Author's Note: These notes just keep getting longer and longer, don't they? I'll have to start working on my wordiness. Thank you all for your lovely reviews; they encourage me and, unfortunately, boost my self-esteem (which does not need any help). However, this does not mean to stop! PLEASE continue with your comments and help: I absolutely love reading them. Also, Lena is my creation (finally a person who belongs to me!). Even though she doesn't play that big a part (really!), I know some people believe each and every 'unorthodox' (or original) character must be pointed out as such in the disclaimer. Which reminds me that I haven't had any disclaimers in this story yet. All right, here goes. big breath DISCLAIMER: No person, animal, beast, creature, place, or thing in or of the wonder-full world of Middle-Earth belongs to me (sadly), although I wholeheartedly enjoy playing with Tolkien's creations end of disclaimer. How was that? It'll have to do since I haven't had much experience with writing disclaimers as of yet. I'm hoping to have more original dialogue in the next couple of chapters, but dialogue is one of my weak points and I'm not sure how well I'll do. Also, I'm not very good at coming up with chapter titles or even the title of this story, if you haven't noticed. And I wrote most of this chapter while watching The Phantom of the Opera, so if there's a line that sounds funny, or the grammar is skewed, it's probably because I wasn't giving it my full attention (oops…). However, I would like to point out that Éowyn's POV is supposed to be in present tense (I wasn't that mixed-up…). But please, keep reading and remember to review! Tatharwen Took
Chapter III: Captain of Gondor
'My tree self, my deer self, my sunshine self. Don't we outweigh the dark self?'
- Sunshine by Robin McKinley
The sun had shone brightly then, and his hair was the colour of dappled honey. The chilling wind had whipped the long grey-green grasses of the Plains of Rohan into a tossing Sea, had blown his hair into his eyes. The sky was a brittle blue, a hard metallic blue, pale compared to his piercing indigo eyes, eyes he seemed to be able to peer into my heart, my mind, my very soul with; and he had said, "You are fair and brave, and have much to live for, and many who love you."
The ring of conviction in his voice told me he truly believed those words and spoke them from his heart. I had given him a weak smile that did not warm me, and I could only think 'How little you know of me. How very little. It makes my heart ache, the woman you see. How strong, how admirable, how needed she is. You have seen few women, and so you think me beautiful; I ride to battle without fear, so you say I am brave. You have not seen the utter emptiness of my soul, have not touched the cold despair I touch every day, have not felt the numb inability to feel emotion as I have; so you say I have many things to live for. I am surrounded by people, and so you think I am loved…'
But I could not say that, not to him, not to anyone. So I had simply smiled and gone back to helmet-polishing. How I had wished later I had run to him then, had thrown my arms around him and held him tight. I do not believe I shall ever see him again now.
They tell me I have been in this place for six days.
On the third I woke and found myself still alive; I had turned my face to the pillow silently, trying to hide the disappointed tears I could not stop.
They forced me to stay in bed for three more days, but on the morning of this day, the sixth, I told them I will not stay in this room any longer, despite the pleadings and wide-eyed apprehension of Lena, the healer's apprentice, who watches over me in the nights. I loathe my room. I suppose it is nice enough, but it is so small, hemming me in, and there is only one window, high in the wall; it does not look East. The sheer whiteness of the smooth walls and the ridiculous soothing of the quiet-voiced women serve simply to convince me that this place, before the War, used to be a haven for those not quite right in the head. And in the night when I wake the walls are so close they seem to be leaning over me, confining me in a bed suddenly grown cold and hard, which I don't mind. Sometimes.
Other nights I do mind, quite a lot. I dread nightfall every evening, and every morning I am relieved when dawn sends a few trickles of light sweeping along the walls; for I did not dream, and I am afraid of what I would dream, trying to ignore the little voices everywhere: in the cool water, in the crisp linen sheets, in my own head, whispering wouldn't it be wonderful just to lie down on the bed and stay there forever? You have been denied your death of glory and hard-won honour, but there are other ways. I am confused. I do not think I wished to die. But that is why you rode to battle, isn't it? To escape your living death, set up on your uncle's throne like the weak-spirited creature they take you for, to rule in a kingdom that will not stand for another month, because of course you are only a woman. You could never hold a sword, or ride a horse passably, or willfully kill anything, much less an Orc. You have tried for so long to show them otherwise, and when you saw no hope in forcing them to understand, you rode in search of Death. Death…
I am achingly weary of being controlled by men, men who do not understand me. They smile and nod and pretend to listen to me, but in their own minds I can see them saying, Hear this wayward child talk; how she longs to grow up and be a hero, be a queen, be someone important, lifted far above the mean things of the earth. No! That is not what I wanted. I loved him. I wish I could scream; I wish I did not have so much pride that it prevents me from lashing out against this captivity. That is not what I wanted.
