FEAR NO DARKNESS
Rated: PG-13 (for violence)
Author's Note: Welcome to another and much delayed instalment of Tales from the Hall of Fire. Has it really been almost over a year since I wrote fanfiction?
This story idea has to be accredited to a reviewer named 'natalie', who suggested in a review for Good-bye that I should write about Éowyn's adventures on Pelennor Fields. That was my intent at first, but it sort of morphed into something a little different, just because I realized that the fight lacked any kind of climax.
Herein lays the results. This story could tie in with Good-bye (as a prelude) and For Those They Love (as a sequel from Éomer's POV), but it works well as a stand alone too.
I'm also dedicating this to Dom, as a thanks for putting me in the mood to write fanfiction again.
Spoiler: A big fat spoiler starts this story (and has you assume knowledge), so if you haven't read up to Chapter six (The Battle of Pelennor Fields) of The Return of the King or watched all three of Peter Jackson's movie adoptions, I strongly advise against reading this fanfiction. Otherwise, go crazy.
Disclaimer: I am not the owner nor creator nor the writer of Middle-earth or The Lord of the Rings, nor am I owner of any of the movies. I am not making any money out of this and am doing this for pure personal enjoyment and creative speculation and indulgment.
Any canonical and grammar errors are slips of my own (and will be glad to correct it if pointed out).
Synopsis: Éowyn stands on the brink of darkness and despair as she looks upon battle seeking glory and death. Yet unlooked for, she discovers love and courage in what was her greatest challenge...
There was no sun to be seen on this day, staring down at the dark host that blanketed the fields of Pelennor like a dark tide, ready to swallow any and all that dared try to stand against it.
But if there was to be a sun on this fell dawn, Éowyn, Éomund's daughter, would not have seen nor felt its warmth. Her heart was as cold and frozen as mid-winter's frost. Long forgotten was the warmth of spring, or the joys of life. Her eyes were clouded with the shadows of her own thoughts, and she saw not a terrible slaughter before the gates of Gondor, but merely an instrument to a glorious end. It was for this end she had forsaken her people at Dunharrow and had abandoned her duties to find.
She choked back a bitter laugh at the thought of her duties. It was her duties that had denied her what she wished most in this world. But alas! to be trapped in the body of a maiden she had been cast aside, left to play nursemaid, unable to prove her worth or mettle. She was left at home, like the furniture one sits upon, a person of little use unless it served them some purpose.
Yet no longer. In her madness she had taken on the visage of a common Rohirrim soldier and had ridden with the host to what was most likely her doom. But she was not afraid, if only by her death would she be granted the glory she so desperately sought, and was oft denied.
However, as the Rohirrim halted once again, the City nearer in view, she could not help but think the freedom she found tasted as bitter as the acrid smoke that hung in the air and as dark as the shadow of death that loomed over them.
Her steed, Windfola, shifted nervously as did many others for they had become uneasy, knowing well the foul stench of blood and rotting flesh. The hobbit, Meriadoc, with whom Éowyn had taken on as a companion as they rode out of Edoras, stirred behind her. Perhaps it was out of discomfort, but more likely it was out of fear of what was to come. Éowyn felt her heart go out to the little hobbit, for though he had longed to ride to battle, he did not have a death wish as she did. He did not ride to battle for death or glory, but for his friends; for those who already marched before him to war.
She wished to comfort the small Halfling, to tell him that there was still hope, though she herself felt none. But he had not recognized her and she decided that it was better that he did not know who he rode with. So they had not spoken to each other since that day, each keeping a respectful but silent distance from each other, only coming together when they rode. Even now she held her tongue, though all the Orcs in Mordor were before them, when there was little hope to turn aside.
"It will soon be over," she whispered to herself, tightening her grip on her spear, her cold, grey eyes looking down upon the agony that was Minas Tirith.
Uncalled for and unexpectedly, a breath of wind brushed past Éowyn, sweeping away the smell of death for but a moment and bringing with it the sweet, salty smell of the Sea. A loud boom soon followed as lightning seemed to have sprung from beneath the City to the heavens. But as quickly as it had come, it disappeared into the darkness beyond.
