ICE BLOSSOM

by Soledad

Part Two of my Éowyn-storyline called ''The Legacy of Gondor's Heir''.

Disclaimer:

The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I'm only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. Only  Erkendbrand's children belong to me.

Rating: PG 13 for some major angst.

Many thanks to Julie for beta reading!

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

1) This story – actually this whole series – probably would make more sense if you read the prequel first; or, at least, its first part, ''The White Lady of Rohan''.

2) The time is the 2nd of March , the year 3019 in the Third Age of Middle Earth. The same day when Frodo reaches the end of the Dead Marches; the Ents are on their way to Isengard, Faramir had left Minas Tirith on an errand to Ithilien the previous day, and Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli have just left Edoras with Théoden's host.

3) The First Battle of the Fords of Isen happened six days earlier. The description of the battle itself and of Théodred's death are mostly taken from the Unfinished Tales – with little alterations.

4) The blackened silver clasp with the White Tree of Minas Tirith on it is, of course, the same one that Boromir wore in the movie and that Éowyn gave him (through Théodred) in ''The White Lady of Rohan'', as a token of their understanding.

5) Théodred's wife, Aud of the deep eyes, is my creation. She is borrowed from an old Viking legend about the similarly-named, remarkably strong-willed wife of a chieftain who followed her husband to death in the same manner. Considering the fact that Théodred was 13 years older than Éomer (which is thus stated in the Unfinished Tales), I found it highly unlikely that he would have been unmarried, especially that he was Théoden's only child. So I gave him a wife and made her the daughter of Erkenbrand, Master of Westfold and the Hornburg – and a shieldmaiden, too, for I needed a deeper bound between her and Éowyn. In order to avoid any kintwist later, however, I made the crown Prince of Rohan and his wife childless.

6) At this point Éowyn still does not know whom the forbidden (and unrequited) love of Boromir's was devoted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[Edoras, 2nd of March, the year 3018]

The white Lady of Rohan they call me, the Ice Blossom of the House of Kings; Steelsheen, too, am I called, like my grandmother has been, who came from the South – for cold and hard do the Men of Rohan think me, a shieldmaiden from old tales, whose heart is not gentle and whose hands cannot heal.

Little do they know how very true those words are.

For Death blew its cold breath in my face and has frozen my heart to ice.

Everything I do touch now is doomed to fade.

Every one I touch is marked to die.

That is what makes me tremble with fear – me, who I was called fearless and high-hearted among the Men of Rohan.

When the Lord of the Mark held his feast in honour of his rare guests last eve, I had to come forward and bear them wine; thus is the duty and the right of honour of a daughter of Kings. Thus forward I came and reached the cup to the King and greeted him as it has been custom among our people since the days of Éorl himself.

''Fertu Théoden hál!'', I said. ''Receive now this cup and drink in happy hour. Health be with thee and thy going and coming!''

And the King drank from the cup, and all were glad, for it was a joy to us all to see him return into his own. As my brother said on that very day: Never again shall it be said that Gandalf Greyhame comes only with grief. For he, who is said to have returned from Death itself, came to the Golden Hall, and what no-one would have thought, he broke Wormtongue's spell and gave the King back his health and the strength of his heart.

But when I proffered the cup to the future King of Gondor – the one who has torn Boromir's dreams asunder, the only man's for whom I ever felt at least as much as respect and fondness –, our hands met and he knew that I trembled. And he spoke the sweet words of a formal greeting, as I had done before, but his face was troubled and he did not smile.

Yet he did not know why I trembled.

It was not for his strength or power, nor was it for his face, etched with memories, good and bad alike but still fair in its own way. Nay, I did not desire him, nor became I poisoned with the foolish weakness of a young heart as many might have guessed – I saw the way how even my brother looked at me, pondering what might have hit me.

For my heart is not young any more. Old and barren it is, however youthful my face might look.

I trembled, for the shadow of dark wings has fallen upon the House of Éorl, and I did not want to poison another good and brave man with its darkness. For doomed we are, indeed, all of us from Éorl's House, and the curse that lays upon us has taken many lives already.

