An Act of Desperation - Chapter 20- Merry's Departure
"What is it?" he said, quickly getting to his feet and climbing the stairs up to the top of the wall.
"Over there," I said, pointing.
Merry stood on his toes, straining to see over the parapet, his eyes widening when he finally spotted the riders. "Do you think they're from Mordor?" he asked.
"They have to be," I said. "Come on!" I ran down the stairs, Merry quickly following, and into the Houses.
I had almost reached the door leading to the street when Ioreth stepped in front of it. I stopped short, Merry stumbling in an attempt to keep himself from running into me. "Where do you think you're going?" Ioreth asked sternly.
"Messengers are coming to the city. I must go..." I started to say.
"And if there's any message for you, you'll get it much sooner if you stay here," Ioreth interrupted.
"But..." I protested.
Ioreth crossed her arms. "If your brother sent any message for you, he'll send the messenger here. If you go wandering through the city looking for him, it will just take that much longer. And yes, this is the only door leading out of the Houses," she said in a tone that indicated she would not be argued with. For a moment, all I could do was glare at her in frustration, even though I reluctantly had to admit that she was probably right. Then I abruptly whirled around and stalked back out to the gardens. When I looked back a moment later, she was still by the door, looking as if she were standing guard to ensure I didn't try to sneak out after all. I sighed and went back to my vigil atop the walls.
The riders had nearly reached the barricade that stood where the gate had been, and I could see a flurry of activity on the first few levels; apparently word of the messengers had spread quickly. They crossed under the shadow of the wall and I could no longer see them for a moment. "What's happening?" Merry asked, coming up beside me.
"They're entering the city," I answered, still straining to see down to the lower levels. "It looks like they're coming up here."
"They probably have to go see Faramir," Merry pointed out.
"But if there's a message from Éomer, he'll send it here," I said impatiently as I descended the walls and began to pace around the gardens again, suddenly wishing that Faramir had stayed longer after all. Merry didn't answer, but I could tell that he was thinking of his own kinsfolk from the anxious look on his face.
We didn't have to wait as long as either of us expected; Ioreth soon came out to the gardens, followed closely by a tall, broad-shouldered Rider, his sun-bleached blond hair pulled back at the nape of his neck, carrying his helm under one arm and with his sword still strapped to his waist. "Your messenger, my lady," she said, not quite able to keep the smug look off of her face as she turned to go.
The Rider bowed politely before speaking. "I bring word from Lord Éomer, my lady," he said to me.
"And how is my brother? Is he well?" I asked, unable to hold back my impatience any longer.
"He is alive and unhurt, my lady," he replied. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, almost overwhelmed with relief.
I opened my eyes again when I felt a slight tug at my sleeve, to see Merry looking up at me with a concerned look on my face. "Éowyn?" he asked.
I smiled slightly, remembering that Merry couldn't understand Rohirric. "He's fine, Merry," I said.
The messenger's gaze rested on Merry then. "You are the holbytla?" he finally asked in the common tongue, his speech smooth but slightly accented. "Meriadoc?"
"I am," Merry replied.
"I have a message for you as well," he said. "I am to tell you that Frodo, Samwise and Peregrin are alive..."
"Oh, thank goodness!" Merry exclaimed.
The messenger seemed amused at the hobbit for a moment, then his face grew more serious again. "But they are all injured and will be staying at Cair Andros while they recover. Gandalf says it would be best for you to come join them."
"Of course," Merry said, the anxiety apparent on his face once more. "When should I be ready to go?"
"In the morning," the Rider replied. He then looked over at me and added, "And Lord Éomer requests that you come as well."
I bowed my head, and he took this as an affirmation. "With your leave, my lady," he said, bowing once more, then departing.
Merry looked up at me. "I suppose I had better start packing," he said.
"As should I," I replied. We entered the Houses together, climbing the stairs up to the hallway where our rooms were. After saying goodbye to Merry for the moment, I walked into the room and opened the door to the wardrobe, pulling out my white dress and laying it on the chair. After a moment's hesitation, I then found a second dress that I thought might be good for traveling. As I began to pull the dress out, the back of my hand brushed against soft velvet. I let the dress fall back into place as I gingerly felt the embroidered neckline of the dark blue cloak, feeling guilty that I had forgotten to return it to Faramir.
I heard a quiet knock on the door and pulled my hand back as the door opened. Aredhel entered the room, bowing her head slightly. "Good afternoon, my lady," she said softly. "Mistress Ioreth has asked me to come pack your things for you."
"I can pack myself, but thank you," I replied politely.
"She does not wish you to overtax your arm before the journey, my lady," Aredhel admitted, her cheeks flushing a bit.