It was as if this great sound was the call to battle. Her Liege's voice rose up above the din of battle below, his voice clear and strong, unlike any she had ever heard from him.
Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield shall be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
Éowyn's eyes widened as she watched him seize a great horn from his banner-bearer and blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. She thought her eyes deceived her, for here was not the uncle she had nursed in his failing, standing so proud and tall in the stirrups of Snowmane, his great steed. Here was not the dotard she had waited on, but a King, tall and proud as those of old.
The horns of the Rohirrim rose up to answer Théoden's fading call, and soon the hills were ringing with the music of Rohan, as great and terrible as the rolling thunder of an intense and powerful storm. But Éowyn barely heard the horns. Her eyes were instead fixed on her uncle and wonder filled her gaze as she watched Snowmane spring away, his terrible war cry echoing across the hills of Gondor, and into legend.
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
"To Gondor!" echoed the great host, severing Éowyn's trance as they charged down to meet their foe in battle.
Éowyn kicked her horse into a fierce gallop after Théoden, but he could not be overtaken. It seemed he had been taken by the battle-fury of his fathers, and he could not be matched. And her gaze remained transfixed on her King filled with wonder at his transformation, recalling only the dotard that caged her to duty.
"For what purpose would we send out Rohan's Heir and only son to the Fords of Isen?"
Éowyn looked up suddenly as her brother, Éomer, storm into Meduseld his voice ringing in frustration. Surprise was written on her features when she saw that he was followed closely by Théodred, the son of the King's, who appeared if not confused, then concerned.
"What is the meaning of this, marching into the Golden Hall filled with such rage?" she asked officially from where she should just behind the King. "Should you not be readying yourself to ride?"
But Éomer seemed not to have heard her as he stopped in front of Théoden, his eyes blazing in his wrath. Without a bow or acknowledgement, he continued, "Have I not already volunteered myself and my eored for this task? Have I not already sworn my service?"
"Peace, cousin," said Théodred cautiously. "At least show some courtesy and respect. You are in the presence of your King."
"I care only for an answer," said Éomer simply.
Éowyn was about to reprimand her brother for his attitude, but a fourth voice, in a silky, almost smooth drawl said: "The King speaks not to those who argues his decisions."
All turned to look upon a pale and grim man. She had not known he was there; it was as if he had materialized from the shadows. His dark hooded eyes stared up at the three Rohirrim, observing them carefully as he walked slowly forward to stand on the stairs below the dais. "Why should he even speak to those who do not trust his judgements?"
Éomer's expression hardened. "Gríma," he growled. "I should have known you had something to do with this madness."
"Madness, Éomer?" said Gríma with a slight hiss. "I assure you, Théoden is far from mad. Weary, perhaps, and very ill. But when having to put up with insubordinates such as you, it is hardly a surprise that he is tires easily in his failing."
Éomer sputtered angrily and had to be calmed by Théodred, who clamped a gauntleted hand on his cousin's shoulder. "Be wary, counsellor," Théodred said in a low voice, "for though you may be my father's most trusted advisor, I am still his son, and I would ask for you to show more respect to our cousin. Éomer only wishes to know for what reason he was usurped from a mission that was originally his."
Éowyn watched in silence, noting the trembling of her brother's hand. She knew well the anger that was slowly clawing at Éomer from within; she could see it in his eyes. That he had not yet drawn his sword against Gríma was only for the love of their cousin, Théodred. Yet she feared – nay, knew in her heart that if Théodred was to depart for the Westmark and the Fords, and Éomer was forced to remain to protect Edoras that it would not be long before Éomer either did something foolhardy so as to get himself slain, or arrested.
Éomer needed to escape from Edoras and from the influence Gríma had on his emotions. That was why he had been so eager to take on the seemingly dangerous mission of re-enforcing the defence at the Fords of Isen. And now he was denied his escape.
"Does he not think his uncle would know best the ways to defend his land and people?" said Gríma. "Your distrust concerns me, Éomer."
"I distrust not my King but those he consorts with that may bend his will to theirs," said Éomer crisply, glaring heavily at the shorter, darker man that was Gríma.
"Brother, let Théodred speak to his father," said Éowyn quickly, for she could see the situation was degenerating quickly, and worry for her brother sparked fear within her.