Too early, untimely and unexpected took it the life of my father by the cursed hands of orcs, when I only had seen seven summers. My mother followed him shortly thereafter, falling to a strange sickness – more the sickness of heart than that of the body, to the great grief of the King. My brother and me the King took into his house, calling us son and daughter, having only one child himself, our beloved cousin, Théodred, for the Queen Elfhild had died in childbirth and Théoden King did not wed again. And we grew up at Edoras and saw the dark shadow fall on the halls of the King.

But the doom of our House did not end with the death of our father and mother. For it is not yet six days since the bitter tidings came that Théodred, son and Heir of the King of the Mark and more than a brother to us both, was betrayed and ambushed and slain upon the West Marches, at the Fords of Isen, and he lays now under a new mound and the King is heirless.

When the dire news of his death reached Edoras, his beloved wife, Aud of the deep eyes, went to their bedchamber, facing the West, as if she wanted to bid him farewell… and her eyes were dry and calm. In the next morrow, the servants found her, sitting still in her high chair, clad in her richest garments as she was on the day of their wedding, but her eyes, that were sung of in many songs of the Mark, were deep no more. Empty they were and lifeless and cold. For childless they might have been, there still was great love between her and Théodred, whom she often accompanied in battle, and she could not – nor did she want to – live without him. No wound cold be seen on her, it is said – she died of a broken heart.

Not thus shall happen to me. My heart has gone too cold during all those years I spent in the darkening halls of Meduseld, watching the King who is more than a father to me, falling under the sickening spell of a man-snake who dared to haunt my steps in the King's house. Neither love, nor grief could touch me deep enough to break through. Nor do I know any more whether or not there is anything left of me under all that ice.

For, strangely enough, it was not the slaughter of my almost-brother and would-be-King that had frozen what had still been alive in me, nor the way my childhood friend and sister-in-arms, Erkenbrand's valiant daughter, followed him to death – not even the perils Éomer and the King have to face in this very moment, riding west, towards the very Fords that had taken Théodred's life. What froze the small rest of my living heart was the death of a man I have hardly known. A man who offered me some small hope in the days of deepest darkness yet could not hold his word. For he came too close to the cursed House of Éorl one day and the curse caught up with him as well.

That is why I am sitting in the darkened hall of the King, on the steps of his high chair, clad in mail like the shieldmaiden I am – staring at a blackened silver clasp upon my knee. The clasp of my grandmother that I gave Gondor's Heir half a year ago – and that now has returned to me. And I fear that the future King of Gondor would fell under the shadow of our curse and perish with us, as well.

[Seven days earlier at the Fords of Isen]

Théodred son of Théoden, Second Marshal of the Mark, sat high upon his great steed and looked over the likely field of the coming battle. The Isen came down swiftly from its sources above Isengard, but in the flat land of the Gap it became slow until it turned west; then it flowed on through country, falling by long slopes down into the low-lying coast-lands of furthest Gondor and the Enedwaith, and it became deep and rapid.

Just above this westward bend were the Fords of Isen. There the river was broad and shallow, passing in two arms about a large eyot, over a stony shelf covered with stones and pebbles brought down from the North. Only here, south of Isengard, was it possible for large forces, especially those heavily armed and mounted, to cross the river.

''This is where Saruman has his advantage'', Théodred said to Hereward son of Erkenbrand, the brother of his beloved wife, ''for he can send his troops down either side of the Isen and attack the fords, if they were held against him, from both sides. Any force of his east of Isen could – if necessary – retreat to Isengard.''

''Very true'', the heir of the Lord of Westfold grimly nodded, ''but he knows not that your scouts had warned us of a mustering of troops before the Gates of Isengard. That gives us an advantage of our own – that of the surprise. What is your plan, my Lord?''

Théodred pondered over the question for a moment.

''The scouts say that Saruman's troops are mainly on the west side of Isen, as it seems'', he finally answered. ''Therefore we should man the approaches, east and west, to the Fords with your footfolk. They are sturdy men who can take up with orcs better than horsemen.''

Hereward nodded in agreement.

''What about the Riders?'', he then asked.