But it is, the little voices say, reverberating inside my skull. Wayward child, they say.
Éomer, dearest brother, came this morning. Though his blue-grey eyes were filled with worry and hopefulness and hesitant love— hesitant because he does not know how it will be accepted— for his wayward sister who refuses to act as a sister should, he fidgeted and stammered as I have never seen him fidget and stammer before. Éomer was always the bold older brother; words were not his craft: when he could not get through something with a few curt sentences, he was used to forcing his way through. But violence will not help him here. He wants to help me, to protect his younger sister, but when I refused to be protected and rode to the Pelennor Fields without his knowledge, I caught him off-guard; he is trapped, uncomprehending. It's almost funny, really. Almost as if we have switched roles, and he is the younger and I am eldest.
A verse drifts through my mind; it had been one of Éomer's favourites, from one of the lays of the old kings of Rohan, ancient even in the days of my uncle's grandfather:
From out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and for a red nightfall!
That was what I wanted. But do I still want it? I sigh, bow my head. I had a terrible headache those few final days.
On this day, the sixth, I woke, felt the cool sheets, the silky white pillow I'd resolved not to touch again until the evening bells toll their mournful peals for the dead. A thought, unbidden, crept into my mind, made its presence known: I wish the bells would toll for me. I wish I could just die.
Stop that! Will nothing rid me of this awful habit of thinking these death-thoughts, these dreams of blood? I wish— A feeling of disgust curled in the pit of my stomach. Wishes are nothing but rotting might-have-beens.
It's louder out here than in my room, the piping voices of children in the street cheerfully drowning out the argument I am having with myself. Here there are narrow beds, lined in straight rows and aisles, for common soldiers. I suppose only those of higher rank or social standing are given a private room, and I allow myself to be faintly flattered that I am considered one of the 'higher rank'. Shallow pools of clear water are set into the floor under arches and in the middles of hallways, seemingly for no reason, inlaid with tiles no bigger than my thumbnail in colours of turquoise and gentian and azure. Healers dressed in white and grey and dun bustle about, fetching bowls, dressing wounds, mixing salves.
The whole city, it seems, is passing through here, and every one of them knows something. I see it in their eyes, in their movements, in their tone of voice: something has given them hope. And not just the people are saying it; the long fronds of ferns drip it into pools, the pools murmur it to the walls, the walls fling it to the winds, the winds whisper it to everything they touch, The King is here, the King has come, has come at long last, the King for whom we have been waiting has come.
It reminds me of that night, when I so thoughtlessly went to him, told him not to leave me, told him I loved him, told him I wanted to follow him any where, even to Death. And he, brave heart, gentle heart, had found room for some little bit of caring in his heart, and told me what I did not wish to hear, told me what I had refused to see, told me my love was not for him, could never be for him. You were wrong! My mind screamed. I died that day; I will never love again. And when he rode down the Road that could only lead to death, I said in my heart, I will follow him to Death. If he is gone, if I cannot have this one wish of mine, then I will no longer live on this green earth.
Wayward child, the little voices say.
A man, still dressed in the loose robes the Head of the Houses issues to all patients, slowly pushes himself out of bed and onto firm, if weakened feet as I find myself slowing to watch him. In his gaunt face is a new light of hope as he sees himself take at first one step, then two, three, now four. Thoroughly determined, he apparently calls for his sword, because it is brought to him. I look on, fascinated, as he clumsily drags it from its sheath as if he has never held one before, fingers suddenly grown stiff at this familiar weight made unfamiliar by lack of use; then he experimentally swings it in a short half-arc. Encouraged by the jesting remarks and faint cheering from his fellow bedmates, he feints to the left and parries the downward stroke of an invisible foe.
