So this is embarrassing! Has it really been six years!? Can we say five and a half? No? Oh, dear.
Well, onto the next chapter! We'll give our excuses down below.
The Province of Men
Chapter 11: Final Words
"Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell? Where was Gondor when our enemies closed in around us?! Where was Gon–?" Rage barely stifled, Théoden shook his head. "No, my Lord Aragorn. We are alone."
Théoden walked away, leaving his niece and the man, elf, and dwarf she had brought with her.
Aragorn turned to Éohild with a long-suffering expression, as if she could do anything about what her King had decided. "Éohild…"
But Éohild looked just as frustrated—only, at him. She opened her mouth, only to shut it, and then sighed, glancing away.
"Éohild?" asked Legolas.
Aragorn's brows furrowed. "What troubles you? Speak, friend."
Éohild hesitated. Aragorn was experienced in many things, perhaps moreso in every way than her. But she was upset. Could it be leftover frustration from Boromir's death? She wondered, because she had learned from her friendship with Legolas that it could have been that. But as she dwelt on it, she knew it wasn't. It was indignation for her uncle.
"Aragorn…" she began with a murmur, "For so long, you have denied…" your birthright, the words hung in the air. "That is, my uncle has embraced his role as king for as long as he has lived. You cannot—" She swallowed, and her face couldn't choose between a glare and a pout. Éohild knew her uncle was wrong not to even attempt to seek aid, but he was her King. She felt it her duty to defend him from any slight. "You cannot impose your will upon him."
Aragorn shook his head. "Éohild, I do not impose my will. You know yourself—Helm's Deep is a corner. And to face the coming battle alone at that? Do you truly believe it wise?"
Éohild exhaled. "Do not speak of wisdom," she muttered, the irritation plain on her face – but it was at herself, not at him. She found it difficult to speak her mind, because the nature of the Fellowship was ever changing, and most of all, it was not a part of the hierarchy in which she had grown. Théodred had been her cousin, her brother, but in her éored, he was her Marshal foremost, and though she could question him, he would never undermine his own father, and they both knew that.
Aragorn, meanwhile, was an outsider. One not bound to the constraints of the Mark's clear chain of command; and he had fought with Thengel! So if he found it necessary to question her uncle, he could do it directly and without prostrating himself – and that angered her. But he was her friend in the Fellowship, and her leader, too. This all felt like having to choose between him and her uncle.
"Aragorn…" she began, trying to reconcile her feelings of loyalty, friendship, and love. Trying to speak, for once. Boromir came to mind. "I trust your counsel with my life. When Gandalf fell, you led us and found the Hobbits. Found my brother, even. But these are the lives of all my people, and you must understand – I am certain my Uncle feels the same, having fought at your side… but this is the Mark. Our home. He cannot entrust its fate to another. You may be his elder, but..."
The Ranger waited patiently, listening until she could find no more words. When it was apparent that she would speak no more, he set a hand on her shoulder. "You've made plain your thoughts to me, my friend."
Éohild nodded. "And so... will you fight alongside us, who are so unwise?" Théoden's frustration flickered across his sister-daughter's face, but soon it fell away to sorrow. "Of course – I would never force your hand. Even now, you need never go further than you will."
Gimli had wisely stayed silent, knowing this was something solely between the two – but no longer.
"That's hardly a question!" Gimli huffed.
Aragorn smiled in agreement. "We are friends, Éohild. And more than that—your people are ours. If Théoden King must fight to the last breath… so it is my will."
Éohild looked only relieved. "I hope it will not come to that. But you have my gratitude, Aragorn."
She reached over and squeezed his hand, and he did the same. When she was gone, Aragorn turned to his companions – but only Gimli was left. Upon the Ranger's confused expression, the dwarf could only shrug.
Legolas had stormed off.
The joy that had overwhelmed the Hornburg at its daughter's return was quickly sullied by the news she and her dark-haired companion brought with them.
Every man and strong lad able to bear arms, Théoden King had decreed, would fight in the coming battle. What nearly brought Éohild to tears was the necessity of it all. Her uncle would never ask any of his people to lay down their lives if he had thought there existed any other option. Some part of her wondered if they would have been safer following Gandalf's advice and meeting the army head on, but she struck the thought from her mind as soon as it came.