''I shall leave three companies, together with horse-herds and spare mounts, on the east bank'', Théodred answered, ''and pass myself over with our main strength: eight companies of Riders and a company of archers. Thus we might overthrow Saruman's army before it is fully prepared.''

Hereward agreed with this plan, for it seemed reasonable according to their knowledge about Saruman's strength, and soon herolds were riding in all directions, delivering the orders of the Second Marshal of the Mark to his troops. And Théodred set out to pass over, not knowing that Saruman's full force was on the march.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some twenty miles north of the Fords he encountered their vanguard and scattered it with loss. But when he rode on to attack the main host, the resistance stiffened. The enemy was, in fact, in position prepared for the battle, behind trenches manned by pikemen, and Théodred in the leading éored was brought to a stand and almost surrounded, for new forces hastening from Isengard were now outflanking him upon the west.

''My lord'', one of his heralds murmured, ''look at the way they took up position. As if they had known where you would pass over…''

''No doubt they did'', Théodred answered grimly, ''for Saruman has many spies watching us all the time – the black crows being not the least of them. Nor do I doubt for a moment that he has given strong orders that Théoden's Heir should be slain at all costs. With my Father under Wormtongue's spell and myself dead, only Éomer would stand between him and Rohan's throne.''

''And we have ridden right into his trap as he thought we would'', Grimbold, one of his captains added. ''I fear that his evil plans may come to success, my Lord.''

''Not yet, it seems'', Théodred replied in relief, for the onset of the companies coming up behind them saved his éored from its perilous state for the time being.

But as he looked eastward, he was dismayed. It had been a dim and misty morning, but the mists were now rolling back through the Gap on a breeze from the west, and away east of the river he detected other forces, now hasting towards the Fords, though their strength could not be guessed.

A bad feeling overcame his otherwise fearless heart, for he felt that there would be no escape from his battle, and involuntarily he thought of the doom of Éorl's House that Éowyn sometimes had spoken of, seeing the sickening of the King and the worsening of their position against Saruman's growing power.

''We have to retreat'', he said to Grimbold, and his captain gave the order at once.

The Riders of Rohan, well trained in this maneuver, managed to retreat in a good order and with little further loss; but the enemy was not shaken off, nor very far behind, for the retreat was often delayed, when the rear guard under Grimbold was forced to turn at bay and drive back the most eager of their pursuers.

When Théodred gained the Fords, the day was waning. He set Grimbold in command of the garrison of the west bank, stiffened with fifty dismounted Riders. The rest of his Riders and all the horses he at once sent across the river, save his own company: with these on foot, he manned the eyot, to cover the retreat of Grimbold if he was driven back.

This was barely done when disaster came. Saruman's eastern force came down with unexpected swiftness; it was much smaller than the western force but more dangerous. In its van were some Dunlending horsemen and a great pack of the dreadful Orcish wolf-riders, feared by the horses – for they would pass with reckless ferocity through any gaps in companies of horsemen, slashing the bellies of horses. Behind them came two battalions of the fierce Uruk-hais, heavily armed but trained to move at great speed for many leagues.

The horsemen and the wolf-raiders fell on the horseherds and picketed horses and slew or dispersed them. The garrison of the east bank – surprised by the sudden assault of the massed Uruk-hais – was swept away, and the Riders that had just crossed from the west were caught still in disarray, and though they fought desperately, they were driven from the Fords along the line of the Isen with the Uruk-hais in pursuit.

As soon as the enemy had gained possession of the eastern end of the Fords, there appeared a company of men and Orc-men (held back, as it seemed, for this very purpose) – ferocious, mail-clad and armed with axes. They hastened to the eyot and assailed it from both sides.

At the same time Grimbold on the west bank was attacked by Saruman's forces on that side of the Isen. As he looked eastward, dismayed by the sounds of battle and the hideous Orc-cries of victory, he saw the axe-men driving Théodred's men from the shores of the eyot towards the low knoll in its centre, and he heard Théodred's great voice calling:

''To me, Éorlingas!''

At once Grimbold, taking a few men that stood near him, ran back to the eyot, where he still could see the white horsetail floating from the crowned helm of his King's Heir. So fierce was his onset from the rear of the attackers that Grimbold, a man of great strength and stature, clove his way through to his Prince, till with two others he reached Théodred, standing at bay on the knoll and fighting with the ferocious strength of at least five men.

