To Hope's End and Heart's Breaking
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
-Eomer, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Take care of your sister, Éomer.
That was one of the last things his mother had said to him ere she died. And he had tried to fulfill his oath. Not because Éowyn couldn't take care of herself; he had no doubt she could. And frankly, she had come to his aid just as often, if not more, than he had to hers. But although the words were rarely spoken, he loved his sister, and all his life he had known he'd gladly give his life to save hers.
That was why her death had hit him so hard.
Éomer hadn't held any hope for victory as they rode to Gondor's aid, and when he said farewell to Éowyn in Dunharrow, he had been certain that he would not see her again. And when he had found the king--his uncle--lying broken on the battlefield, Éomer's agreement to Théoden's last request that he bid Éowyn farewell had been merely to ease the passing of the man who had been like a father to him. Though grieved at his uncle's passing, Éomer knew there was no time for mourning; the battle was beginning to pick up again, and he needed to keep his head clear in order to lead his men. But then he had glanced around at the knights of the Mark who had fallen defending their king.
When he first saw her lying face-down atop a tattered black mantle, a crudely-made iron helm lying nearby, he had frozen. It can't be. He roughly shoved the pole holding the king's banner into the hands of one of his men and dropped to his knees beside the fallen Rider, carefully rolling the body over.
There was no denying it. Éowyn's head fell lifelessly to one side, her eyes closed, as he took her in his arms. Her fingers trailed on the ground next to the hilt of the sword she had carried, though the blade was broken--shattered, it seemed, based on the fragments of steel he saw shining in the grim morning light around them. Her other arm dangled limply, and he knew it was broken as well. She was clad in the gear of a Rider, and he could see the helm she had worn to hide her features carelessly tossed aside. And though he could see no wound, nor any injury other than her broken arm, he couldn't see any sign that she was still breathing either.
Éomer could do nothing but stare down at her in horror as a jumble of thoughts ran through his mind. Though he had held no hope of victory in this battle, knowing his sister would be safe awhile longer in Dunharrow with the other women had given him the resolve to fight. But to see her like this left him too stunned to even think. He looked up for a moment; Meriadoc, the Halfling that his uncle had taken into his service, stood beside Théoden still. For a moment Éomer's grey eyes met Meriadoc's brown ones, and Éomer could see his sorrow mirrored in the Halfling's eyes.
He looked back down at his sister, then pulled off one of his riding gloves to smooth the hair away from her face. She was so cold; how long had she been lying there? It could not have been that long, for his uncle had not known of her presence. He silently willed her to open her eyes, breathe, anything that would show she still lived, but she gave no sign.
"Éowyn?" he finally managed in a choked whisper. "Éowyn, how came you here? What madness or devilry is this?" How did I so completely fail you? he wondered. Still, she did not open her eyes, as he knew she would not. For a moment, all he could do was hold his sister's broken body and weep. As he did, anger welled up inside of him. This shouldn't have happened. You shouldn't be here, he thought. He gently laid her back down, then stood up and backed away, shaking. Then he abruptly pulled on his glove, shoved his helmet back onto his head roughly, and ran to Firefoot. At the very least, Éowyn would not die unavenged. "Death, death, death! Death take us all!" he cried, drawing his sword as he leapt onto the stallion's back. He rode off towards the enemy in a blind rage, only vaguely aware of the hoofbeats of his men behind him.
The rest of the battle was a blur in his mind. Pure fury carried him far into the enemy line, and by the time his head cleared enough to think clearly, he and his men were surrounded. The Prince of Dol Amroth had come with his men just in time to prevent Éomer and the other Riders from being slaughtered, but the tide had turned against them once more when the black ships of the Corsairs were spotted. He had laughed as he took what he believed to be his last stand, waving his sword in defiance at the ships. Then, against all hope, the standard had unfurled to reveal it was none other than Aragorn. How he had survived the Dimholt Road, Éomer did not know, but neither did he care at the moment. His joy at knowing his friend was alive, along with the fierce battle-lust that had given him the resolve to keep fighting, allowed him to forget for a time.
But now the battle was over, and thoughts of Éowyn weighed heavily in his mind again. Though he had avenged his uncle and his sister many times over that day, the victory seemed hollow. As he rode towards Minas Tirith with Aragorn and Imrahil, he felt numb from weariness; the only clear thought he had was that his sister was dead.
It was not that he did not mourn for his uncle; he would miss him greatly. But Théoden had been a warrior, and both he and Éomer had ridden into battle this day knowing very well it could be their last. But Éowyn...Éomer had known that his sister had been troubled the last time he spoke to her before he left Dunharrow, but he had no idea that it had been to this extent. He glanced over at Aragorn, wondering if he had unwittingly driven her to this end. Éowyn wouldn't speak of it, but he knew she had greatly admired Aragorn, and that his departure had hit her hard. But surely that wouldn't have led her to throw her life away...would it?
