The Turn of the Tide
The sun was out, but the air was cold, the cold of a spring that might yet still turn again to the worst. Éowyn walked the walls of the Houses of Healing, and she walked them alone.
She tore herself away from the view to the East and turned to greet the speaker.
The Steward's son was a tall man, dark of hair and fair of face, strong and bred to war. A great captain, she had heard the women of the house say as they stood around and brushed her hair and bound her arm; one whose men would fight for love of him to the end, no matter how bitter. So they said, the women of the house, as Éowyn sat and listened, and remained cold and aloof, remained in her isolation. A man to whom a woman might give her heart, they would say too – over her head, but for her to hear – and so it might well have been. Had her heart not been given already.
The Lord Boromir had, it seemed, come this morning with a message from her brother. "He asked me to tell you that he had to take counsel with his Marshals," he said to her. "But that he will come to see you – before he leaves."
"Leaves?" Éowyn's heart clenched within her breast. It was not so frozen after all - and, in truth, it never had been, when it came to those she loved best.
"We will all of us be taking our leave of you soon, my lady," he said. Swiftly – he was a man of few words, she discovered, and all of them to the point, which she could admire – swiftly he told her what the council of war had determined after the battle for the city. That the war must be taken to the Enemy, so that his Eye might be drawn from the Ringbearer and from those of his companions who yet lived.
This news given, he fell to brooding, and she recalled what she had been told of his father, and what she knew of the Lord Aragorn.
"Your father, my lord – what does he make of this counsel?"
The Lord Boromir clasped his hands together, and rested them upon the walls, and sighed. "My father," he said, and a shadow passed across his face. She knew regret when she saw it. She knew the struggle that duty could be.
"We have barely spoken," the Lord Boromir said. "Not since I told him I had seen my brother in Ithilien. Seen him and, against what I knew would be our father's will, allowed him to continue on his way. He and his companions."
She had, she perceived, gone cold. "You saw him, you say?" she said faintly. "Your brother?"
"In Ithilien. He was heading for the mountains. Heading East."
It had been a damp and grey morning when the second son of the Steward had arrived at Meduseld, in search whatever aid the Rohirrim might give him on his journey. Éowyn, standing as ever at the king's side, had looked coldly upon this man as yet another bearer of ill news, of struggle. But as she had stood and watched, and seen him look at the king, and at the Worm, and at her – at the king's side, as ever – she had watched him come to full understanding. Even as he had spoken to the king, his eyes had remained on her, and they had been full of pity...
"Lady Éowyn, what ails you? Are you in pain? Will you sit down?"
The Lord Boromir reached out his hand to her, and it seemed he was about to set it upon her arm, but she raised her own in swift repulse. He drew back. No man touched her. Save one.
In Ithilien, and heading East... Beside her, the Lord Boromir breathed in sharply, as if to speak, and then he halted. She saw his expression alter, and she knew that he understood. He would know how that his brother's journey had taken him first to Meduseld. And so how she and his brother must have met.
"Perhaps," Lord Boromir said again, "we should sit down."
So they sat upon a bench in the shade of a tree upon which the new green was already budding. And the words spilled out from her, telling the story that so far she had kept to herself. Of how she had met his brother in Meduseld. Of how he had looked at her and perceived her, in the way none had done before, or cared to any longer; of quick and often furtive speech between them, as they grabbed moments when they knew that watchful eyes were not upon them. And – when the day of his departure drew near, when his uncertain journey would continue – the last, secret conversation; his offer and her acceptance. Then he had ridden North – and barely a word of him had come to her. Until today.
The time in between had been long enough. Long enough for her heart to darken; long enough for her to believe that Faramir could never return. And she had come to think, as the Riders gathered for their journey South, that it would be better to be with them. It would be better to ride and die amongst her own, than to watch the darkness creep closer and die alone. She had been caged in these halls her whole life. Better to die having seen his land than die with it left unseen. And there had been the faint chance, she thought, that he would be there himself, returned to his home to make its last defence. You have no errand in the South, the Lord Aragorn had said. No errand! she had thought. I have as much as any. I have given as much as any to this battle. And have as much hope for its success.
And this is what she told his brother – on the high walls of Minas Tirith – whilst in the fields and the levels below the Army of the West made ready to leave. By the time she had finished speaking, his hands held hers within their grasp.
"And you have had no news of him?" he said.
"When Gandalf came to Meduseld," she said, "he brought the Lord Aragorn, and the Elf and the Dwarf. They had left the house of Elrond with him, and passed through Moria with him, and taken to the river with him. But after the wreck of Rauros they had no news, and I could not ask without suspicion."
"Then let me tell you – you must know what news I have of him!" The Lord Boromir's eyes had gone bright, and his grasp upon her hands strengthened. "The river brought him to me – the river. He, and his companions also – and he has gone with them towards the Black Land." He jerked his head away, and grimaced, as if at some memory left a lingering ill taste. "They have with them a guide, a wretched creature that I do not trust, but the Ringbearer would not be dissuaded from his purpose, and my brother... My brother would follow the Halfling's lead, and would not come back to Minas Tirith, as I begged him to. When we spoke, he did not know that Mithrandir lived – and I did not know to tell him. He has gone into the Black Land with that creature, and with sorrow weighing heavy on his heart. My brother!"
Grief nearly overcome him. And Éowyn, well used to bearing the sorrow of the men around her, sat and let him hold her hands, which seemed to her now to be dead weight. So he lived after all. He lived, and he had chosen to go East.