Too late, though. For as he came to his side, Théodred fell, sewn down by a huge Orc-man. Grimbold slew the foul beast, then he stood over the body of Théodred, shining star of Rohan's hope, thinking him dead; and there he would himself soon have died, but for the coming of Elfhelm.

Elfhelm had been riding in haste along the horse-road from Edoras, leading four companies in answer to Théodred's summons; he was expecting battle, but not yet for some days. But near the point where the horse-road met the road down from the Deeping, his outriders on the right flank reported that two wolf-riders had been seen abroad on the fields.

Sensing that things were amiss, he did not turn aside to Helm's Deep for the night as he had intended but rode with all speed towards the Fords. The horse-road turned north-west after its meeting with the Deeping-road, but again bent sharply west when level with the Fords, which it approached by a straight path of some two leagues long. Elfhelm thus heard and saw nothing of the fighting between the retreating garrison and the Uruk-hais south of the Fords.

The sun had sunk and light was failing when he drew near the last bend in the road, and there he encountered some horses running  wild and a few fleeing men who told him of the disaster. Though his men and horses were now weary, he rode as fast as he could along the straight, and as he came in sight of the east bank, he ordered his companies to charge.

It was the turn of the Isengarders now to be surprised. They heard the thunder of hooves and saw coming – like black shadows against the darkening East – a great host (as it seemed) with Elfhelm at its head, and beside him a white standard borne as a guide to those that followed. Most fled northwards, pursued by two of Elfhelm's companies. The others he dismounted to guard the east bank, but at once with the men of his own company he rushed to the eyot.

The axemen were now caught between the surviving defenders and the onslaught of Elfhelm, who came upon them like a thunderstorm, with both banks still held by the Rohirrim. They fought on, but before the end were slain to a man. Elfhelm himself, however, sprang up towards the knoll; and there he found Grimbold fighting two large axemen for possession of Théodred's body. One Elfhelm at once slew, the other fell before Grimbold.

They stooped then to lift the body, and found that Théodred still breathed; but he lived only long enough to speak his last words:

''Let me lie here – to keep the Fords until Éomer comes.''

For so great was his trust in his cousin that not even on the verge of death had he doubted that Éomer would take his place in defending the Fords.

Night fell. A harsh horn sounded, and then all was silent. The attack on the west bank ceased, and the enemy there faded away into the darkness. The Rohirrim held the Fords of Isen; but their losses were heavy, not least in horses; the King's son was dead, and they were leaderless, and did not know what might yet befall.

(The Unfinished Tales, pp 372-375.)

[Edoras, 2nd of March, the year 3018]

At the gate there was a great host of men, old and young, all ready in the saddle, waiting to take off and free the Fords of Isen and take their vengeance on the foul Orcs for the death of our Prince whom all loved. Their spears were like a springing wood for more than a thousand were there mustered.

Loudly and joyously they shouted as the King of the Mark came forth, for no-one had hoped any more to follow him into another battle. Yet forth he came, and there were some who held Snowmane, his horse, in readiness – and the horses of the other captains, too.

The trumpets sounded. The horses reared and neighed. Spear clashed on shield and battle cries erupted from the throats of our brave warriors, their eyes shining in battle-lust. Then the King raised his hand, and with a rush like the sudden onset of a great wind, the last host of Rohan rode thundering in the West – mayhap to their last battle ever.

And I was left behind, once again.

Standing still, alone before the doors of the silent house.

Not for long, though. Soon, I shall have to leave the Goldan Hall, to lead the people to Dunharrow and rule them in the King's place until he returns.

If he ever returns.

But I must not think of our doom now. In a few moments, I shall return to the Golden Hall and send out the heralds with new orders.

My orders, however short my ruling over them might be.

In a few moments.

First, though, I must pay my respect to the memory of a man whom I could have, would have respected enough in life, too, to wed him.

Respect and understanding. That was all we could have – what we would have had, for his heart was already given, and mine… there was naught to give.