I turn away. My sword-arm still feels cold at all times; nothing, it seems, can warm it all the way. True, the skin had grown warmer to the touch, and I can stiffly bend and unbend those fingers if I concentrate hard, but down in the core my marrow seems like the impenetrable ice of thick Winter. My left arm, the shield-arm, is in a sling, and every so often I forget and twitch it, sending a shock up through my shoulder and down into my fingertips.
"War is for men, Éowyn," my brother had told me. I had laughed, had carelessly told the handsome Ranger who was not only a Ranger, "The women of this country have learned that those who do not wield swords can still die upon them." That was true, but now I begin to wonder if it is the best way. Not that I want to spend the rest of my life being used by men as a crutch, a pawn, another child to take care of and tend to. That was why I had ridden to battle, refused to be left behind even as Merry had refused.
No more despair, my uncle had told me. But Théoden is dead, and I cannot help wondering what it was that lay in my heart that day, that grim morning after I was forced to hear the truth I had shut out. Was it despair? "A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!" Glad for him. Golden with glory, the glory of the fallen. But is it despair to search for Death, to welcome Death when it seems that all life is drained out of you, all that makes life truly and wholly real— and worth living— is taken away?
I have no answers any more.
Wayward child, the little voices say.
After watching the man practice with his sword, my mind takes me back to when I was a small child with huge, dark eyes who practically worshiped her older brother. I remember Éomer shyly giving me my first sword for my birthday, teaching me how to hold it, rearranging my fingers on the leather hand-grip, showing me how to parry and thrust and feint under an opponent's blow, eagerly dueling with me as I progressed. He taught me in secret, taking me out to the practice fields when the adults were hunting or talking at one of their endless feasts. I smile involuntarily: there was no match for the surprised, half-stunned look on his face the day I had slammed Windfola's grey shoulder into his horse's, my blade clashing with his, hilt to hilt, and had dumped him out of the saddle with one mighty heave.
A shudder runs through me as I realize that the motion my shoulder uses to unhorse a person was the same one I had used to heave my sword at him, thrusting its glittering tip into the awful empty space between evil crown and black-clad shoulders. The -something- had been sucked up the length of the blade, forcing its way into me, invading my very thoughts, rushing into every cranny and niche of me and back to my core to dance its rhythm of whirling, malevolent triumph, triumph even though I had killed it, triumph that it would take me with it, and I half-fancied I could hear words in its maelstrom of enveloping wind. And then…No! Stop! Frantically I grasp at whatever thought comes to hand first, trying to avoid directly remembering that final battle.
After that day Éomer and I fought more as equals; and the light in his eyes and the fixed grin on his face had changed from the sturdy concentration of a teacher to the eager enthusiasm of a man who has found a challenge. There were nights when we would audaciously slip off together to ride under the moonlight, at first doubled up on his horse, my arms clasped tightly around his waist; then as he taught me to ride and fight from horseback, on separate horses, flying across the plains like twin shadows under the stars, the wind whipping our hair back. Sometimes we were able to get Théodred to join us on these midnight rides, and the insipid nannies and teachers would ask why we all three persisted in giving each other secretive, knowing grins behind our elders' backs.
Those were good days. But I still remember when the King changed, ever so slowly; at first it was just little things: an uncharacteristic gesture with his hands; a queer expression, glimpsed in a flash, sliding across his face; an unwillingness to buckle on his sword and go hunting. But it began to grow, and soon it seemed to me that they would have to be blind not to see he was not Théoden anymore, not the joking uncle who cared for me as if I were his own daughter instead of an orphaned and undoubtedly poor relation; he was something else, somebody I didn't know, somebody evil. Possessed.
I sigh. I should be getting back to my room, and I notice dully that my knees have started to tremble. Perhaps they were right that I should have waited to move about. A bell chimes the hour, high in one of the domes of these lofty ceilings. Two o'clock in the afternoon. It is a cold day; the morning mist is still drifting about outside, and a wisp of breeze from an open door makes me struggle to draw the shawl I had absently picked up from the table in my room about me with only one hand, and that only a half-useful hand.
When I finally return to my room, Lena jumps up and begins to chafe the warmth back into my hands, obviously relieved I have come back before her master found that she had let me escape. She is still somewhat in awe of me, though, for whatever reason, and the scolding I can see she would like to give me is reduced to murmuring and clucking as she feels my cold hands and face. I yawn and contemplate my bruises, which seem to be spreading. Soon I'll be purple and blue and orange all over, I think wryly. At least it's a change from deathly pale.