After all, that dark army had numbers far beyond theirs. On an open battlefield, what was left of the Rohirrim force without the men of the Second and Third Marshals would hold for less than an hour or two before they were defeated, leaving the people open to attack. But was this really so different?
No. Théoden King chose what was best for his people, given his options. It was not her place to question him, no matter what Aragorn or Gimli or anyone else said. She had expressed as much to them.
For now, her place was to aid her Uncle. Erkenbrand had banished her from helping her brothers fortify the gates, and many times she had narrowly avoided running into Legolas, who seemed intent on telling her to rest. So she found herself joining a less fussy Baldred in transferring supplies into the Glittering Caves.
They had only finished their last round and decided to rest near the entrance, on a raised platform of rock overlooking the place. Even in momentary respite, dwelling in the cavern felt like walking among starlight. The sound of water dripping rhythmically into small pools scattered about it made for a peaceful place to stop and think – or at least it had, in the beginning. Now, it was as if the water taunted her; reminded her of the passage of time, of the evening to come even as she tried to rest.
It felt like years and years ago when the caves served as her hiding place with Baldred and Gárwine as squires when they wished to avoid duties, if only for a while. Eventually, they had stopped visiting...
"We grew up."
Snapping out of her trance, Éohild turned to Baldred sitting next to her. "Hmm?"
"The reason we never returned here," he answered, eyes to the ceiling. "Once we became Riders and set out with the éored, we took on ... other responsibilities."
"Oh." Éohild nodded. "I suppose you're right."
"I must admit, Gárwine and I visited the caves when we believed you would not return," he explained, lowering his gaze to her. "It seemed a proper place to mourn you."
Éohild watched her friend with a guilty expression, but scoffed as soon as she remembered herself. "Mourn me, did you? And here I'd thought you knew me better!"
"What?" Gárwine's fingers appeared on the platform close to Baldred's feet. Not a second later, the last member of their trio pulled himself to the ledge next to them and stared out at the women and children settling into the caves below. Sitting next to Éohild, he gave her an incredulous look. "What else were we to think? After all, whoever would know you better than the Riders who suffered through your monthly moods?"
Éohild feigned a huff at the sight of him. "I had hoped you were still toiling away at the kitchens."
Baldred laughed at the both of them. "My apologies, friend," he said, clapping Éohild's shoulder. "Not to worry—when the war is over, we shall return here as victors."
Éohild's face fell, and then she couldn't help her grin. The hope of surviving this night was so slim that she daren't think of the morrow, but the words of her old friend encouraged her more than she thought they could. "And Gárwine may serve us with a victor's feast, of course."
Gárwine gave a loud Ha! and threw the piece of cloth sitting on his shoulder at the girl. "We shall see. Accustom yourself to holding that, Éohild. You may use it to wipe my armor when I save your life in battle tonight."
Éohild made a retching sound as she pried the cloth—drenched in sweat—from her forehead. She threw it back at his face while he chuckled. When her aim proved true and it hit him in his laughing mouth, he groaned in disgust. She wore a triumphant grin for it. "Baldred, shan't it be the other way round? Do tell him."
Their designated peacekeeper only smiled. "So long as one of you wipes my armor, I shall be quite satisfied with either."
Gárwine and Éohild turned to each other with affronted expressions. The latter made an odd motion with her hand while the former nodded, ready to hurl his small towel at Baldred, but a voice from below them saved the poor innocent at the last moment.
"Lady Éohild?" called a girl from below them, sounding a little uncertain of herself. It was Gisla, Gytha's daughter. "Lady Éowyn promised she would follow us here and divide your lembas among the women, but she has not returned."
Éohild peered over the ledge. She glanced back at her friends, whose expressions had reverted to their somber countenance. They had almost forgotten the battle. Responsibilities, as Baldred had said.
Boromir came to mind all of a sudden. You know nothing of true responsibility. He had apologized, and she forgave him, would always miss him—would he have liked her friends? Would they have him?—but the words remained with her nonetheless.
"I shall look for her, then," said Éohild, rising to her feet. With a grateful nod, Gisla disappeared into the crowd of women and children finding their place in the many nooks of the cavern. The Rider watched her go with no malice in her heart. Once, they had looked upon each other with disdain. Being Gytha's daughter, Gisla had clearly found the prospect of the king's sister-daughter joining the Riders distasteful, and Éohild had resented her for it in turn. It saddened her that their differences no longer mattered only when faced with death.
