Author's note: Big hug to Scarlett for translating, and to Virtuella for beta reading. Thank you, girls!
And, of course, LotR and Middle-earth are not mine. :)
Some women were scared. Some were calling out names of their loved ones who were taking part in the battle. Some were crying silently, folding children to their breasts. Some were just sitting there with a vacant look, since they already lost everyone they cared for. However, one woman among them... she was bitter.
Éowyn heard the massive gate close and flinched. A dull thump that meant isolation from the outside world put one more weight on her soul. Even though she was surrounded with numerous women, she was there alone. Far from anyone she loved, anyone she feared for, far from what she wanted to be doing. Although the gate that was sealing off the underground passage was only three feet in width, everything that was behind it was as distant and unattainable as if she was in a different time, on a different, distant world. She couldn't leave; she had to stay there with the other women.
She got on her feet and started pacing up and down the room like she was a prisoner inside a cell. A few stalagmites on the left that were rising towards the cave arch seemed to be appropriately symbolic to her: they were the bars to her prison. She stared at the dark shadows without noticing the beauty of the caves, or the reflection of torchlight on shining crystals, or the multicoloured light refracting on them. She didn't hear the children crying or the women lamenting. The only thing she could think about was the battle she wanted to take part in.
One I should be taking part in, she thought sourly. I deserve to be there. She had been practicing how to handle a sword since she was a little girl and, even though had not the strength of men, she made up for it in speed and skill. She knew she was good. And still, all her hard work was for nothing; no one ever gave her a chance to prove herself. All the eoreds always rode out without her.
She had never neglected any of the duties that were required of a noblewoman. She fulfilled them all and no one could reproach her for neglecting her responsibilities in favour of her own wishes. But she desperately wanted to do more; she wanted her place among the fighters who were surrounding the king. She wanted honour and glory. She yearned to be accepted as an equal and not to be seen as a helpless child that needed to be taken care of. But all too often, she came across just that. She was surrounded with a barrier of lack of understanding; few could comprehend that she too wanted to fight for her country.
Just like now. Her uncle wouldn't hear about her joining in the fight. She could understand it was partly out of fear: because she was family and he loved her, and everybody wanted to protect those whom they loved. But if Théodred was here, he would be out there now, regardless of the love and the fear his father and king felt. Her thoughts were becoming more and more enraged. I'm locked up here just because I'm a woman! It's not fair! She tightened her fists in helplessness.
Remembering Théodred, she sighed sadly. Théoden was left without a son. Éomer was his successor now. If they were both killed tonight, she would be the only successor to the throne of Rohan, and her uncle had reminded her of her duty to their people. But she doubted he would've used that argument if she were a man. If I were a man, I'd be there beside them now. They would think of me as valuable and worthy of the fight, they would think I was needed for the battle.
And the one she wanted to be beside, the one whose opinion meant most to her... he reacted the same way as her uncle. He believed she belonged inside the cave as well. He also thought that she, as a woman, could in no way contribute to their goal. Am I less worthy because I'm a woman? Is the care for the wounded and the returning from battle the only thing a woman can do? His rejection hurt so much more because she loved him so much. Yes, she loved him, and she could no longer deny that fact to herself. And he was the person in front of whom she least wanted to give the impression of being a feeble woman, she wanted to appear strong and tried to keep close to him, so much so that she feared he'd seen through her feelings.
Tears welled up in her eyes, threatening to roll down her cheeks and betray her mood. She paused next to a high stalagmite and leaned on it. The rock was cold and moist under her touch. She trembled, not only because of coldness. Then she looked around. Silent, anxious murmur was filling the air. The women close to her, who'd been secretly watching her pacing, quickly turned their gazes away. They probably interpreted her behaviour as concern and fear for her uncle and brother. They were right, but only partly. They couldn't know that concern wasn't the only thing she was feeling. And, above all, she felt powerless rage because she couldn't change the way things were.
How many boys were there out there? She didn't know the answer. But she did know that she was stronger and more skilful than any of them. She was wondering how many of the eleven and twelve-year-old sons of farmers and craftsmen that were picked out to join the defenders had ever picked up a weapon. How much could they actually help the defence? Barely or not at all. They would only get hurt for nothing. She knew she was better, more skilful and more experienced than any of them, but she wasn't allowed to fight because she was a woman.
She couldn't remember how many times she'd wished she'd been born a man. Then she would be free to ride out with the rest of the riders. To fight. She wouldn't have to just sit in the house, entrapped, to observe the valley countless times while awaiting the return of the soldiers... she wouldn't have to sit and wait. Alone. Just like now. Just like always. She felt as if she'd been in a cage her entire life, the bitterness of loneliness has shadowed the happy moments that much.
No sound came from outside. The caves were situated deep inside the mountain and the thick rocks muffled the noise. As she was nervously biting on her lower lip, she was wondering what was going on outside. Had the battle started? Had first blood been drawn already? What was happening with her uncle? Where was her brother? Where was he? Was he alright? She pursed her lips. The same story all over again. Sitting and waiting. Alone. The story of her life compressed in one night. She wanted to scream.
If only she could be among them. Yes, she would be in danger, but she didn't fear death. If she were out there at least she would've been useful; she could be doing something for her people. Locked up like this, she could do nothing at all.
A young girl not far from her started to cry quietly. She was sitting alone and she didn't seem to have anyone from her family beside her. Her dress was wrinkled and worn and her coat dirty and torn in one place. The only thing next to her was a small bundle; maybe some trifles that she'd managed to save as her only property. Éowyn was completely aware that many of these women suffered great pain and loss; that they were in a worse situation than she was and her heart cried seeing them. But she was of royal blood, born for more than simple waiting, trapped in a cage that narrowed around her and was suffocating her. The shield-maiden of Rohan, they sometimes called her. Surely, but without a shield, she bitterly added. And no sword either. And with less and less hope of ever getting her chance.
She went to the crying girl, sat next to her and embraced her without a word. The girl leaned her head on Éowyn's shoulder and started to cry harder. Éowyn stroked her hair and looked around. Her gaze met scared, exhausted women and children. Maybe, if she turned her attention on them, if she focused on her people who were bleeding, she might escape her thoughts. That was the only way of making through the night, because if she kept thinking about the trap of her life, she would go crazy.
She wasn't quite sure she'd make it.