But Gríma spoke over her, his dark eyes bright and almost taunting. "You best control your temper, Third Marshal of the Mark," said Gríma, "or you may find yourself speaking words that you may later regret, or else, put yourself in a considerable amount of trouble."
"Is that a challenge, worm?" snapped Éomer.
"Enough, Éomer," snapped Théodred suddenly. "I would suggest you to stop, cousin, before you may say things you will regret, and so not to force me to do what I am obliged to do under the King. Let me speak."
"You would disregard the duties you have been assigned for the selfish needs and wants of your discourteous cousin, Théodred?" said Gríma.
"I understand the changes little better than my cousin does, Gríma," said Théodred testily. "And I would like to know why suddenly I am to be sent away from my father's side as his protector and instead made to ride off. Would I not be more suitable to protect the King?"
Eowyn knelt down next to her uncle as the men argued; looking upon him to see if all was well. His eyes were closed, as if in rest. His shallow breathing made it difficult for her to know whether or not he was conscious, or even alive. But it was too much to hope that he was indeed dead, she thought bitterly. She immediately repented her dark notion, reminding herself that it was he who had raised her in her youth, when her parents had passed on to the greener fields of this world. And yet her heart continued to hope that one morning he would too pass, and so end his suffering, and hers.
A blanket, richly embroidered with delicate gold vines on green velvet wrapped around Théoden's thin shoulders, had slipped on his left side, to reveal yet another blanket – a thinner blanket of sheer brown linen. The hall was not cold, but it seemed as if the King, in sickness and in old age, ever needed more cover, more protection against the darkness that was slowly seeping into Rohan. Today especially he appeared tired and as ill as ever, needing as much attention and care as an infant.
And there was only she to watch him; only she to care for him, more and more his nursemaid than a Lady of his court and his niece.
"Safe?" snorted Éomer loudly, drawing her from her dark thoughts as she looked up at her brother. "You would believe the Fords of Isen is safer than Edoras, wouldn't you, Gríma? Now do explain to myself and my cousin, what is safe about the border that stands between Rohan and Isengard, pray tell, Gríma?"
"Is not what you said enough reason?" said Gríma coolly, although his small eyes seem now to dart between Théoden King and the two Marshals of the Mark. "What evils would come out of Isengard?"
Éomer's laugh was cold and derisive. "Indeed, Grima. What evils would come from Isengard, other than Orcs and the Wildmen of Dunland! You may have forgotten that Saruman betrayed us, but I am not as near-sighted or daft as you appear to be, Wormtongue," hissed Éomer.
"What do you mean Saruman betrayed us?"
All those present, including Éowyn, turned suddenly to look upon their King. His eyes were open now, to reveal eyes full of weariness. Much energy was used to lift his head as he croaked, "What is the meaning of this, Gríma?"
"Nothing that you should be concerned with," said Gríma quickly, walking to Théoden's throne and taking a thin, withered hand into his, speaking softly. "Saruman has certainly not betrayed us. Long has he sworn to -"
"A pack of lies if I have ever heard any!" roared Éomer, interrupting Gríma. "Have reports of Saruman's Orcs plundering our land and killing our people not been enough indication to his betrayal? This is madness, uncle!"
"There is no proof that it was indeed Orcs of Saruman!" snapped Gríma. "How would you not know that they are not some vagabond band from the mountains?"
"Surely you are not serious!" said Théodred, his voice full of surprise. "Long have we've been informed of Saruman's treachery to Rohan. What devilry is this?"
"Silence!" said the King suddenly. "I have heard enough from all of you! Saruman has long been a friend of our people, and had come to our aid many times in the years he has resided in Isengard. And there is indeed no proof of Saruman's betrayal, only hearsay."
"Is not the words of Gandalf…" started Éomer angrily, but was stopped in shock as the King stood up suddenly, the blankets falling from his shoulders.
"Speak not that name!" roared Théoden, his eyes blazing in anger. "Speak not the name of that accursed being who stole one of the Mearas from our people, and brings naught but grief to Rohan!"
