn turned back towards the house. "Do you wish to hinder my decision, then?"
He shook his head, his eyes slowly softening. "No. If you truly wish to be trothplighted to the King, I will not interfere. However, I believe you should not rush into this marriage impetuously. Fate has a reason for everything that occurs, and I do not necessarily feel that the death of Lady Arwen should lead to this arrangement."
"Pardon me if I disagree. Moreover," she stated, studying the blossoms on a nearby flowering tree, "there is absolutely nothing to prevent me from accepting his offer."