The Armies of the West departed. Spring continued on its course, and no word came from the East. Éowyn still walked the walls alone. At times, she would stop and look towards the mountains, and she would think: That is where all my hope has gone.
He lived, and he had chosen the eastern way, and not the path that would have brought him back to her. Brought them back together.
She had thought that this would have made her angry, but in the days of waiting that followed, she found that she did not blame him. She herself had counselled the Lord Aragorn not to ride into the shadows, but to lead his men in open war. And had she not been wrong in this? Who knew where other paths might lead? This victory, it seemed to her now - standing high up in the levels of the great stone city as the new spring unfurled around her – this victory would require more than force of arms. It would require sacrifice upon sacrifice. What would remain afterwards? Had Éowyn been the kind to believe in fates and powers, she might have tried to strike a bargain with them there. Bring my hope back to me. I will sacrifice it all – give it all – if you return my love to me. But she was not such a woman. The world, to Éowyn, lacked any such design.
When at last she came face to face with his father, it was a kindred spirit that she saw. This was another who had seen the shadows for what they were – empty, without purpose or meaning. Yes, she thought, the Lord Denethor well understood the way of the world. In the face of its great, devouring absence, he had sought to order things according to his own will. And he had failed. Two sons, both gone, against his will.
So the sight of him sparked in her some interest. There was little sign of his heir in his face. He was how his younger son would be – should he live to this age. The Lord Denethor had walked towards her slowly – an old and patient man, and a great one – and he did not take the straight route to her, which would have meant walking upon the grass. He stayed on the path.
When at last they were standing side by side, "Daughter," he said to her, as if he had known her long and had greeted her that way many times before. His voice was grave, and not kindly, and her heart failed her a little. He was very old, as old as a king, and he seemed to know the bent of her thoughts. Had Boromir broken her trust in him? But he had not been on good terms with his father, or so she had understood, and she could not bring herself to believe that of him. One of the women had overheard, perhaps, or it might have been anyone in this House. She should not be surprised. Éowyn was used to halls that were full of spies and whispers.
"Sir," she answered.
"A cold morning to choose to walk outside."
"I would rather risk the cold than stay within the walls of the house."
"And here, too, you can look more easily eastward, can you not?"
Éowyn raised her chin and held his eye. I think – that I have not seen all that you have seen. But I believe that I have seen the worst of it. "Where else would I look? Is that not where our hope has gone?"
The Steward smiled at her, faintly. "So the wizard would have us believe." He turned to go, and then stayed himself for a moment. "If you would listen to my counsel, my lady – I would say... Do not stay too long out upon the walls. And while you do, take this." And he removed his cloak, and set it upon her shoulders, and then left her to her solitude. To her thoughts.
The Steward of Gondor came each morning thereafter – walking towards her in the same fashion, greeting her in the same way – and his new habit seemed to amuse him greatly. Éowyn bore both his humour and his cloak. Once, and once only, he spoke of his sons, and he spoke of them as if they were dead men. And that night she dreamt of the monster rising up before her - and she woke, screaming, in the dark hour before the sun. Spring seemed like a mockery that morning, the mockery of an old man at the defiance of the young. It was hard to bear – when her own thoughts were so shadowed and her own hope gone – yet he seemed to seek her out. He seemed to prefer her company to others.
"You believe they will return," he said to her, suddenly, one pale morning on the walls, as if he had suddenly grasped something elemental about her.
"I have no hope either way," she replied. "Whatever may happen now – it has passed beyond any power I have ever had to order it."
"Then do you not fear death, my lady?"
She thought briefly of her dream and then – by force of will – she banished it. "I have seen death. I have lived death."
"The Men of Númenor sought to destroy death. That is how they were destroyed themselves. The Fate of all Men, perhaps – a brief spring of promise; the long fall into winter."
So he tended to speak to her. Speak plainly! she thought. I care very little for riddles and for twisted talk! "That may be the tale of your people, sir," she said, hotly. "But mine? We are a younger folk – and I have seen with my own eyes the shadow reversed and life restored." And then the king struck down before her eyes. She faltered even as she spoke. "I have seen it."
And even as she spoke, a great hush seemed to fall upon them. The light greyed and the spring stopped, as if it had been halted in its path. A great silence, and then a great sigh – as if the world had drawn breath, and then exhaled. The Shadow had departed, and when she turned to look at him, she thought she glimpsed for a second on the Steward's face the first stirring of hope.
A few weeks had to pass before they saw what they had been waiting for. A bright morning, with the world reforming around them, and they stood still upon the walls. Clear above the city's bells, a horn rang out, and when they looked eastwards over the mending fields, they saw plainly horsemen riding towards the city. Banners streamed before them: at the centre, seven stars and seven stones. Flanking this, to one side, a silver swan; to the other, a white horse on a green field – and also there were two of plain white.
"The banner of the Stewards," the Lord Denethor told her, "carries no sign or symbol."
"And there are two of them, I see," Éowyn said, and as she spoke she heard her voice rise like a great tide. "Your sons have returned, lord, after great deeds!"
"Thorongil," Ecthelion's son said, but Éowyn did not understand and cared less. "Mighty gifts he brings with him. Kingly gifts. Daughter," he said – and she took his arm and left the walls and the house.
Written for the Edhellond Group's 2006 Anniversary Challenge, as a gift for Makamu.