Yet he was willing to take what little I could give, and an oath he has sworn to me – that, should the Valar let him return, he would come and free me from my cage.

They did not let him keep his word.

The shadow that we all fear engulfed his heart as well and took him away to that cold and dark place of no return. For Gandalf Greyhame only has ever been sent back from there, and even he only for a short time. Until the struggle with the shadow is over, for good or worse, or so the Elf said, who came with him to the King's halls. For worse, most likely, I fear.

The Elf.

One Legolas Greenleaf, only son of Mirkwood's Elven-King.

A Prince among his own people who does not mind to ride alongside the rough warriors of the North. Soft-spoken and fair-faced, but his eyes keen and his hand deadly, both with the bow and the knife, I was told.

He came to me, shortly before the host departed.

He came to me in the shadows of the Golden Hall to give me Boromir's parting gift: the token of a promise Gondor's Heir shall never be able to fulfill.

He came to me and told me in his soft voice about Boromir's fate. How a Man, so strong and proud as he was, fell under the spell of something very powerful and very, very evil – so evil, indeed, that the Elf would not even name it, not in whisper, not in the soft darkness and safe secrecy of Théoden's hall.

He told me about Boromir's last battle. How he fought valiantly, even with many orc-arrows piercing his chest, to save the Halflings – and how his brave fight and honourable death has been, at last, utterly in vain. For the Halflings were taken, that perilous thing, that kept luring Boromir's noble heart into its bane, lost, and Boromir himself is dead.

Unsettling times these are, indeed, for us all. The last two free realms of Men have lost their crown Princes – for might Boromir's father not be called king, he should have wear that title justly –, and whether the soon-to-be King of Gondor shall have the strength to hold back the wave of darkness approaching our kingdoms, we cannot say.

Théodred and Boromir, friends and allies for as long as I can remember, are now reunited in the cold embrace of Death. But while my cousin shall rest in peace and honour on the side of his sires, never shall the son of Denethor be returned to his white city, to find his final resting place on the Silent Road. Not even a proper funeral had he been given.

''We had not the time, nor the tools to bury our comrade fitly, or raise a mound over him'', Legolas told me sadly, ''nor could we build a cairn, not even with the skills of Gimli the Dwarf, for there were no stones that we could use nearer than the water-side. So we laid him in one of the Elven-boats that we were given in Lothlórien, with his weapons and the weapons of his vanquished foes. Then we sent him to the Falls of Rauros and gave him to Anduin, trusting that the River of Gondor shall take care at least that no evil creature dishonours his bones.''

For a while he remained silent, his bright emerald eyes clouded with grief, and I understood and was grateful that at least one of that wandering company had eyes keen enough to see what a man Boromir had been. Then, slowly and softly in the darkness, he began to sing:

From the mouths of Sea the South Wind flies,

from the sandhills and the stones;

The wailing of the gulls it bears,

and at the it moans.

'What news from the South,

O sighing wind, do you bring to me at eve?

Where now is Boromir the Fair?

He tarries and I grieve.'

'Ask not of me where he doth dwell

– so many bones there lie.

On the white shores and the dark shores

under the stormy sky,

So many have passed down Anduin

to find the flowing Sea

Ask of the North Wind news of them,

the North Wind sends to me!'

'O Boromir! Beyond the gate

the seaward road runs south.

But you came not with the wailing gulls

from the grey Sea's mouth.'

(The Two Towers, p. 17.)

He hung his head and sorrow was written clearly in his fair face. Then he looked up again and reached out his long hand; and on his palm lay the clasp of my grandmother – the one with the White Tree of Minas Tirith – and he said:

''Shortly after we had left Lothlórien, Boromir son of Denethor took me on the side and gave me this. He asked me to come to Edoras and gave it back to you, should Death find him on your journey – and to ask you for forgiveness in his name. For he did not want to fail you, nor to break his word that he had given, and the very thought of it disturbed him greatly.''

For a while I could not answer. Startled I was, indeed, how close in our shared pain and hopelessness we came, the late Heir of Gondor and I. And all that what could have been and now shall never be saddened my heart even more.

