Frozen Flower
by Soledad Cartwright

Part One 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 Imogen is mine.

Rating: PG 13 for violence and some major angst in later chapters.

Author's notes:
Ever wondered what Éowyn was doing in Dunharrow almost ten days long? I did. This is the result - and while it does not contradict any major canon fact, it is completely my own take on things, with the exception of the Prelude, which is a rewrite of the matching scene in ''The Two Towers''. But after that, we'll be on untouched ground.

For a perspective: at the same time, the Battle of Hornburg is fought, Saruman is overthrown by the Ents, Frodo is taken to Henneth Annún by Faramir, Gandalf reaches Minas Tirith and Aragorn takes the ''Path of the Dead''. This story ends on the 9th of March, the year 3019 in the Third Age of Middle-earth, when Théoden King comes to Dunharrow after the battle in Helm's Deep.

Imogen Ragnarsdóttir, the wife of Elfhelm, is a fully-developed character from my own fantasy universe, where she had a very similar fate. Though a sideline character only, I've grown very fond of her, so I borrowed her from myself, for I thought she would match Éowyn wonderfully. I'll try not to sue myself. To Aud of the deep eyes see the notes to ''Ice Blossom''.

This story - actually this whole series - probably would make more sense if you read the Boromir-series first; or, at least, its second part, ''The White Lady of Rohan''. There is described in detail, what exactly went on between Éowyn and Boromir some eight months earlier.


PRELUDE: CHOSEN TO RULE

Now, that Gandalf Greyhame had come to the Golden Hall of Meduseld, and thank to his power the spell Wormtongue had had Théoden King under much too long was broken, and Éomer was freed from prison where he had been thrown at Wormtongue's evil counsel, the old King of the Mark finally shook off his despair and took on consideration what should be done against his treacherous neighbor, Saruman the White, the once-wise yet still powerful wizard who had turned evil and tried to take him his lands.

For the son of Thengel was broken no more, in spite of the recent death of his beloved son, Théodred the Brave - which let him heirless, save his sister-son Éomer, whom he loved as if he were his own -, and his fingers were eager to grasp a sword-hilt again, and his great heart longed to ride out one more time and fight one last battle ere the weight of his age would take this, too from him.

Gandalf, for his part, tried to persuade the King that he should lead his people to the Hold of Dunharrow in the hills, where they would be safe for awhile, even from the orc-hordes of Saruman, yet Théoden would hear naught of it.

''Nay, Gandalf'', he said proudly. ''You do not know your own skill of healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle if it must be. Thus I shall sleep better.''

''*Westu Théoden hál!*'', cried Éomer, his heart swelling with pride and love for his King and his mother-brother, and his eyes were burning. ''It is a joy to see you return into your own. Never again shall it be said, Gandalf, that you come only with grief!''

And the armed Men of Rohan in their shining mail, who stood near, clashed their weapons, crying:
''The Lord of the Mark will ride into battle again! Forth, Éorlingas!''

''But your people must not be both unarmed and shepherdless'', said Gandalf. ''Who shall guide them and govern them in your place?''

''I shall take thought for that ere I go'', answered Théoden, yet his mind and his heart were on the upcoming battle already; on the battle that shall be, very likely, his last one. For the battle-heat ran through his veins like liquid fire once more, and suddenly he felt young again, young and powerful, as he had been a long time ago, when he rode out with a song on his lips and with the same fire in his heart.

At this moment in came the doorward of the King, a tall, proud and handsome warrior called Háma, and he knelt and presented to Théoden a long sword in a scabbard clasped with gold and set with green gems.
''Here, lord, is Herugrim, your ancient blade'', he said. ''May it gleam in your hand as it had in the times of your youth!''

The King took the sword, and as his fingers curled around its hilt, all his old strength seemed to return to his thin arm at once. He lifted the blade with a sudden, powerful move and swung it shimmering and whistling in the air. Then he gave a great cry - a cry that no-one would have hoped from a man of his age and his weakened state -, his voice ringing clear and strong as he chanted in the tongue of Rohan a call to arms.

Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden
Dire deeds awake, dark is eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded
Forth, Éorlingas!

At this, the guards broke out in joyous cries, for Théoden was loved and respected and greatly admired by all, and every one had been deeply troubled when he fell under Wormtongue's evil spell; and they drew their swords as one man and laid them at his feet.
''Command us!'', they said.

And the King gave orders that the heralds be sent forth and all who dwelt nigh be summoned; for the last host of Rohan shall ride on that very day to face the armies of Isengard. Every man and strong lad able to bear arms was to be ready in the saddle and at the gate ere the second hour from noon.

After that, the King led his guests back into the great house to offer them such refreshments as haste allowed, Already, they heard below them in the town the heralds crying and the war-horns blowing, and the Lady Éowyn, who was waiting upon the King, thought of the sound of another great horn - one that had signalled the departure of Boromir son of Denethor from Edoras almost eight months ago. One that she would hear no more.

