An Act of Desperation - Chapter 13- Caged
After a fitful night's sleep, I awoke to the sound of soft voices.
"As well as can be expected, I suppose. Or at least he was last night. The healers say it will take time for him to recover his strength. And he's still in shock over his father... they haven't told him the manner of his death yet, for which I am grateful. It would be too much for him right now, I think," an unfamiliar voice was saying. I wondered who he was talking about. "I have not been able to visit him this morning, nor will I be able to, it seems," he added with a sigh. "And how is your sister?"
"It's hard to say." That was Éomer. "Even if she was in pain, she would not speak of it. But she seems troubled, more than I had thought. She kept crying out in her sleep as if she was having nightmares." I fought down my embarrassment at this as best as I could, not wanting him to know I was listening. "How could I have let things go this far?" he continued, a note of frustration in his voice. "I knew all was not well with her even back in Edoras, but I never dreamed it would come to this."
"I don't know if there is anything you could have done to prevent her coming, Éomer," the other man said. "But she's safe now, for the time at least."
"Yes, and I owe you a great debt for that. If you hadn't seen that she was still alive..." his voice trailed off. I hadn't realized Éomer was this distraught. Though he was by no means timid about speaking his mind, it wasn't usually like him to speak so openly about how he was feeling. "I know this meeting is important, Imrahil, but I can't leave her yet. I promised her I'd still be here."
"Éomer," the man started to say. I finally allowed myself to stir a little in order to give the impression that I was just waking up.
"Éowyn!" Éomer was beside me in an instant as I opened my eyes. "How are you feeling?" he asked, concerned.
"A little better," I said hesitantly. The soreness from the journey had lessened to a mere stiffness, and my head no longer felt as if it was being split open. Even the pain in my broken arm had lessened somewhat. My sword-arm still felt stiff and cold, but I thought that would go away soon. At least I hoped so. "Are you going somewhere?" I asked.
He nodded. "We're having a meeting to discuss what action we should take next. I don't know how long I'll be gone--will you be all right?"
"Yes, I'll be fine," I said, slowly forcing myself into a sitting position and drawing the blanket up over the shift I was weagay. I hoped the movement would be enough to convince Éomer that I had improved during the night, though it drained my strength more than I expected it to.
It seemed to work. "I should go then," he said, standing up. As he did, I looked towards the door to see a tall man, perhaps around my uncle's age. His raven hair was slightly touched by grey around his temples, and his eyes were a piercing blue color. He had an air about him that reminded me vaguely of the Elves I had encountered recently, though I wondered if perhaps this was a characteristic of the men of Gondor. Éomer followed my gaze. "Forgive me for my rudeness," he said to the man, then looked back at me. "Éowyn, this is Prince Imrahil, Lord of Dol Amroth."
"My lady," he said, bowing slightly. "I am glad to see that you are recovering."
"Thank you, my lord," I said politely, glancing over at Éomer.
He understood the unspoken question and whispered, "Lord Imrahil is the one who discovered that you were still alive after the battle." I nodded, and Éomer squeezed my hand. "I will return as soon as I can," he said, then he turned to Imrahil and added, "Let's go."
Once the two men had left, I studied my surroundings. It was sparsely furnished with the bed I sat upon, a small table with a pitcher and water basin upon it, the high-backed wooden chair that Éomer had pulled beside the bed, and a narrow wardrobe against the opposite wall. The walls, instead of being stone as I originally had thought, were a creamy white plaster that took on a slightly golden hue in the morning light. A small fireplace built of light brown-streaked stone had been built into the wall with the wardrobe, with several candles resting on the mantle. The same brown stone had been used for the floor. There was one window in the room; judging by the way the light came in, it seemed to be facing north.
I roughly pushed the blankets off, shivering slightly as the cool morning air penetrated the simple linen nightshift that I was wearing, and carefully swung my legs off the edge of the bed. The stone felt cold under my bare feet, chilling me to the core. Now that I was fully sitting up, I could see a wooden chest at the foot of the bed and my cloak sitting on top, neatly folded.
I stood up, grabbing the wooden bedpost for support as the room began to tilt a little and closing my eyes. I ended up collapsing back onto the mattress and using my sword-arm to help drag myself to the foot of the bed. How can a broken arm make me so weak? I wondered in frustration. I could not remember this happening the last time I had broken my arm. Finally, I reached the end of the bed and picked up the cloak, fumbling to maneuver it around my shoulders with only one arm. I succeeded at last, and as I grabbed the neck of the cloak to hold it closed, my hand closed around cool metal. I opened my fingers slightly and looked down to see the clasp that Théoden had given me, still pinned to the cloak. My hand closed against it tighter, clutching the horsehead as if my very life depended on it.