I opened my mouth to argue, but then decided there was no reason to take it out on the young woman. Besides, I reasoned, I would be gone the next day, and the incessant coddling from the healers would cease. "Very well," I said, reaching for my cloak. "I'll be in the gardens then." A surprised look crossed Aredhel's face, as if she had expected an argument, but she nodded her head and helped me clasp my cloak around my neck.
Twilight was rapidly falling, though the garden was still well-lit by the light from the nearly-full moon, as I entered the gardens once more. Feeling restless, I began wandering aimlessly around the garden to try to calm my growing apprehensions. It made no sense; all I had wanted since I had first come to Gondor was to leave the Houses of Healing, and now I had my opportunity. And I would not truly be able to rest until I could see my brother and know for certain that he was safe. But I could not be certain of how he would receive me, after the argument we'd had. And, I suddenly realized, going to Cormallen would also mean I would have to face Aragorn again. How could I do that, knowing what a fool I had been? If I closed my eyes, I could still see that look of pity he had given me as he had walked away; I could not bear to see that again, nor did I wish him to think ill of me.
"Good evening, Éowyn," I heard behind me, and turned to see Faramir standing in the doorway.
"Faramir! What are you doing here? I thought you had work to do," I said, genuinely surprised to see him so soon.
"I did. I mean, I do. But I heard that you and Merry were leaving Minas Tirith tomorrow," he explained, pushing his hair away from his face.
"Oh," I said. "Merry's still in the Houses, but..."
"That's all right," he interrupted, his eyes looking nearly silver in the reflected moonlight. "I'm sure he'll be down in a bit. May I walk with you?"
"Of course," I said, and he fell into step beside me. Neither of us spoke for awhile; it reminded me of the first few days I had been allowed out of my room after the battle. I glanced over at Faramir; he seemed rather deep in thought, as if he was unsure what to say, so I remained silent as well.
I reached up and touched the silver horsehead clasped at my throat thoughtfully. Faramir noticed the gesture and asked, "Is something troubling you?"
"It's nothing; just a little nervous, I suppose," I quickly replied. His eyes softened a bit, and he looked as if he were about to speak again, when Merry burst into the gardens.
"There you are! Ioreth said you were here," he blurted out, then stopped in mid-stride. "Am I interrupting anything?"
"No," he replied at the same time that I said, "No, of course not." We looked at each other for a moment, then Faramir continued, "It's good to see you again, Merry." He and the hobbit began talking, and I stood by silently for awhile and half-listened. It was strange to think that, since all I had wanted to do since I arrived at the Houses of Healing was to leave them, I would miss anything about this place. But I realized that I would truly miss the odd fellowship that I had shared with Faramir and Merry. And, as I watched them, it suddenly hit me how much I would miss Faramir's company when I went to Cair Andros; even though Merry would be there, I knew, it just wouldn't be the same. I couldn't help wondering if I was truly doing the right thing after all.
My doubts grew stronger as the evening wore on. Sleep did not bring me any answers, and when Mithríel came to help me dress in the plain brown linen dress I had decided on for the journey, I still had not come to any decision. So I stared out the window, wishing I knew what to do, torn between my desire to see my brother and my fear of what I would find when I arrived.
I jumped when I heard a knock on the door, but did not reply when Ioreth said that Merry was waiting for me downstairs. I listened as the footsteps retreated down the hall, then a few minutes later returned. A heavier knock sounded on the door. "Éowyn?" I heard Faramir's voice on the other side of the door. "Are you all right?" I looked back towards the window, unsure how to answer. There was a pause, and then he asked, "May I come in?"
"You may," I finally answered without turning back again. I heard him open the door and could sense him coming closer, moving to stand beside me. Still neither of us spoke, until he finally asked, "Is something wrong?"
I looked out of the window for a long moment, finally whispering, "I can't do this."
"Why not?" he asked. I thought for a moment, but couldn't come up with a clear answer, so I remained silent. "Éowyn?" Faramir tried again.
I shook my head, unable to look at him. "Please don't ask me to explain." How could I, when I could not even explain it to myself?
Faramir remained silent for a long moment, deep in thought. Finally, he said softly, "You don't have to go if you're not ready. I'll speak to the Warden; I'm certain they'll let you stay here."
"Thank you," I whispered as I glanced up at him, feeling strangely relieved. Faramir nodded, then turned and left. I turned back to the window, looking out silently until I felt a slight pressure on my hand. I jumped and bit back a gasp, then looked down to see Merry looking up at me. "Don't do that!" I exclaimed. Merry's face fell further, and I took a shaky breath. "Forgive me, Merry. I was just startled," I apologized, sitting down on the floor.