"I should return to work as well," said Gárwine, clearing his throat and draping the towel back over his shoulder. "I did promise the kitchen I would help them bring the food here and to the rest of the soldiers for their last—" he stopped, looking very regretful at his choice of words. "For their meals before the battle."
"So shall I, I suppose," said Baldred, following the two as they hopped down the platform, "if you tell us who the maiden is."
"The maiden?" Éohild glanced at her friends, tying her hair up like Baldred's. When Gárwine pretended not to hear, her grin returned in full force. It had struck her as odd that Gárwine agreed to work in the kitchens, and Baldred had divined the reason how this miracle had come about. "Ah, the maiden. Do go on, Gárwine. What is the poor girl's name?"
The man gave an exasperated groan. "Off with you two!"
They parted ways not long after leaving the Caves, but Éohild could not find Éowyn. She found the lembas, kept in King Théoden's room—he was off inspecting the Deeping Wall—and distributed it herself among the women as she had always intended. Still she could not find her sister.
"That's the last of it, I'm afraid," she murmured to the little boy who offered a hand out to ask for more. She had managed to divide it among those present—when even those at the kitchen had already retreated into the Caves—and had left only enough for the soldiers entering battle that night.
"Remember to eat them at intervals, if possible," Éohild instructed. If they met victory upon the morrow, there would be no need for it. But her orders were a contingency plan, preparation for the possibility that they would lose to Saruman's terrible army. If the women and children attempted to escape through the system of caves into the White Mountains… only the lembas would be light enough to carry. Everything and everyone else would be left behind.
"Do you..." Next to her, having helped distribute, Erna frowned. "Do you think we stand a chance, milady? You have seen many battles, have you not?"
Éohild would never reveal that she had never fought in one of this scale. "I cannot say what awaits us tomorrow. But we must, and we will do all we can to survive—is it not our way? Of the Eorlingas?"
"Always," said a voice behind them.
"Éowyn!" Éohild whirled, nodding at Erna in dismissal and hurrying to her sister. She stood at the mouth of the cave, fists clenched at her sides. "I must have searched the Hornburg for you. Twice! Where have you been?"
"And you've found me," was all Éowyn chose to say, blue eyes downcast, "where I am to make my last stand. Hiding."
Only then did Éohild know the bitter look on her face. Éowyn had never been one to sulk—not since they were children. "Sister," she began, scrambling for the words in her mind, reaching out for her arms. "This is not—"
"Say no more," Éowyn muttered coolly, turning away from her grasp. "I have heard enough from Lord Aragorn."
Éohild felt her shoulders slump in dismay. She knew it could not be wholly about Aragorn—but that her sister had even approached him upset her. That she pinned her hopes on a man who could never truly be hers wrenched at her heart.
"You know that Aragorn speaks truth and wisdom." When Éowyn's frown deepened, Éohild sighed. "I am sorry, sister. You know another sword arm is always welcome, but Uncle..."
"I understand," she said curtly. "All too well, Éohild. You needn't explain it once more."
Éohild's mouth clamped shut at that. Before a battle of the kind they faced, she was in no mood to fight with her sister. She could only hold her hand desperately. "Remind the women of the lembas and their patience. Wait here," she pleaded. "I will fetch you a sword, in the small chance you must fight—though I pray it does not come to that."
Éowyn finally met her gaze at those words, her dark expression at once turning kindly. Suddenly, she regretted displacing her bitterness toward Éohild. Sorrow reigned in her heart, but Éohild was just as torn. Just as her Elvish friend had said to Lord Aragorn—she was half-dead from the attack. Had she been in her place, she would have told Éohild much the same.
"All right," she said, begrudgingly placated.
With the smile that always made Éowyn just a little less sour, Éohild left for the armory. Now that those unable to fight were safely in the Caves, it was easier to pass through the thinned crowd. At any rate, she knew Éowyn's technique and exactly what kind of weapon to give her—a longsword more like Aragorn's, in fact, and a coincidence that did not make her particularly happy.
Speaking of the Dunedain—there he was, storming out of the armory, brows furrowed in rare but familiar anger.
He almost passed her without notice. "Aragorn?" she called out to him with worry.
Aragorn turned, vaguely shocked to see her, and gave her a smile. But it was tight-lipped, one obviously rendered out of courtesy, and he said not another word before leaving.
Éohild shook her head. She would ask later.