I decided to try walking again, and moved towards the window. By the time I reached it, I could not stand up on my own any longer and leaned heavily against the wall as I looked out.
Through the glass, I could see nothing but stone. Below me, there was an empty, narrow street of light-colored stone. The same stone had been used to construct the buildings across the street and the wall encircling this level of the city, which I could see through gaps in the line of buildings. Even the sky could have been made out of stone; it was a featureless grey.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening and a cry of alarm. "My lady! You should not be up yet!"
I turned and saw a petite, dark-haired woman standing in the doorway. She could not have been much older than I, but shook her head as if she were correcting a disobedient child as she briskly walked over and took my arm. "Come, my lady, you must rest."
I pulled my arm away roughly, nearly dropping my cloak as I did so. The swift motion made my head spin a little and I pressed my back against the wall for support, hoping she would not notice. "I feel fine."
"Our instructions were to see that you do not attempt to rise until your strength is fully recovered," she said firmly.
"And it is, or I would not have risen," I said. It was not entirely true, as I still felt weaker than I would care to admit, but my pride would not allow me to let this woman order me around as if I were a child.
An older woman poked her head into the door. A grey scarf covered her hair, and I could see the lines etched into her forehead and around her eyes from where I stood. "Is there a problem, Mithríel?" she asked, giving me a disapproving glance.
"The lady will not lie down, Lady Ioreth," Mithríel answered.
"I do not see why I should be made to lie down when I feel fine," I said, turning back towards the window. It didn't take me long to decide I hated the view.
Ioreth entered the room, giving me a stern look. "My lady, both the Lord Éomer and the Lord Aragorn asked me to keep a close eye on you. I will not have you give them cause to say I did not fulfill my duty."
My frown grew deeper. Why did Aragorn insist on showing such concern for my welfare? He obviously didn't care enough to see for himself how I was. I sighed in frustration, but decided that for my brother's sake, I'd listen. For now. "Fine," I growled, and walked past them to sit down on the bed, my back resting against the headboard as I glared at the fireplace across the room. I knew it was immature, but I didn't care.
Ioreth and Mithríel looked at each other. "I'll be back to check on you again later, my lady," Mithríel warned.
"Fine," I muttered again, barely glancing up as the two women left, then pulling the blankets up to warm myself. I hoped they would stay away for awhile; I needed to think.
I could not help feeling frustrated; even with all the effort I had put into my plan, it seemed I had accomplished nothing except to trade one prison for another. And this time, I could see no way of escape. But I could not give up that easily; one way or another, there would be another battle. And I was determined to be a part of it, somehow.
But how? I wondered. Disguising myself would be much more difficult this time; undoubtedly, Éomer would be keeping a close eye on me to ensure I would not do such a thing again. And as much as I hated to admit it, I still felt greatly weakened from the battle the day before--much more than a broken bone would account for. I glanced down at my sword-arm. Though I kept my arm covered, somehow, the heat from the woolen blankets did not seem to ward off the slightly numbing chill that still remained. It was a rather troubling thought.
A tentative knock on the door interrupted my thoughts again. "What?" I called out crossly. The door opened, and a small figure with light golden-brown curls tentatively poked his head in. My eyes widened. "Merry? Forgive me, I thought you were one of the healers. Come in!"
He gave me a half-hearted grin, and slowly made his way in, half-supported by another hobbit, this one with darker brown hair and green eyes. "Éowyn, this is my cousin, Pippin Took," Merry said, and the other Halfling bowed slightly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Pippin," I said politely, bowing my head, then turning back to Merry as Pippin pulled the chair closer to the bed. "Why have they kept you here?" I asked, noting how tired Merry seemed to look as he climbed up into the chair. "Are you hurt?"
"Just my arm, a little," he admitted, rubbing his forearm absently. Then he looked up at me, concern in his brown eyes. "How are you?"
"I'll be fine," I said automatically. Will you? a nagging voice in my head replied, but I ignored it. "Although you would think I had broken both my legs instead of my arm, the way these healers insist on treating me like a complete invalid," I added crossly.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Pippin quickly said, bowing once more and adding, "It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady," as he left. I wondered at this, but at the same time was grateful, since there was something I knew I needed to say to Merry, and felt much more at ease without the additional company.
