Her brother was absolutely furious and spitting mad. Yet Éowyn beheld him with no fear, even as she pulled the reins of the horse behind her and made her way towards the stables. His horse. The one he claimed no one could take without his permission, the one he said would not bear any other rider save for him.

The one she took this morning for a gallop along the green, wild fields of Edoras.

And oh! The joy. The freedom that came with such an act. It was worth every moment of this - the argument that would soon take place, now that she had come home and faced Éomer. Her brother was as protective of his horse as he was of her - maybe even more so, and she could only imagine his reaction once he found both gone without warning or consent.

Not that she ever needed his. He was only her brother, after all, not her king.

"You are undoubtedly the most foolish, bothersome, dim-witted little sister anyone could ever ask for!" He spoke with such ferocity, but was forced to lower his voice, lest he frightened the horse. Éomer took the reins from her hands with a swift slash of one of his and grabbed her arm with the other. "You are fortunate that word of your brash, impudent acts have not reached our uncle. Yet. Only our cousin knows and he wishes to have a word with you, but not before I do. Not before I make your ears bleed, dear, dear sister."

"I only borrowed your horse for a short while," Éowyn declared, trying to pull her arm free. Yet his hold was strong and firm - inescapable. "It was only for a few hours! You speak as though I did something far worse, like return with him dead and dragged behind me!"

"Éowyn-!" His nostrils flared and his face flushed and he looked about ready to tear her to pieces, and the scene would have been laughable had she been an observer, not a participant. "You did not tell us what your plans were and where we might find you, should the King or any of us wish to. You had us all worried! And worst of all - you took my horse! You knew I was going to use him tomorrow. You knew I needed him well-rested. You knew-"

The horse stepped back, seemingly uneasy with his master's anger, forcing Éomer to pull the reins forward to steady him. He then snarled, swallowed his words, and released his sister. "Stay here. I am not yet finished with you!"

Yet the moment Éomer entered the stables, Éowyn was off. She turned her back and walked towards Meduseld, head held high. Not even her brother's anger was enough to diminish her triumph at having pulled such a feat; nay, it only fuelled her elation. The glorious feeling lasted but a few minutes, for she felt someone dogging her steps and lo, her brother had caught her again.

"I told you to stay, Éowyn!"

"I am not yours to command, and you are a fool for thinking thus. Unhand me!"

"I am not yours to command," he mimicked, and now her triumph was turning to anger and he was doing well in tending to it. Very well, the way brothers oft do. "Why did you do it? I have told you time and again that you cannot ride him without-"

"And yet I did!" she said. "He responded very well to my instructions, brother. He listened to me as though he was meant to. He is spirited and magnificent and bold... I would do well with a horse like yours, and not the old mare I am saddled with!" Éowyn bit her lip; she truly did love her horse but Swiftwind was undoubtedly feeling her years and as her rider, so did she.

Éomer, of course, looked horrified at the notion. "You are still too young! You have seen too few winters to warrant such a claim." He gave her arm a good squeeze. "A horse like mine... You are fortunate that Goldmane listened to you this day, when you were alone, unsupervised. He is spirited, yes - and yet he is also reckless and wild, Éowyn. He could have thrown you without difficulty, without warning, and what would happen then? No one would know you were hurt. No one would be there to help you!"

"You need not lose sleep pondering the possibilities, Éomer, for nothing happened. Nothing! I am well and so is your horse. Cease your needless worries, and let me go."

He pulled her closer, his fair face full of unrestrained menace, and said, "Only if you promise to never ride out alone again."

"And why not?" she asked, horrified to find that she was close to tears. And yet she persisted. "Should I not learn how to be alone, now that you are to leave me? You would not even know it if I did choose to break my word, not when and where and how, and I very well could. You would not be here to know anything!"

Éomer closed his eyes and breathed. "Is that why you acted like this?" he asked. "Éowyn-"

"Do not misunderstand," she told him sternly, pulling again. This time he gave way. "I would not miss you. Even if you are to leave at this very moment, I would not care. Nay; I would be happy to see you go. A more foolish, bothersome, dim-witted older brother than you does not exist in all the lands of men. And of orcs!" She crossed her arms and looked eastward. "It is my misfortune that I am saddled with you as well."