Apparently I am to have a bath today, and hesitantly I ask her if I might not bathe myself this time. I feel Lena's hesitation as well, but when I complain of feeling like a newborn babe, always being hand washed with sponges and waited on hand and foot, and never getting thoroughly clean anyway, she reluctantly agrees she will simply wash my hair this time. I let her have her victory; my hair is long and thick, and has not been properly smoothed or cleaned since…before the battle, anyway. I quickly turn away from the memory of those unpleasant events.
Lena triumphantly reveals a basin, hidden beneath the wardrobe set into the wall opposite my bed. It's pewter, nearly plain, but with a few faint graceful scrolls worked into the metal around the handles. She pulls it into the middle of the floor and spends several minutes producing buckets of water from somewhere –probably hidden up her sleeve- and pouring them into the basin, until it's almost full; then she helps me out of the robes they have given me. I sit, balancing, on the edge of the basin for a moment and swish my weary feet in the water; Lena grimaces and hisses with sympathy over my bruises.
The basin is just big enough for me to kneel in comfortably, but it's high enough that the steaming water nearly covers the tops of my shoulders. I'm rather surprised at how good it feels to wash away the filth of battle completely, to get clean again; while still refreshing, sponge baths are not the same. I unbind my snarled hair and gratefully sink beneath the water's surface, looking up at a wavering circular world, and I find myself wishing I can stay here, underwater, away from duty and responsibilities, free of pain and horror and regret. Finally I have to come up for a breath, resigned to staying in this world.
Once my hair is thoroughly wet, Lena hands me a dazzlingly white cake of soap and tells me to wash the rest of me while she deals with my hair. Now that it's wet, an appallingly heavy stench of horse –dear Windfola, I think- wafts through the air. Beyond a doubt, Lena smells it, for she laughs and gently rubs a palmful of shampoo through my hair, and a scent like wildflowers rises with the steam. I smile. I'll bet Éomer's shampoo doesn't smell like flowers.
While I bathe, she tells me interesting bits of news about Lord So-and-so, clearly trying her best to make a match for me, and so on, though I have already warned her of mentioning the Lord Aragorn in my presence. When I ask, she tells me that the Pheriannath Meriadoc is being cared for in this same house. At last a good piece of news. I will have to visit him soon, if he does not come to see me first. She continues on to mention that there is an important patient in the room next to mine, a captain of the ranks of Gondorian soldiers, apparently the son of the late Steward himself, and that many others in the Houses are of great rank and standing as well.
I finally climb, dripping, from the bath, and Lena wraps me in a robe of red, magnificently red, so rich and velvety that even the shadows of its folds are like rose petals. As I sit on the low backless chair my thoughts wander, and Lena begins to work through my hair's tangles with a wide-toothed comb. Better her than me, I thought cheerfully, and she is very gentle. Lena's hair falls in orderly waves past her hips, so she must have had practice, but hers is sleek and dark, and frames her face and twists into a knot at the nape of her neck smoothly; I look at her with envy. My own hair is almost as long; it falls nearly to the small of my back, but it's wild and loose and has a tendency to escape the ribbons and pins it is put into, and pieces are always getting caught in things –my armor, for example- and snapped off, so my hair tapers and looks messy and swirls madly about my face and arms whenever there's the least bit of wind.
Halfway through, Lena seems to remember something rather important, for she starts with a squeal and drops the comb. When I glanced back over my shoulder inquiringly at her, she announces that she forgot that she was supposed to report to her master at half-past three, and she then proceeds to dump the bathwater over the balcony into the gardens, whisk away the towels, and stow the basin back under the wardrobe, while I watch with much amusement. After she completes this, she stands in the middle of the floor, shuffling her feet, asks me if it is all right for her to leave me alone for a few minutes, and she looks at me shyly with a smile hovering in her eyes, so I grin and flap the edges of my clean robe at her, and she smiles happily and leaves.
I pick up the comb from where it's lying on the floor and look at it, turning it over in my hand. The wood is golden-red cherry wood, lacquered with a clear layer that makes it glow in the soft light. The finish is scored and scratched with much use, and the handle is wide and awkward in my hand, but the teeth are familiar, and that's all that matters. I find a small hand-mirror in the night-table by the bedside and manage to prop it against the wall at various angles until I can see my face in it. I part my hair gravely and shake it back over my shoulders, where it falls, heavily, almost to my hips –it's longer when wet- and makes dripping noises on the wood floor. I do not want to leave a trail of water-drops wherever I go, and the floor has an annoying tendency to become slick when it gets wet, unlike the reed floors of Meduseld, so I fiercely tie and pin my hair as I had tied and pinned it under my helm all those final days of secrecy; it feels strange to have it swinging loose again.