The armory was filled with men too old or too young murmuring among themselves, so much that Éohild's entrance went unnoticed—until Legolas and Gimli swept past her. Their Elf looked awfully upset, gaze fixed on the entrance as he headed there, footsteps heavy.
That was too strange to be coincidence. Grabbing the nearest weapon fit for Éowyn, she bade Gimli wait for her. She hadn't even spoken a word and the Dwarf already caught her confused countenance.
"You understand," he shook his head, no longer chasing their Elf. "Tensions run high before battles. Doubts… abound. The lad is only worried."
"I shall go after him," she said. "Aragorn..."
Gimli sighed. Hadn't he just told Legolas to let the man be? But worry didn't suit Éohild, and he reluctantly nodded. "Leave him to me."
Gimli grumbled to himself as he pushed through the crowd counter to the soldiers marching past him. He was exasperated – it had been a long day filled with hope and despair and reunions both glad and angry – but he supposed it could be worse. At the very least, the Rohirrim possessed the decency to be pretty blonds so that Aragorn stood out among them in his dark ensemble.
He caught the man close to the gates. Aragorn was a quick study with directions – a basic requirement for a Ranger, the Dwarf humorously thought to himself – but he was easily lost in thought. So when the man paused to regain his bearings, Gimli stood before him and blocked his way.
"Gimli," Aragorn startled out of his thoughts. "How did you find me?"
Arms crossed, the Dwarf shot him a deadpan look.
Aragorn was polite enough to look chastised. "My apologies. You needn't have followed me, though I am sorry to have worried you."
Gimli gauged him for a moment, and then beckoned toward the barracks. "Let's talk, lad."
"Yes. Are you going to make this difficult?"
Their Dwarf was almost always exasperated in some way, but often that could be dispelled with a joke. Aragorn could tell he meant this question. "No."
Taking the lead for once, Gimli nodded and headed for a secluded area near the barracks. Soldiers passed along with equipment and a distant look in their eye, all of them too busy to notice. When the two settled against a wall, the Dwarf watched Aragorn again.
"Do you know, lad, that you've never shared a thing with us?"
"Not a thing. Think about it, lad. Do you consider us friends in the least?"
Aragorn frowned. "We've looked death in the eye together – more times than I can count. How can you ask such a thing?"
Gimli shook his head. "That makes us trusted allies. Brothers in arms ready to lay our lives down for each other, and there's honor in that," the Dwarf corrected. "But friends – friends trust one another with their worries. You've not done a thing like that since we set out."
Aragorn's frustration faded into understanding, and perhaps a little shame. Still, he fought it. "I was left to lead us when Gandalf passed," he insisted. "How could I burden you with my troubles when you had your own? All of us, Gandalf. You, your kin. Éohild, her people, and Boromir…"
Ours, he thought.
And still he could not grant it.
"I will always mourn Khazad-dûm," said Gimli. "But we have pressing concerns now. Concerns which trouble you – and our Elf, and our lass. But you most of all, precisely for you have led us for so long. 'Tis I who would be remiss as a friend if I did not hear them."
As soon as Gimli had mentioned his concerns, all of Aragorn's fears and doubts came to the forefront of his mind, exactly where he'd tried his hardest to keep them from. "I…" His face betrayed the burden all men, even kings, must carry. But he warded it away from it and his mind. "No. I cannot afford doubts now."
"Oh, can't you? What the Elfling said – he's wrong, then?"
Aragorn reared his head at the Dwarf, anger piqued. "What do you want of me, Gimli? To forgive Legolas? I did not condemn him for his fears."
"No. But you do condemn yourself."
Aragorn paused, both at his friend's words and his calm manner. The righteous indignation seemed to drain from him, leaving his shoulders slumped. "What did you say?"
"You cannot grant that you share our fears or our doubts. You imagine that would fail us in some way. Do I speak untruly, lad?" Gimli crossed his arms, and had the gall to look smug. Because he was right - and Aragorn knew it. "Isn't that why you left the barracks? The Elfling was heedless to raise it with you at such a dire time, to be sure. But…will you admit to thinking the same?"
Aragorn was silent. Stubborn. But it was no denial, and that was fine enough for Gimli, who nodded.
"As your friend," he began, "I should tell you – there is no shame in that."
"No?" the man finally spoke. "I have no time for worries. Not with all at hand."