A hush fell on the Hall. Éowyn cried out as she quickly took her uncle's arm to steady him, the fire that was in Théoden only a moment before seeming to fade as quickly as it came. He staggered as he struggled to regain his balance. She felt Théoden take her shoulder, using her like a wooden staff as he leaned on her heavily, barely acknowledging her or even thanking her. She grimaced, but held her silence, as she led him back to his seat and once more wrapped his blankets around him, her fingers trembling.
How she despised his degenerating form in his illness, his constant reliance of her support. She hated how frail his face appeared, how thin his hands have become, and how pale he looked, once so strong and proud in their prime.
But those days were almost forgotten. Now, it was as if he had not seen the daylight, nor has he ridden the green fields of Rohan in many a year. Instead he remained within the silent halls of the King, and she with him, Théoden acting like the leash that held her, both withering away in darkness.
How often had Éowyn looked towards the free green fields beyond the doors of the Hall, wishing to be out there underneath the sun? How often had she stared at the richly decorated tapestries that hung from the walls, wishing to experience such courage and freedom? But there was no sun, no glory and no free air for her to gain.
"Théodred shall go to the Fords of Isen," said Théoden. "You are to stay here, Éomer."
"I beseech you, majesty," cried Éomer desperately. "For the safety of your son…"
"I've had enough of your petty arguments!" said Théoden with a vicious cough. "Do you hear me, both of you?"
Théodred looked sadly at Théoden - his father - bowing. "As you wish, father." His tone was the sound of one who was defeated, and cheerless, for he knew that this mission was likely one that would lead to his doom.
Éomer's expression changed to that disappointment and anger. Instead of answering Théoden, he turned away. "I am done here," he spat, his voice full of loathing and disgust as he walked to exit the Golden Hall. "I've had enough of this miserable discussion."
"Éomer..." called Théodred as he raced after his cousin to console him.
Éowyn stared as they left the Hall, sadness filling her heart as she watched them both leave, perhaps for the last time. In her heart, she knew that this was not right, but who would listen to a woman's opinion? Her own brother would not even acknowledge her presence in the hall, or even answer her when she spoke, as ignorable as the tapestries that hung on the wall.
How she envied her brother and her cousin! How she wished she could have followed them outside and then beyond - to the Fords of Isen even, though she may find her end. But she cared not now. Surely death was more pleasant than the life she was forced to live now.
Her life was meaningless.
Black blood dripped from the spear in her hand as Windfola reared in battle. The black serpent of the Haradrim had foundered and failed and its cavalry was driven back, away from the wrath that was Théoden in battle. She watched as Théoden turned his horse, as if to spur it towards the Gates of Minas Tirith and win back the City.
But lo! suddenly in the midst of the glory of the king his golden shield was dimmed. The new morning was blotted from the sky. Dark fell about him.
Windfola was taken by a madness Éowyn could not see, and it screamed in terror. Éowyn's attempts to control the horse were too late, and it wildly reared. Éowyn felt herself slip from the saddle as the horse bucked and twisted, and Éowyn was thrown into the air. She landed on the hard and blood-soaked battleground, barely avoiding being trampled by her own horse as it fled, its mouth foaming in panic and madness.
Éowyn groaned, dazed and confused, trying best to forget the pain that lanced across her chest for landing on her armour. The shaft of her spear was snapped in two and she discarded it for a shield, lost by one of the Riddermark.
In the distance it seemed she heard her uncle call out: "To me! To me! Up Eorlingas! Fear no darkness!" She turned her eyes in his direction and saw that Snowmane was wild with terror. The horse stood up on high, fighting with the air, screaming in terror, before a black dart pierced it, ending its life.
"Uncle," screamed Éowyn, as Snowmane crashed upon his side, the King falling beneath his steed. But her voice was raspy and thin, and faded into the screams and cries of battle and war. With great effort she rose to her feet, intent on running to her Lord's aid, but before she could take a step towards him, a great shadow descended like a falling cloud.
And behold! it was a winged creature, its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, but Éowyn knew only that it was a creature of great evil, for it had the mark of Mordor on it: dark, black and terrible.
She stared in horror as it settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck to reveal its master, a black-mantled shape, huge and threatening. Fear and darkness gripped Éowyn's heart as she stared up in horror at the Lord of the Nazgûl, a crown of steel on what appeared to be his brow. A great mace he wielded and hiss from the void between his crown and his great black mantle froze Éowyn from within.