"I didn't mean to scare you," he said, sitting down next to me. "Faramir said you're not going to Cormallen."
"No, Merry, I'm not," I said with a sigh.
"Why not?" he asked, looking rather forlorn.
I shook my head. "I don't know how to explain it, Merry. I just...can't."
"Is it because Faramir's not going?" he asked innocently.
"What?" My head jerked up. "No, he has nothing to do with it! It's just... I don't know...." I took a ragged breath, wondering why such a simple question would leave me so shaken.
Merry nodded, then looked down. "I'm going to miss you," he finally replied.
"Oh, Merry, I'll miss you too." I gave him a sad smile.
We both looked up as Faramir re-entered the room. "Daeron says you are welcome to stay as long as you wish," he said.
"Thank you, Faramir," I said. His eyes softened as he looked down at me and nodded. For a moment, I held my breath, wondering how much of my conversation with Merry he had heard. But he really has nothing to do with it! I mentally protested. Still... I didn't want to hurt him. But he said nothing about it, and I finally relaxed a little.
"Are you ready to go, Merry?" Faramir asked, turning to the hobbit. Merry looked at me sadly, then nodded.
"Wait... I'll go with you to the gate, Merry." Merry brightened up a tiny bit at that, and jumped up. Faramir reached out a hand and helped me to my feet, and the three of us headed down the stairs. Merry grabbed his pack, and Faramir also paused to sling a well-worn saddlebag over his uninjured shoulder, then we left the Houses.
None of us spoke a word as we slowly made our way down through the levels of the city. I was too concerned with wondering if I had made the right choice to notice my surroundings, save that most of the buildings in the city seemed to be constructed from the same white stone I had seen everywhere. Merry trudged along beside me, looking both sad and anxious, while Faramir seemed lost in his own thoughts. Occasionally he glanced over at me thoughtfully, as I carefully avoided catching his eye.
Finally, we reached the first level. A path had been cleared to the gap in the wall where the gate should have been, but I could see the piles of charred rubble everywhere where stone buildings had once stood. Just outside of the gate, big wooden wagons stood hitched to sturdy plowhorses, piled high with supplies to bring to the soldiers. The wain drivers milled around, along with the messenger I recognized from the day before. Merry looked at them uncertainly, letting his pack slip off his shoulder to the ground, then looked back up at Faramir and I.
Faramir knelt down and clasped his hand; though his hand was not exceptionally large, it completely enveloped the Halfling's. "It has been an honor to know you, Meriadoc Brandybuck," he said. "I will look forward to seeing you again when you return to Minas Tirith. And send my greetings to Frodo, Sam and Pippin." He paused, then added, "I'm sure they will be fine, Merry."
"Thank you, Faramir," Merry said, giving him a sad smile. "I hope so."
I knelt down too. "Have a safe journey, Merry," I said softly, unable to keep the unhappiness out of my voice. The hobbit had been my near-constant companion since Dunharrow, and I truly would miss him.
Merry looked at me for a moment, deep sadness in his brown eyes, then abruptly hugged me. I returned the hug just as hard. "Merry, if you see Éomer, tell him..." I hesitated, searching for the words. "Tell him I'm sorry," I lamely finished. Éomer would understand what I meant. At least, I hoped he would.
Merry nodded. "I will." He stepped back, glancing up at Faramir again with an almost imploring look on his face. Faramir nodded almost imperceptibly, and Merry's eyes turned back to me. "Goodbye, Éowyn."
"Westu hál, Merry," I whispered past the lump in my throat. No, I would not weep. Not in front of everyone like this. I straightened up, and he picked up his pack, smiling at us bravely even though I could see anxiety clearly written on his face.
"It's a pity...I should have told Bergil to keep you out of trouble till I get back," he said to me. A smile twitched at the corner of my mouth, followed by another wave of sadness.
Faramir seemed to sense my dark mood; his hand lightly squeezed mine for a moment, then released it. Though I didn't look at him, I was still comforted a little by the gesture. Finally, he quietly offered, "Éowyn, are you certain about this? If you've changed your mind, I can send someone back up for your things."
I looked down and shook my head. "That won't be necessary," I said, "but thank you." Besides, I can't face him yet, I silently added, unsure whether I was talking about Éomer or Aragorn.
Merry walked through the gate to speak with the Rider who had come to us yesterday. The man directed him towards one of the wagons, and he slung his pack onto it before climbing up. After he was seated, he looked back towards the gate as the drivers climbed onto the wagons and began to drive them out. Merry raised his hand in a final gesture of farewell, then reluctantly turned as the wagons went further away. Faramir and I continued to watch silently until Merry had completely disappeared from sight.