No more would the Heir of Gondor return to the Golden Hall of Meduseld, to share songs and wine and old tales with Théodred the Brave, who had been his friend almost as long as Éowyn had been alive. Nor would he be the Heir of Gondor's throne any more, for Gondor shall have a King now, and the Stewards would be no rulers but the servants of a stranger who shall take their city and their duties and their heritage away. Nor would Éowyn, the shieldmaiden, ride into battle alongside the man who had sworn to free her from her golden cage. For that man was now dead, and could not hold his word that he given her with a solemn oath.

The King and his four guests sat at the board and ate and drank swiftly, for time was short. The others were silent while Théoden questioned Gandalf concerning Saruman's treachery and the role Gríma Wormtongue, his own counsellor of old, had played in the wizard's twisted game. And Gandalf told him everything he knew and even some of what he only guessed; and the King's heart became troubled again hearing of the great strength of Isengard; yet his will remained strong and he did not falter in his readiness any more.

Meanwhile, men came bearing raiment of war from the King's hoard; and they arranged Aragorn son of Arathorn, future King of Gondor, and Legolas, the Elven Prince of Mirkwood, in shining mail, in which they looked terrible and beautiful like the great warriors of Elves and Men in the Elder Days, though the eyes of Legolas shone even brighter than the polished metal of his hauberk, and there was a strange light in them when he glanced at the Lady Éowyn, as if he had tried to find an answer to a question only he knew; and their companion, the Dwarf, too, was offered some weapons, matching his short and sturdy stature.

Then the King rose and that was the sign for Éowyn to come forward, bearing wine according the old custom of the Rohirrim, which she did with joy; for like everyone, she, too, was happy to see Théoden regaining the strength of his youth.
''*Fertu Théoden hál!*'', she said. ''Receive now this cup and drink in happy hour. Health be with thee and thy going and coming.''

Théoden drank from the cup, and she then proffered it to the guests: first to Gandalf, then to Aragorn, then to the Elven Prince who kept looking at her with those very bright eyes of his, and finally to the Dwarf, whose great, reddish-brown beard was braided and adorned with small golden rings.

As she stood before Aragorn, she paused suddenly, and her eyes were shining with surpressed tears, for though she had learnt from the tidings she was listening all day long that this man, indeed, was from a very long line of kings and was to become a King himself, and that his claim was just, keenly could she feel the despair and utter loss Boromir must have felt upon meeting the man who was taking him every thing he had lived for.

Aragorn, of course, could not guess her true feelings. He looked down upon her fair face and smiled in that well-meant but infuriatingly patronizing manner the noble guests of her King always used to do; and as he took the cup, his hand met hers, and he knew that she trembled at the touch.

And this infuriated her even more, for she knew that he would think of the very false reason why she was trembling, yet she could not fully conquer her anger and her fear upon the feeligns of upcoming doom that had been haunting her for years and not even Wormtongue's falling in disgrace could cast away completely. For Théodred, her beloved cousin was dead, and so was Aud of the deep eyes, his wife, and the curse of the House of Éorl had taken Boromir, too, and she had no true faith more in the strength of the Men of Rohan, and no hope that they could be victorious against the wast orc-hosts of Saruman.

''Hail Aragorn son of Arathorn!'', she said, as the old rite of greeting demanded, carefully keeping her voice even and cool and her face blank.
''Hail Lady of Rohan!'', he answered, but his face was now troubled and he did not smile.

And Éowyn caught the worried look of her brother and cursed inwardly like a drunk horse-guard in a lowly inn. Why must men always believe that the only thing troubling a woman's heart could be the suddenly inflamed love for a man at the first sight? She felt like screeming, and as she moved away to the Elf, she felt again the curious look of those bright eyes searching her face.

When they all had drunk, the King went down the hall to the doors. There the guards awaited him, and heralds stood, and all the lords and chieftains were gathered together that remained in Edoras or dwelt nearby.

''Behold! I go forth and it seems like to be my last riding'', said Théoden, yet there was fire in his eyes and fierce joy. ''I have no child. Théodred my son is slain. I name Éomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new Lord as you will. But to some one I must now entrust my people that I leave behind to rule. Which of you will stay?''

No man spoke. Nor could have the King hoped that any one would. The Rohirrim were warriors, born and bred for the fight - none of them would lay down his sword of his own free will.

/Nor would I, if I ever were asked/, Éowyn thought in bitter wrath, cursing the cruel twist of fate that let her born in a woman's body. /What good does it do for me, being a shieldmaiden and having a better aim than most men of Rohan when my King would not even consider bringing me along with him into battle?/

''Is there none whom you would name?'', the King asked again. ''In whom do my people trust?''
''In the House of Éorl'', Háma, the ever-faithful answered without a heartbeat of hesitation.

''But Éomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay'', said the King; ''and he is the last of that House.''