"Wrong again," Gimli muttered. "You have no time to succumb to them - but you have time to know them. To permit your friends to tell you that regardless, they will stand with you in battle."
Aragorn regarded Gimli at that. Admittedly, he hadn't thought the Dwarf one for introspection. He felt shame for it, but gratitude, too. "…Thank you, Gimli."
The Dwarf smiled. He noted that Aragorn still refused to grant it aloud – but he knew by now the stubbornness of their leader; as though admitting shame would end the world. Was there no other reason he refused to admit that his own heart belonged to Gondor till he was faced with Boromir's last breaths? Aragorn was not one to speak of his worries. But if, to put the man at ease, Gimli had to speak them for him, then he would. It was the least he could do for a friend.
Éohild darted past the current of soldiers, having much better luck than Gimli maneuvering around them, and managed to follow their Elf to the tower bearing the horn of Helm Hammerhand. It surprised her that he should choose here of all places. Did he know its importance?
Soldiers marched by the tower in the anxious flurry of preparation, and so Legolas heard it at once, even before he sat at the base of the stairs—the slow, faltering steps that followed him.
"Forgive me, but I..." he said, "I would ask for peace. I will return as soon as—"
The words of rejection left him at the sight of her. It felt as though he were physically incapable of doing such a thing.
When he did not ask her to leave, Éohild approached, taking his side on the steps. She knew that he and Aragorn were old friends—certainly much longer than she and Boromir had been—and she knew the hurt from an argument such as what must have transpired in the armory, even in times like these. The troubled expression on his face betrayed anything he might have said to dissuade her, and in any case, he was wise enough not to try.
She pressed a palm to his back. She could not tell him things would turn out for the better; they had lost too much together to lie in such a manner. But Éohild hoped it would reach him—that she was there, as he had been for her.
"Whatever Aragorn said... Friends speak unkindly at times, when troubled."
Legolas sighed, eyes trained to the men still passing them outside the tower. "No. It was I who spoke unkindly."
Without prompting, the Elf met her gaze, and his was of a kind she had never seen in those blue eyes of his. Sorrow and anger she had witnessed before, but this distress and desperation – it reigned so fully in his naturally serene features that she could not look away.
"Éohild," he spoke, carefully as though he had already given her offense. "The children... The old men... They will do more harm than good. And I… that is... It was unworthy of me."
She understood. He had said as much to Aragorn in the armory, and their leader had not accepted these words. Suddenly Éohild was sorry she had spoken as she had to Aragorn earlier, after their talk with her uncle. She also knew she should have been furious at Legolas herself, but the despair in his voice softened her heart.
"Do you believe the King blind to this truth? Or Aragorn? ...Or I?" When his brows only furrowed, she continued. "What is the purpose of the Riders if not to protect those who cannot fight for themselves? I know these new recruits. Some of them watched me grow, and some I have known since they were only bundles in their mothers' arms."
Legolas turned his head when she removed her hand from his back, as if to seek her out. He settled when she touched his arm instead.
"Legolas, I will bear you no ill will if you wish to leave us now. You have gone far and beyond the oath we swore that day in the mountains. My people are weak—I know this all too well. But I cannot balk at the thought of death now, when so much is at stake."
His jaw clenched at her words. "And if you fail to protect them?" he challenged.
"Then I will meet them wherever mortal men go to die—but then I shall not be shamed at our meeting. If I must die, I do so defending all I love."
Her conviction made him want to sneer at her, to shake her by the shoulders and tell her that there was no shame in retreat, that like her sister she placed too much stake in glory and not enough on what was most precious—her life—but Éohild was a woman of the Mark; of the Eorlingas. Her love was passed through dance and song and her pride ran in her very blood. It was why to taunt her was to push her away, and why he could not bear it if he did.
"Are you so prepared for death?" he asked, voice laced with sorrow.
As the momentum in his voice fell, so did it in hers. "No," she said, and it confounded him that she appeared at that moment both a frightened child and a world-weary warrior. "But I fear losing them more than I fear losing my own life. ...I suppose I am a coward."
Legolas shook his head, a hand on hers on his arm. He squeezed it. "Never. You are the bravest woman I have ever met, Éohild of the Mark."
Éohild felt her ears warm at that. The recklessness that had burned through her as she answered his questions seemed to cool in the face of an earnest compliment from him. She berated her traitorous heart and only smiled. "I'm afraid that does no justice to the women of my land. Nor of yours."