But though she felt great fear, she noticed again her Uncle, his body crushed beneath his own steed. Her mind raced with dark thoughts of how he had treated her, but those thoughts faded quickly into tears as Éowyn wept, and she saw only love for her uncle.
Suddenly, her heart filled with a courage borne on love and devotion. Faithful beyond fear, she cried out in a voice strong and clear, "Begone foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!"
A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye."
Éowyn did not waver in fear or cowered at his words, for there was nothing to fear in what he said to her. For in her heart already she had been borne to the houses of lamentation, already had her mind been left naked. And long has her flesh been devoured by her own darkness.
So she only drew her sword and said: "Do what you will, but I will hinder it, if I may." Little hope she had in herself, and she did not deny that she may well die on this day, but she would not have her Lord's body mistreated by this spirit of evil.
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
And suddenly, Éowyn laughed, its sound cold and harsh on the wide battlefield of Pelennor. A vicious smile on her face and her voice ringing like steel, she said: "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him!" And in a moment of courage she removed the helm that trapped her hair beneath, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, fell about her shoulders in golden waves.
The winged creature screamed at her, but she stood her ground, her grey eyes hard and fell, tears still falling from them as she glared at the Ringwraith, who made no answer and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. She raised her shield in protection as the wraith's horrible eyes fixed on her, studying her carefully.
Suddenly the great beast beat its horrible wings, and the wind of them was foul, causing Éowyn's eyes to water and her to wretch slightly. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
But Éowyn did not falter as she watched the creature come towards her. She was a shield-maiden of Rohan, a descendant of kings and heroes. Their blood coursed through her veins. And she would not be afraid.
At the last moment, she twisted aside dealt the creature a swift and powerful stroke, skilled and deadly. Her blade dug deeply into the outstretched neck. And with strength unlooked for in maidens, and a scream that echoed through the ages she clove the head asunder. Foul acrid blood sprayed her armour and face as the hewn head fell like a stone.
Backward she sprung, her eyes watering from the pain of the blood on her face, wiping it hastily with a sleeve, she watched the huge shape crash to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth: and with its fall the shadow passed away.
But out of the wreck rose the Ringwraith, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung her ears like venom he let fall his mace.
Éowyn was not ready for the attack. All her energy was spent having killed the great beast in which the Nazgûl rode, and she was not fit to fight it. Her heart was weary and her eyes were growing dark as her courage faded and despair began to again take her.
She lifted her shield to protect herself, but little it did against the weight and the power of the mace that the Black Rider swung. She screamed as the shield was shattered into many pieces, and she needed not a healer to know that her arm was broken. She stumbled to her knees, her face contorted in pain, hopelessness washing over her like a dark tide, the darkness nearly consuming her as the wraith bent over her like a cloud, and his red eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
This was the end. The world of men will fall, and all would come to darkness.
She closed her eyes as she gripped the sword still in her right hand tightly, hoping death would take her swiftly. At the very least, she achieved the glorious death she sought.
Suddenly, she heard a cry of bitter pain, and felt wind whistle by her ear. She felt the ground beneath her tremble as the mace was driving into the ground beside her. His stroke went wide.
"Éowyn! Éowyn!" she heard someone call to her.
"Merry?" she thought in awe. She opened her eyes.
The Nazgûl had stumbled forward, why she did not know, but it mattered not now. Tottering, struggling up, she gathered the last of her strength and courage. Sweat poured down the sides of her face and she grimaced in pain. With a cry she drove her sword forward, between the crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her.
The sword broke in her hands, sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang.
She was spent. A sudden cold gripped her as she fell forward upon her fallen foe. She no longer knew the pain that resounded from her broken shield arm, and it was as if she was suddenly consumed by darkness as she collapsed. Courage was no more, and there was only despair.
She could not help but think of the irony of her fate. She had rode seeking death and glory, thinking it to cure her of her despair. She had found first glory, and now death, and yet she was as lost as when she had ridden out and colder still.
Still it was winter within her heart, never to discover spring's gentle beauty, or even the sun's warmth.