"Merry, I...I'm sorry," I blurted out. "I never should have brought you into this."
"I'm not sorry," he said, a determined gleam lighting up his eyes briefly before his face fell again. "I just wish I could have been more of a help."
I hesitated before speaking again. Though I knew Merry had played a large part in my being alive, I couldn't feel grateful. But I didn't want him to know that. And yet, somehow I knew it was my duty to try to reassure him. "I wouldn't be here now if you weren't there," I finally said softly. It seemed to work; he brightened up again.
"Then I'm glad I was there," he said, smiling sadly. The smile faded quickly as he added, "I am sorry though, about your uncle. I wish I could have known him better." I dropped my head a little, biting my lip, and he quickly apologized. "Forgive me, Éowyn, I did not mean to upset you."
"I'll be fine," I repeated. Perhaps if I told myself that enough, I would start to believe it myself.
Éomer did not return for the remainder of that day, nor for most of the next. I spent the majority of the time sleeping and testing my strength by walking around the room, listening carefully for any footsteps in the hall. While I was up, I searched all throughout the wardrobe and chest, and found nothing that would help me. It was just as I thought--they had not kept the armor or the men's clothes I had worn. Or if they had, they were not in the room with me. The chest held nothing but a few extra blankets, and the wardrobe was empty except for an extra shift. And in spite of my best efforts, I could not think of any way to get out of my room long enough to see if there was anything in the Houses that could help me. Just as an experiment, I had tried once to sneak out of my room, and gained nothing from it but a tongue-lashing from Ioreth. All this made me all the more determined to find a way to leave; if I had to spend many more days in this manner, I was sure I would go mad.
Night had already fallen when Éomer returned. I knew as soon as he walked in the door that it was going to be an unpleasant conversation. I could almost feel the tension radiating from him, and wondered what had happened in that meeting.
He sat down next to the bed as I sat up, looking as if he was considering how to say something. I broke the silence first. "What happened?"
Éomer had the same determined look I had seen the last night in Dunharrow on his face--the look of a soldier who knew he was being sent off to die, but would obey his orders regardless. "We're going to Mordor."
"Mordor?" I repeated, surprised. I sat up a little straighter. With the constant threat to our lands from Dunland and Isengard, Mordor had generally not been a concern of the Rohirrim. But the mention of the word was still enough to make even a seasoned warrior shudder. "But why?" I asked.
"Do you remember when we were children, and Mother told us that story about the last King of Gondor and the magic ring?" I nodded slowly, and Éomer frowned. "It's not just a story."
I stared at him, disbelieving. "What?"
Éomer sounded as if he only half-believed it himself as he said, "They've found the Ring, and one of Merry's kinsmen and his servant are carrying it to Mount Doom. It's the only place in Middle-earth where it can be destroyed. If they can accomplish this, then the Dark Lord's power will be broken. We're going to Mordor to draw his eye away from two Halflings." He shook his head at the folly of the plan.
"But we lost so many...where will you find enough men to fight?" I asked.
"We won't," he said flatly. "We're just bringing enough to make them believe we're attempting to resist." He did not say any more, but we both knew it was suicide.
I stayed silent for a moment. "When are you leaving?" I finally asked.
"In the morning," he said. I silently began planning; I would need to find a sword, and find out where they had put my armour. And I would need a horse, because even I had to admit that I could not walk all the way to Mordor in this state...
Éomer seemed to guess what I was thinking. "You're not going."
My gaze jerked up to meet his. "You can't stop me," I said defiantly.
"I shouldn't have to; you're injured. This battle is no place for you." His brow furrowed. "And neither was the last one. What on earth were you thinking?"
"I couldn't stay behind and do nothing this time. Surely you should be able to understand that," I said.
Éomer's frown deepened. "The King left you in charge of the encampment. You walked away from your duty and disobeyed a direct order. That's a very serious offense, Éowyn."
"And what about you riding out against those orcs when you were directly ordered not to?" I asked defiantly.
His eyes flashed dangerously. "That was different. I was doing what I thought was best for our people. You were just... I don't know what you were doing, but you certainly didn't have our best interests in mind!"
"What are you going to do then? Drag me back to Edoras and lock me in the dungeon?" I knew Éomer was getting angry, but I couldn't back down now. "I'm sorry I couldn't just let you ride off to die, like you told me you were. I'm sorry I wanted to actually try to do something about it. Is that what you want to hear? Fine, then!"