''I thank thee, Master Elf'', I finally said. ''For delivering me his last message… and for being his friend. I did not know him half as well as I would have liked, but this I read from his riddled words: though he was one whom no Rider of the Mark would outmatch in battle, his heart was grieved and torn apart – it had been even before that evil power you would not name cast its dark spell over him. And though my heart saddens over the loss of such a good and brave man, I, too, am glad for him. For now he has both honour and peace – the latter of which he did not know while still walking around under the sun.''

He looked at me in askance.

''For someone who only met him once, you surely learnt the secrets of his soul well.''

''Nay, my lord'', I answered, ''he only spoke about what haunted his dreams in riddles. But little does it matter what he might or might not have shared with me. We were much alike – and had he returned, we could have ridden to war, side by side, just as Théodred and his beloved wife used to do for many years.''

The Elf watched me closely for a moment, understanding on his fair face.

''You wish you could ride out with us'', he said.

It was not a question. I nodded nevertheless.

''That I would wish more than anything else, Master Elf. For I was bred among men of war and my fingers are more used to the hilt of a sword than to needlework. A shieldmaiden I am, with an aim no less than any man's.''

''But there is more'', he said, not taking those bright eyes from my face.

There was no use of denying. His gaze pierced my very heart.

''I seek out the very thing Boromir already reached'', I told him. ''To achieve peace and honour. Yet this swift road has been denied me – now I have to walk the path of sorrow, waiting to fade away, till the shadow that felt on our House engulfs my heart fully.''

Legolas did not give me any of the answers that most Men would have given – trying to fill my empty heart with false hopes and weightless promises no-one could ever fulfill. He only reached back, taking one of the leaf-shaped silver clasps from his tightly-braided hair and fastened it in mine.

''Even if you have to walk the path of sorrows, Éowyn of Rohan, there always shall be trees lining your road'', he said softly. ''And as long as they sprout fresh leaves on springtime, there shall always be hope – and new beginnings. Do not let the darkness come over your heart, Steelsheen of Éorl's House. For you might be sorely needed yet in the approaching dire times.''

With that, he leaned over to me and kissed my brow, the same way Théodred did sometimes when I was but a little girl and sad or frightened. Then he left with the King's host.

From afar I saw him walking with that sturdy dwarf and later laughing with my brother. And though I should have been joyous to see Éomer laughing again, and safe and sound, and in the good graces of our King once more, there was no joy in my heart.

All that remained me is darkness.

And the faces of those I shall never see again.

Théodred, lying on the battlefield at the Fords of Isen, his helm dinted, his white crest soaked with his own blood, his shield cloven.

Aud, my sister-in-arms, sitting in her chair, facing the West, with no life in those once-deep eyes.

The good men of our companies, slain and scattered all over the Fords.

And Boromir, lying in a strange Elven-boat, floating down the Great River towards a place no-one could guess. His fair face finally in peace, haunted storm-grey eyes closed, forever.

I forgive him for breaking his oath.

I release him from his obligation towards me.

That is why I fasten Morwen's blackened clasp on the collar of my shining mail shirt.

This way, the Heir of Gondor shall remain with me, as long as I am alive.

For I do not intend to cast this mail shirt away.

Not until the shadow is conquered or we are defeated.

Most likely the latter.

I am Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, sister of who might become a King some day.

I am the White Lady of Rohan, the Ice Blossom of the House of Éorl; Steelsheen am I called by Elves and Men, for my heart is not gentle and my hands cannot heal.

A shieldmaiden I am, betrothed to the weapons of war and to Death itself. Mayhap, as the Prince of Mirkwood guessed, there shall be some greet deeds for me to perform. Then I shall have honour and peace, as does the man whose life and duties and battles I would have willingly shared.

But until then, I have my own duties to attend to.

I am the lord of the Éorlingans while the King is gone. I shall lead his people to Dunharrow where they may long defend themselves. And I shall prepare shelters for the fugitives, for should the battle go ill, thither shall come all who escape.

I should go.

I should go now, as long as the quiet words and soft song of the Elf are still murmuring in my ears.

For once they are gone, there shall be naught but darkness again.

I should go. Now.

Here endeth this story