When she risked a glance at him, Éowyn found him no longer mad - which only stoked her ire. He was supposed to get angrier! She wished for a fight, and how dare he smile now?

"I would only be gone a month, perhaps less," he said kindly. "Surely that would not be too long a wait."

She refused to say anything in response.

Éomer placed a hand on her shoulder, and nudged her chin gently to get her to look at him. "You do know why I have to go, do you not? I may one day lead my own éored - uncle had said as much - but before I do I must learn their ways. I must live as they do, and tomorrow would be the start of my lessons. Out there, in the open fields, where real battles will undoubtedly take place, for which I should be ready if I were to protect this land as I am meant to." His voice softened, turned distant. "Where, if I would not learn how to be vigilant, I could be slain as easily as a docile, defenceless lamb."

"Say not such words, brother!" Éowyn cried, clutching his arm. "Perhaps if I ask uncle, he would bid you to stay. Another day, week, even a month! Surely that is not much to ask."

He smiled at her, then. "Ah, but it is his wish that I go now. Mine, too, if I were to be honest. My dreams, sister. I am to fulfil them tomorrow."

And mine, as well. How she burned to be given a chance like her brother was, to fight for the Mark and all its beloved people. But she did not say these words, even as they burned bitterly at the back of her tongue.

"I would return," he said, moving his hand up to cup her cheek. "You would not even notice that I am missing. Your lessons could very well occupy your time."

"My lessons," Éowyn said disdainfully, "are but a waste of my time and efforts. I want to devote them to worthier causes, such as learning how to wield swords and spears and using bow and arrow."

Her brother frowned. "But I already taught you those things."

"You taught me the most basic of skills, which will still get anyone killed if they are called to battle armed with them and nothing else." She tightened her hold on his arm. "I want to learn how to fight as though my very life depended on it - and one day, it will."

Éomer scoffed and released her. "You are fortunate, then, that that day will not come for you."

"Oh? And how would you know?"

"Because I will not allow it, Éowyn! Neither would our cousin, nor the King himself! Your place is here, where you are safe, protected. You-"

She released him, then, and went silent and still for a few seconds. "You speak as though you do not know me."

He sighed. "Éowyn-"

But she had already left him.

When dawn broke the next day, the men in Éomer's éored have already gathered in Meduseld. Théoden King had embraced Éomer, Théodred clapped him on the shoulder and wished him well, and Éowyn...

...hid in the darkest corners of the Golden Hall, where she could see everything and everyone, but no one could see her. Still seething from their sour conversation, she had debated even doing this much, and thought about letting him go without seeing him.

And yet, she could not.

What if-

What if-

"Return to us in one piece, sister-son," Théoden King had said, his voice loud in the near-silent hall.

"Better with a few orcs' heads under your belt as proof of your valour," Théodred added with a grin. Several men laughed.

Théoden chuckled as well. "A fine addition to my halls they will be. Indeed, I shall be glad to have them displayed for all to see. 'Here are the labours of Éomer Orc-Slayer. Fear has now been sown in the hearts of the enemy.'"

Éomer laughed heartily. "You flatter me, my lord. But I shall strive to bring some home. Maybe even enough to fill your halls."

All too soon, it was time for them to leave. Éowyn stepped forward, watching them, and her tears started flowing unbidden. She saw her brother look around, and knew that he was searching for her. And yet his horse had already been brought forward and it was only a matter of moments before he was to ride away, and stay away, for a month.

Maybe more.

She did not even notice Théoden King approach her hiding place. Éowyn almost jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up to see him smiling down at her. "Go."

Éowyn did not need to be told twice, and later she would say that she did so only because the king had ordered her to. But now she took off running, and had caught her brother ere he was able to climb atop Goldmane.

He laughed and said, "There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you are still mad and therefore unwilling to bid me farewell."

She hid her face, breathed his familiar scent. "I am still mad," she sniffed. "But to let you leave without my good wishes is both rude and discourteous, and I am neither." Éowyn looked up at him. "Take care and return safely, brother."

He kissed her brow. "I will. Only a month, dear sister, and I shall see you again."

True to his word, Éomer did return after only a month.