"I speak truthfully," said the Elf. "Éohild, when... when I thought you had died, I felt..." He exhaled deeply, giving her hand another squeeze to calm himself. His gaze was distant as he tried to find the right words. And when he did, his eyes burned meaningfully into hers. "...I felt hollow. As though something had clawed out my chest, and left in its wake a gaping abyss I could never hope to fill, not in all the years I have yet to live. As though there were no more reason to fight, save your wish to protect the Mark, and it was all that we—all that I could do."
Éohild was unaware of her mouth falling agape. She had not realized earlier how close they sat to each other, or how much more warmth he provided from such a proximity—her mind spun at his words and her heart throbbed in her ears. What could he possibly mean? The hope swelled within her, but her already wounded pride chided her for it.
When I thought you had died, I felt ... hollow.
'You' could have meant anyone, she thought. Likely it meant her and Aragorn, especially given their long history as friends, almost as brothers.
Legolas watched the dismay fill Éohild's face. "Are my words… unwelcome?"
Éohild blinked. "No. Not at all. I… Thank you, Legolas."
Thank you, Legolas? Was that all she could muster!? The Rider wanted to bury her head in the ground for sounding like such a fool, but all she found was her face in his chest as he suddenly reached out and took her into his arms.
They had only done so once before, but his scent and the warmth of his embrace felt familiar. Like she already belonged there. Breathing with relief, she returned his affection.
It felt much too soon when Legolas pulled away. "I've an apology to make," he said.
Éohild smiled, heart hammering away as she looked upon him. He had always been beautiful to her, but now her appreciation of him meant something else. An informed sort of fondness whose depths she fought to ignore. "You should. While there's still time."
"While there's still time," Legolas repeated, watching her intently.
"Yes," the Elf cleared his throat when, after a pause and he had failed to move, confusion began to spread across Éohild's features. Remembering himself, he turned away from her completely. "Where will you go?"
Éohild followed him to his feet, accepting the hand he offered her. "I promised Éowyn I would give her a weapon." She lifted the sword between them, eyeing it with disdain. "I pray she never draws it from this sheath."
Legolas only watched her. "We will do all in our power to make it true."
Éohild raised her eyes to his and smiled. Behind the steely determination in his gaze was a tenderness that she did not recognize, but the Elf felt it stir inside him until it engulfed all of him, entirely. Whatever happened now, he thought, he knew that he meant every word he had said to her - and every word his craven heart had not.
Stilling his trembling hand, he rested it on her upper back. As she nodded, he guided her out of their little sanctuary.
Éohild stood by the door, the sheath of a sword that was not hers - that remained on her hip - still in her hand. She had been on her way to the caves to pass Éowyn the weapon she so craved when one of the King's men had found her.
He stood next to Gamling, who bowed upon his dismissal and turned to leave. With a warm nod toward Éohild, he departed the keep, leaving his lord with his sister-daughter.
Now alone and fully dressed for war, Théoden turned toward his niece. It felt like years since he had last looked upon her, and yet the day he had first met her was fresh in his mind. A crying babe in his sister's arms, as wild and as loud as she would become in her youth, even after her mother's passing. Éowyn had been wily herself, to be sure, but it was always Éohild who bore the will to carry out their schemes; the impudence to become a Rider of the Mark.
And he loved her for it. He would always favor Éowyn most among Théodwyn's children - she reminded him most of his late sister - but his love for Éomer and for Éohild was never far behind. It pained him not to see his nephew, just as it pained him to see his niece so ready for battle.
He beckoned to her with a nod, and she drew forward, as dedicated to him as any of his men.
When they were close, she inclined her head. "You summoned, my lord?"
It still shamed him that she should look upon him with such hope. Though the years he had lost to treachery were murky to him, he remembered how she looked at him when she had thought him ill. Pity, fear, even resignation. But never hatred, even when his weakness had abandoned them to Gríma's wickedness. And now, hope. "Am I not your uncle as well, young Éohild?"
Éohild's serious expression broke into a smile - an excessively happy one. When was the last time he had spoken to her with mirth? "Of course. My uncle called, and so I have come."
"Good," Théoden nodded. The matter of Théodred hung in the air between them, but they had laid him to rest. Now was a time for them. "I often wonder what your mother and father would have thought - knowing I permitted my youngest sister-daughter to take up arms."