Just as I am considering the fact that a walk outside might bring some colour into my face, Lena comes back carrying a bundle, looks at me and realizes she has not finished with my hair; and then she sets her bundle on the table and politely but firmly refuses to do anything else until she has finished her task. She takes the pins out and insists on redoing the part in my hair; then she weaves a glimmering white ribbon through it but lets it tumble down my back, so I have to flick the end of it aside when I sit down.
The bundle reveals a simple white dress, smooth and silky, that reminds me of the white dress I left in Edoras, the dress I was wearing the first time I saw Aragorn, and was struck both by love and pain, love because— why does anyone love? — and pain because I knew the love was in vain from our first meeting, knew in my heart of hearts, and chose to ignore it.
After all is cleared away, I am left standing in the middle of the floor with my sling back in place, suddenly feeling very tired. Lena offers me food, and I refuse, though I am hungry. She makes me eat a little, though, perhaps on orders from her master, and I realize I'm famished. She smiles shyly as I wolf the white cakes and strong red wine down, too hungry to be polite.
Well, she seems to be doing nothing but cleaning this already spotless room, and as she doubtless has orders to keep me in my room for the rest of the day, I might as well see what the balcony looks like. I slowly open the door and step out onto the covered porch carefully, holding onto the railing for support. It looks out onto the gardens, and all is silent and carefully washed clean of any sign of life, so unlike the rest of these houses. To my right is a high wall of blank, smooth stone encircling the gardens, and to the left…
I stop, frozen in his gaze. He stares back at me, silent, looking as though he would not speak even if he could find words to say. He is dressed in loose robes, and his feet are bare; his hair is loose and dark and curls until it does not quite touch his shoulders. Though his position appears relaxed and easy, there is something watchful in it, like a wild thing, and his hands grip the rail as though it were the only thing keeping him up. His face is pale and displays a mixture of emotions: wonder, hope, grief, pity, empathy, guilt…
What gaiety I felt before has evaporated like the bath steam, and I am left staring into this man's haunted eyes. I've never seen him before, yet I know instantly who he is, and, there is- something- about him. Something akin between us. It makes me angry, that I do not know what it is, and I am beginning to feel resentful that he should stare at me, stare into me with pity so boldly in his eyes.
I wrench my eyes away from his gaze with a start and, though my heart pounds as though I were running, I force myself to march inside with quick long strides, practically slamming the door behind me.
I stop in front of my bed, my chest heaving with my anger. I do not want his pity! Or any man's, for that matter. I will no longer let them look down on me as a small child with great dreams of glory or being a hero.
Lena has disappeared. I stare once more at the loathed bed with cool hatred, an understanding between me and it, and think of the vow I made. I know he's still outside, watching my balcony, and I will not tolerate his stare of barely-concealed sympathy. All right, then.
As quickly as I can with one hand, I strip the bed of its blankets and carry them to an empty corner. It's hard to arrange them, but I finally get it done and step back, surveying my work. It resembles a very large and messy birds' nest, but it will serve its purpose. Wait. I flit to the hallway and peek out through the cracked door. Nothing. I lock it, which takes quite some time with my less-than-nimble fingers, but it is finally done and I am alone.
I pause for just a moment, remembering just a picture of him, so I can avoid him in the future. Dark hair, slight figure but with strong hands— I cannot help laughing bitterly. I spend what seems like a life-age staring at him, and I don't even remember what colour his eyes were. Green like the grass? As blue as Merry's eyes? Grey as the Sea, like my own?
It doesn't matter. I'll make sure I never get close enough to him again to see what colour his eyes are.
Never get close again, the little voices say.
Is it despair?Will I never care about anything in this world again? I just want to die. Just to die.
Wayward child, the little voices say.
Casting a glance at the door to the balcony surreptitiously, I curl up in my nest and wait for sleep— and perhaps now-welcome dreams of blood and battle that will drown out any thought of those few moments when I locked eyes with the Captain of Gondor, and it was I who drew away first.