At these words Éowyn felt what little in her heart was still alive to freeze to ice in-between two heartbeats. The last of Éorl's House! Éomer! What, then, was she, daughter of Éomund, grand-daughter of Thengel King of Rohan, some service-woman of the palace? Or else some pawn that could be handled over to a useful ally should the need emerge?
She was, fortunately, too thundestruck to even turn away and run from this twice-cursed place, as she, no doubt, would have done otherwise.

''I said not Éomer'', answered Háma; then, with a glance at the very pale Éowyn, whose eyes gleamed like a naked blade, he added: ''And he is *not* the last. There is Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let *her* be the lord to the Éorlingas, while we are gone.''

Théoden looked at the daughter of his beloved sister with fondness, but also with doubt. Éowyn raised her head defiantly, her jaw set firmly. How would any one, even the King, dare to question her skills to fulfill such an easy task? Was she not the daughter of Kings and a shieldmaiden? Had it to be Háma, of all people, be his name blessed till the end of time, to remaind the King that there was, indeed, another healthy sprig on the mouldy old tree of Éorl's House?

Théoden clearly saw the hurt and the cold fury burning in Éowyn's ice-blue eyes and gave in with a sigh.
''It shall be so'', he said. ''Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Éowyn shall lead them!''

Then the King sat upon a seat before his doors, and Éowyn knelt before him and received from him a sword and a fair corslet.
''Farewell, sister-daughter'', Théoden said. ''Dark is the hour, yet maybe we shall return to the Golden Hall. But in Dunharrow the people may long defend themselves, and if the battle go ill, thither will come all who escape.''

''Speak not so!'', she answered through clenched teeth; how could the King summon up his own doom with such lightly-spoken words? ''A year shall I endure for every day that passes until your return.''

And she shot a warning look at Aragorn who stood nearby. As the future King of Gondor, this man had the right to demand allegiance from Rohan; yet should Théoden or Éomer suffer any ill because of him, Éowyn was ready to make him pay for it.

''The King shall come again'', the soft voice of the Elven Prince said beside her. ''Fear not. Not West but East does our doom await us.'' And, lowering his voice even more, he added. ''I shall require a moment of your time, Lady. For I have a message for you to deliver.''
And he reached out a long, pale hand, and on his palm the time-darkened silver clasp of her grandmother lay. The one with the White Tree of Gondor she gave Boromir upon his departure.

The King now went down the stair to muster his host, with Gandalf beside him. The others followed, save Legolas, who longed to speak to the Lady Éowyn right now, for he feared that later he would not have the chance to do thus. They spoke in hushed tones in the shadow at the great hall, and though Gandalf gave clear signs of impatience down there, the Elf took his time to say every thing he had been asked to say, not caring for the wizard's dismay.

Then he, too, run down the stair lightly, joining the others. Aragorn shot him an angry glare, then, as they passed through the gate, he looked back, wondering what the Elf might have told the White Lady of Rohan, who stood alone before the doors of the house at the stair's head; the sword was set urpight before her, and her hands were laid upon the hilt. She was clad now in mail and shone like silver in the sun.

And Legolas, casting a parting glance at her cold and beautiful and grim face, finally understood the admiration and respect Boromir had felt for this brave woman, and that the two of them could have, indeed, forged a strong bond between them, even without love, if fate had been less cruel to the son of Denethor. For Boromir was a man of honour above else, and a born warrior, who would have given everything to save his city - for one short, horrible moment even his own soul; and that short moment was his downfall.

What now might become of Éowyn of Rohan, Legolas could only guess, but the far-seeing wisdom of his mother that sometimes emerged in his own heart told him that she was chosen for far greater deeds than to defend the people left behind in Dunharrow and to wait for the men to return from the battlefield - and that she was strong enough to face her destiny, no matter what the men of her family might believe.

He sighed, only half-listening to Gimli, whose mind was on the upcoming battle already, grumbling about the unnerving custom of Men wasting their time with long speaches ere they finally rode out, while they joined the waiting host of Rohan. There they met Éomer, who made a piece offer to the Dwarf about the beauty of ladies they had met, and they spoke and jested briefly.

And then came Gandalf, clad entirely in white, mounting Shadowfax, the prince of all horses in the Mark, snowy hair flying free in the wind and white robes dazzling in the sun.
''Behold the White Rider!'', cried Aragorn, and the Riders of Rohan took up the words.
''Our King and the White Rider!'', they shouted. 'Forth, Éorlingas!''
And with that great battle cry, the last host of Rohan rode thundering into the West.

Far over the plain Éowyn saw the gitter of their spears as she stood still, alone before the doors of the silent house. She glared after them as long as a spark remained to see. Then she turned around and went back into the shadows of the Grat Hall.

She had preparations to make.
But first, she had to grieve.

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

End note:
Technically, this would be my second Éowyn story, but since the first one, ''Ice Blossom'', happens timely between this prelude and the upcoming Chapter One, I decided to change their order. As you probably noticed, I messed up the facts a little, compared to how they were originally described in ''The Two Towers''. This is still no AU, though. Should rather be the way how Éowyn saw the same events... whether she was right or not.