His niece pursed her lips. Her doubt was her father's; her certainty, her mother's. "They would have trusted your judgment."
Her answer made him hesitate. It was true he had called her here for a purpose. "Then will you trust mine?" he spoke carefully, reaching for her wrist. "Stay behind with the women and the children, with Éowyn—to protect them."
With a speed that surprised him, Éohild withdrew her arm at once. And then, knowing what she had done, she lowered her head. Her lips trembled as she spoke. "My lord," she spoke, because it had been a command to her by the king, "do not ask this of me. I beg you." Éohild kept her eyes to his feet. "I was unable to fight at Isen, and now…"
She stopped, swallowing down the tears he could already see glimmering in her eyes. But his niece had chosen to become a warrior, and so she stamped them out, her lashes fluttering as she blinked them away. When she raised her head to look upon him again, she was steady. "Pray understand… I would never dishonor you. But if this is to be our end," she echoed his words to Aragorn, "I wish to fight. Alongside my brothers. Alongside my king. Pray do not ask me to dishonor my éored by staying behind."
Théoden listened to her speak with some surprise, though his kingly manner did not permit him to show much of it. The impudence she had used to join the Second Marshal's éored had fallen to nothing when she became a Rider. So grateful had she been for being permitted to train as a squire that she had never truly questioned his orders again. In many ways, she had become even less plainspoken than Éowyn. He wondered what had occurred on her journey with Boromir, with her new friends, that would inspire such a change in her.
But it was not an unwelcome change, even as it saddened him not to have witnessed it himself.
He couldn't stifle a smile at Éohild's apparent shock. He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. "I know not what Théodwyn and Éomund would have thought of my decision. But I know they would be proud of you, Éohild—just as I am."
Éohild's eyes widened, and then he lost sight of them as she looked down, batting away her tears again. How many years had passed since she had shed tears before him? When he was only her uncle, and not her king?
"I am sorry, sister-daughter," he admitted, for all that I let pass, and was shocked at the sound of his own voice cracking.
It was the very thing that made Éohild's resolve to stay the king's steady soldier crumble completely. "Uncle!" she cried, as she had as a young girl after she and Éowyn had torn at each other's hair in some silly squabble, as she had when she had come to his room after a nightmare, and rushed into his open arms.
They remained there for a time, and both uncle and niece understood that the years had not and would not change their devotion to one another.
It was only the sound of a proud but unfamiliar horn that parted them.
The sight that awaited them was more hope than any creature in the Mark could ever have imagined.
Elves. And not just elves—Galadhrim! Éohild would have flown down to meet the fair-haired warriors had she not been a Rider, first and foremost. As it was, she followed her king with the silence and the proud gaze of a perfect soldier as the King met them.
Not for very long, however. The renewed hope in the soldiers at the sight of reinforcements came alight through the keep in wondrous murmurs and undeniable smiles as word of their arrival spread through the fortress. Théoden King himself could not but smile.
"How is this possible…?"
As Éohild followed him down the steps, she recognized the man who bowed before her king. Had she not once done the same for his queen?
"I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell," said Haldir, his gaze flickering from Théoden to Éohild. His stately manner remained, though the hint of a smile tugged at his mouth as recognition passed his bright eyes. "An alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago, we fought and died together."
Éohild did not think it possible for the warmth in her heart to blaze so surely, not on a night like this, but it did. Watching Haldir incline his head toward Théoden again, she wanted to weep.
"We come to honor that allegiance."
Perhaps it was the way she and her uncle had torn down the walls they had built between them over the years; perhaps it was that Haldir reminded her of a better time, a halcyon moment of rest before and after more heartache in tranquil Lothlórien; or perhaps it was simply the hope that spilled forth whence she had thought there was no more to be found. Hope had seemed so forbidden before this moment, and now it was here. Decorum hardly seemed to matter in the face of that.
And so Éohild burst forward, leaping to wrap her arms around a stunned Haldir. She cried out his name as he relaxed in her gratitude and returned her hope with his hands on her back. Théoden certainly stilled at sight of his sister-daughter so forward with a man, more so an Elf, but he was of the same mind as she, and let it pass with amusement.
Haldir's smile was as soft as it had been on the banks of Celebrant at dawn as he looked upon those coming down to meet them: Aragorn, Legolas, and even Gimli, all old friends for whom and with whom he would be honored to fight.