As if reading his thoughts, Aragorn glanced over at him questioningly, but Éomer reminded himself that Aragorn didn't know about it. And he couldn't bring himself to tell him. He only half-listened as Aragorn and Imrahil debated whether Aragorn should declare himself in the city, staring out over the field into the setting sun. He jumped as he felt a hand on his arm, and looked over to see Imrahil looking at him with concern in his blue eyes. "Come, Éomer," the older man said. "I must go see the Lord Denethor; perhaps we can learn where they've laid your king." Éomer nodded mutely and followed.
He was grateful for the Prince's presence as they rode into the city; Éomer would have quickly gotten lost in the winding streets and throngs of people, as dazed as he felt. Though he had only known the man a few hours, he already had a deep respect for him. Even so, it took him a few moments to realize that Imrahil was speaking to him. "Forgive me," he mumbled. "What did you say?"
"The King of Rohan--he was your father?" Imrahil repeated.
"My uncle," Éomer said sadly. "Though he was like a father to me; we went to live with him when I was still a boy."
"From what I've heard, he was a noble man. I am sorry for your loss," Imrahil said.
Éomer could make no reply. Imrahil did not attempt to speak to him again, and so he was left alone with his thoughts. Éomer felt the weight of his failed responsibility heavy on his shoulders. There had to have been something he could have said or done to prevent Éowyn from coming into the battle, but though he racked his brains for an answer, he could find none.
They reached the Citadel, and both men silently dismounted and entered the hall. It was dark inside, save twelve torches that burned brightly around a bier. The flickering light reflected coldly off the stone columns that lined the room. As Éomer drew closer, he could see that it was indeed his uncle who lay there. Twelve men stood about the bier as a guard of honor; Éomer recognized several of the men, while the others wore the black and silver livery of Gondor. Behind the bier stood an empty chair of black stone, where he presumed the Steward was to sit. He looked at Imrahil questioningly, wondering why the Steward was not there. Imrahil looked back and softly said, "He is with his son." Éomer nodded.
The guards parted as they approached, those from Rohan bowing their heads and saying, "Hail, Lord Éomer," to him. Éomer nodded back, then removed his helm as he stood beside his uncle. It appeared he was only sleeping, and for a moment Éomer wondered if this was simply a dream, and if he could wake up. But he knew it was not so.
As he bowed his head to pay honour to his fallen king, he could not help noticing that Éowyn was not there. The thought was like a knife to his heart. Had they simply left her then? Was she still lying broken on the field? And if the enemy had found her, what would they have done to her? It took all his restraint to stay where he was, and he closed his eyes in an attempt to shut out the images passing through his mind.
Other images took their place; of himself and Éowyn as children, playing together; of her bright smile that had become so rare of late, the strength and courage in her eyes. He had never doubted she could fight; why had she chosen now, of all times, to try to prove it? Why was it himself standing here, the last of his kin, and not her?
Never before had any victory in battle seemed so meaningless, nor could he help thinking that this time, the cost was too great. Not when it had cost him the one person in the world who meant the most to him--since their parents had died, Éowyn was the only person he had fully been able to believe would always be there, the one person who always stood by him no matter what. And now she was gone.
The more he thought about it, the fewer answers he had, so he merely stood there in silent anguish, clenching his fists in an effort to keep from breaking down completely.
Imrahil finally broke the silence. "Where is the Steward?" he asked, concern in his eyes. Though he spoke softly, the sound echoed throughout the cold marble hall. "And where also is Mithrandir?"
One of the guards, clad in the black and silver of the Citadel, answered gravely, "The Steward of Gondor is in the Houses of Healing."
Imrahil's nodded as if that was what he had been expecting, and turned to go. But Éomer could not keep his silence anymore. "Where is the Lady Éowyn? Where is my sister?" he asked, unable to keep the anguish out of his voice. "Surely she should be lying beside the king, and in no less honour. Where have they bestowed her?"
Imrahil looked back at him. "But the Lady Éowyn was yet living when they bore her hither," he said. All Éomer could do was stare at him in shock. She was alive? Why had no one told him? Imrahil's eyes widened in realization. "Did you not know?" he asked, surprised.
Without a word, Éomer roughly pushed past the guards and left the hall as swiftly as he could without running. Behind him he could hear Imrahil's footsteps, but he paid them no heed. Nothing mattered except finding his sister. She was alive. There was still hope.