Éomer abruptly stood up and began pacing the room. "I don't know what to do...I can't deal with this right now. We're riding out tomorrow morning, and there's still much that needs to be done."
"Then let me help," I said, deciding to try a different tactic.
"No!" I was surprised at how angry he sounded. "You're not going anywhere."
"Éomer, please! I'll go mad if I stay here!" I protested.
"It seems to me you've gone mad already," he snapped. "You're obviously in no condition to fight, Éowyn. You can't hold a shield, you can barely even stand up!"
I glared at him as I pulled myself out of the bed, using the bedpost as a support once again. Once I was on my feet, I just raised an eyebrow at him, silently challenging him to come up with another argument.
"Even if you could stand, you can't march. I doubt you could stay in the saddle or even lift a sword. You're not going, and that's final!" He began to move towards the door.
"You can't keep me here, you mule-headed..." I started as I followed him towards the door.
Éomer whirled around, his face flushed with anger as his grey eyes narrowed. "By the Valar, Éowyn, what has gotten into you? Do you want to die?" I opened my mouth, ready to point out that he had just admitted he was riding off on a suicide mission, but as my eyes locked with his, I couldn't refute him or deny what he had just said. I was the first to break the gaze. When I glanced up at my brother again, he looked bewildered. We stood there in a painful silence for a few moments. Finally, he spoke again, his voice dangerously low. "You will stay in Minas Tirith if I have to tie you to your bed myself to keep you here." He opened the door and stepped out of the room, then without turning back he added softly, almost to himself, "I already thought I lost you once. I couldn't bear to lose you again." Then he slammed the door behind him.
I pulled the door open, and ran out into the hall, not wanting him to have the last word. "Éomer!" I called out, grabbing his arm. He wrenched it from my grasp without even looking at me and kept walking. I glared at his retreating back for a minute before re-entering my room, slamming the door again in frustration. Then I sat down on the bed, determined to come up with a plan ere I went to sleep. There had to be some other soldiers in the Houses that I could gather a disguise from. Maybe this time I should go with the Gondorian army, I decided. If I keep the helmet on, no one will notice my hair. I wonder where I could find some of their armour...
In spite of my best efforts to stay awake, my body betrayed me in its weakened state. The next thing I knew, the room was already bright with morning sunlight. I briefly wondered how the sun could still possibly be shining when it seemed that all else was falling apart. Then I suddenly remembered that I still needed to find a way to escape, and jumped out of my bed. I instantly regretted the swift movement as the room tilted dangerously. Once I had steadied myself, I grabbed my cloak and wrapped it around myself, then hurried to the door.
It wouldn't open, though the latch seemed to be working fine. I stared at it in shock for a moment, then tried again. It still wouldn't budge. My eyes widened in realization, and I threw my full weight against the door, to no avail. "Éomer, you mule-headed lout!" I shouted as I pounded on the door. "Let me out of here!" But there was no answer.
I hurried to the window without thinking, not remembering until I reached it that I wouldn't be able to see a thing out of it. I ran back to the door now, beating on it again in frustration. Finally I realized that no one was going to come, and I backed away a few steps, feeling panicked at the thought of being trapped in the small room.
A muffled, but familiar voice outside called out, "Éowyn? Are you in there?"
"Merry, I can't open the door!" I cried.
"It's blocked off. Hold on a minute," he answered, and I heard him say, "Bergil, can you give me a hand?" I heard a series of scraping sounds, as if something heavy was being pushed across the floor. Then the door opened, and Merry was there, a dark-haired boy who was about the same height as the Halfling standing slightly behind him.
"What was it?" I asked.
"Someone pushed a wardrobe in front of the door," Merry replied. Éomer. The realization struck me hard, and I stumbled backwards slightly before sitting heavily on the bed. A look of alarm crossed Merry's face. "Éowyn, are you well?"
I knew even before I asked. "He's gone, isn't he?" My voice sounded faraway, even to my own ears. Merry gave a small nod, and I looked down at the floor. My brother was gone, and nothing short of a miracle would give me the chance to see him again. I never even got to say farewell... I silently cursed myself; it was my own fault that we had parted on such ill terms.
I barely noticed when Merry sat down next to me, until the boy bowed and departed. Then, without looking at him, I asked, "Where's your cousin?"
"He's gone too," Merry said softly. Then we fell silent, each of us alone in our own grief.
And because I know you're going to ask, I promise that a certain Steward of Gondor will be making an appearance in the next chapter. Sorry it took me so long.