Nobody noticed the eyes of the Elf already there flicker with dismay as he stared at the embrace before them, even as he smiled. No, Aragorn and Gimli were too happy to see the Galadhrim, and the former turned to Théoden with an expectant grin.
As Éohild pulled away, permitting Aragorn to greet his friend with an embrace himself, Théoden nodded. He gestured toward the keep with pride. They were not alone.
"My friends, you are most welcome here."
Sorry it's quite sappy this chapter... It is right before the battle when everyone thinks they'll die, after all, so forgive us. Haha! What did you guys think?
We have no excuses. Life became difficult and more busy, and the way The Hobbit films went honestly left a bad taste in our mouths. But we're here again, and hopefully it won't take six more years (or five and a half!) to update again. And we hope you've been safe during this crazy time. Stay in and watch LotR!
Now, to the reviews from years ago! Thank you everyone who did that. We never not saw the reviews, we were just... we had a lot going on, and a bunch of other fics popped up in the meantime. But we still love Éohild and everyone else as much as we did before, we're just trying to remember how to write properly again XD
Mellon: Thank you so much!
Dalonige Noquisi: Thank you for your words, and that is true about Éowyn and Faramir! We hope you're liking how it's going so far. (If you ever see this, haha! We are so sorry)
L'alchimiste de Castille: Thank you! We love the slow burn and the misunderstandings!
WickedGreene13: Thank you, we are so happy you like Éohild :)
Guest (March 29 & 30, 2015): Thank you for reviewing for the very first time, and we're sorry we didn't make that worth it by coming up with a chapter earlier. We hope, if you and your friend ever see this, that you enjoy this chapter.
Guest (April 9 and April 15, 2015): Thank you both so much!
jshaw0624: It was totally evil and we are sorry! Thank you for the review and the encouragement!
Guest (May 13, 2015): Thank you!
Zip001: Thank you, friend! Our muse did come back eventually. And we love that you loved the development between them!
iluvreading: Oh my gosh, thank you for reading AND rereading! We were so touched to know this :)
xcislyfe22: Our writing skills have unfortunately degraded since before, but thank you for having reviewed and liking our writing back then! XD And we are so happy that you like Éohild, you have NO idea.
deadacccct: Thank you for your review and we understand believing that this story was abandoned. But it's not! No matter how many years it takes, we'll finish it somehow! But really, thank you for the review. So much. :)
lizziecats: Thank you for the review, again! We love long reviews and seeing yours really made us happy when times were not great for either of us. (We always talk about rereading reviews and continuing our stories tbh… just hard to do in between work nowadays.) The battle is next, and we'll see what happens then! And thank you so much for saying that about Éohild and Legolas! We always worry about their dynamic and their romance and reading that you guys think it's believable and it makes sense is really great.
Carri007: I know :( But thank you for your words about Éohild! We definitely enjoyed writing the pre-film parts about her life in Rohan, so thank you for acknowledging those parts! :) And the little character interactions too!
GatewayToGehenna: Thank you for the review!
thoroughly-inktroverted: Thank you so much for this review, and for sharing with us what The Province of Men meant to you. We are so sorry that you went through what you did, and we're honored that something we made actually helped you in some way! Your words honestly helped us when we were going through a lot of shit ourselves too, so, thank you so much and we hope you're doing good if not great now. :) Thank you!
daughterofthechief: Thank you! And wow, that you'd think we could write a good Feanor/Nerdanel fic is seriously flattering! But their story is so sad… An AU, maybe? Haha! Well, first we'd have to finish TPoM first. But again, thank you for your review and your words of encouragement!
herxy: Thank you! We love the friendships between everyone and we were happy to show everyone grow closer together (and unfortunately drifting apart in Boromir's case, though they loved each other in the end). Though this chapter is pretty sappy - but it's right before a seemingly hopeless battle, so we hope you can forgive that!
SilverGhostKitsune: Thank you!
Guest (August 28, 2018): Thank you so much! No battle yet, but finding a place for Éohild in all the battles has definitely been interesting for us (and frustrating, especially with Helm's Deep XD)! And please, don't apologize for rambling! We love hearing your thoughts on the story, so ramble away!
Guest (November 6, 2018): We're so sorry! If you ever see this again - here's an update!
Thank you guys again, and we would love to hear what you think of this chapter! Next chapter, we'll finally see the Battle of the Hornburg! And will Éowyn ever get that sword she was asking for?