Oblivious to the stares, chuckles, and snorts from her companions, Novarwen buried her face in Theryn’s jacket. For the moment, it was enough to have him hold her again, but when he pulled back to look her in the face, she was suddenly full of questions. “What are you doing here? How did you get here? Have you been here long? Did you know I was going to be here? Why did you -“
Theryn held up a hand, laughing. “Please, Novarwen! One question at a time!”
“But it’s been so long -” Novarwen looked up into his face, then threw her arms around him again. “I think I’m entitled to some answers,” she teased when she let him go.
“All right. But not now.” Theryn glanced over at the two young children seated on wooden benches, each wearing one of Éowyn’s blankets and eating soup. The sight was enough to sober Novarwen immediately, and she subsided, although she still wanted to know how Theryn had gotten to Edoras.
Éowyn, meanwhile, was talking to the children, her hand gently stroking the little girl’s hair. She stood up and looked at her uncle, her eyes filled with sorrow. “They had no warning,” she said quietly. “Now the Wild Men are rampaging through the Westfold.” She walked around behind the boy to adjust his blanket, which had slipped from one shoulder.
“This is but a taste of the terror Saruman will inflict on you!” Gandalf said in urgent tones to Théoden. Novarwen had to smile at the quirks of fate. From being persona non grata at Théoden’s court, the wizard was now the king’s most trusted advisor. At the moment, though, Théoden was not inclined to listen. He stood up and began pacing the hall.
“You have ten thousand good men riding south,” Aragorn put in. “Éomer is loyal to you. His men will return and fight for their king.”
“They will be far from here by now,” Théoden argued. He looked fixedly at Gandalf. “I know what you would have me do, but I will not bring further death to my people!” He paused before adding, “I will not risk open war.”
Aragorn took his pipe from his mouth. “Open war is upon you,” he pointed out with a hint of annoyance in his voice, “whether you would risk it or not.”
Théoden had heard the annoyance. “When last I looked,” he replied acidly, “Théoden, not Aragorn, was king of Rohan.”
“Then what is the king’s decision?” Novarwen asked. She opened her mouth to say more, to tell Théoden what Éomer had said when they met him, but Theryn touched her hand in warning, and she shut up. It was better to leave it at that, she realized, and not irritate Théoden further. She leaned forward, hoping his answer would be the right, the only possible, one.
Later, in her room, Novarwen fumed about the king’s decision. “Move the people to Helm’s Deep! How stupid can he be? Uruks and Wild Men roam his lands freely, and all he can do is move the people to -“
Theryn caught her hands as she waved them around in fury. “Novarwen! Try to see it from his point of view. He doesn’t know anything of what has happened for who knows how long. He didn’t even know his own son had died. How can he be anything but frightened? How can he want to do anything but go to where he knows his people will be safe?”
“But the decision is so obvious -“
“You would welcome a war?”
Novarwen looked up, startled, at Theryn. “Not usually, but there’s going to be one sooner or later!” Was that – disapproval – she saw in his eyes? “Are you angry with me?” she asked, worried suddenly.
Theryn opened his mouth, closed it again, and replied heavily, “No, not at you, Novarwen. I’m angry at the people who raised you to think war was the only alternative.”
“But in this case it is!” she cried. “Why can’t you see that, Theryn? What’s happened?” He looked away. “Please, talk to me!”
Theryn sat down on her bed, his eyes closed. His shoulders shuddered with the slow breath he let out. Finally he looked up and said, very quietly, “I’ve seen Rohan, Novarwen. I’ve seen it very recently, after all its troubles started. I’ve seen what war has done to the people, and it’s horrible. And I can’t help but think that war is not a chance for glory, but a horrible thing to be avoided. And here you are, urging it on me, on a land ravaged beyond belief, and…” He trailed off, looking up at her almost helplessly.
Her heart twisting at the look in his eyes, Novarwen sat beside Theryn and put her arms around him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. Sorry for betraying your ideals, sorry for being as insensitive to the real world as everyone else…sorry for not understanding. Sorry that you thought I would understand and I failed you.
“Take only what you need, nothing more!” cried Théoden’s messengers throughout Edoras. From her window, Novarwen could see the people hastily packing small satchels and bags, harnessing oxen and horses, grabbing weapons, food, precious trinkets they couldn’t bear to leave. She herself had very little – some wafers of lembas, a change of clothes, her bow and arrows from Lothlorien, and her knife. And Brethil, of course, but she would ride him. Theryn, she saw, was packed as sparingly.
They went down to the hall. Éowyn greeted them with smiles and a request to help some older people pack their things. Novarwen sighed and walked outside to find someone to help.
An old woman was struggling to fit something into her already-bulging sack. Novarwen went over to her. “Here, let me help you,” she offered, kneeling on the ground beside the woman and reaching for the large package wrapped in rough cloth.
“No!” The woman jerked away, clutching the package tightly. “I’ll manage.”
“Your sack’s already full, mistress. We can rearrange some things inside it and there might be room for your package.” Novarwen looked at it quickly, but one glance was enough to confirm her suspicions – the long, slender, cloth-wrapped bundle was a sword.
“I’ll carry it,” the woman said firmly. But she staggered under the weight of the sack and the wrapped sword. Ignoring her protests, Novarwen reached out quickly and took the sword. “Stop it! Give it back to me!” the woman cried desperately.
Novarwen did not unwrap it. Instead she looked calmly at the woman and asked in an undertone, “Mistress, why do you carry a sword?”
The woman swallowed hard. “It – was my son’s – my Éolain’s. He died – a year ago. Lord Éomer sent Éolain’s sword to my husband and me after they knew he was dead. Then my husband died, a few months ago. I -” She swallowed again. “I know King Théoden wants us to bring nothing but essentials, but I can’t leave my son’s sword!”
Novarwen felt her eyes fill with tears. She reached out and hugged the woman. “I will tell no one,” she promised. “Now, mistress, perhaps we should still repack your sack so that you can fit Éolain’s sword in it?” The woman clasped her arm hard in gratitude and opened her pack.
A few minutes later, Éolain’s sword was safely stowed in the sack. His mother stood up and shouldered the sack. “I can help you carry it, mistress,” Novarwen offered.
“No, but I thank you kindly,” the woman replied, a touch of pride in the tone of her voice and the lift of her head. “I am of Rohan, and it would be a shame to my people if I could not carry one sack!” She smiled nevertheless at Novarwen, who gave her a smile in return and went to saddle Brethil.
Théoden emerged from Meduseld, a gold crown on his brow and a steadfastness in his bearing that put an end to any hopes Novarwen might have had of his changing his mind. He walked down the steps and mounted his horse, already saddled for him, and led the people of Edoras out of their city, their home, and toward a future as uncertain as the visions people saw in Galadriel’s mirror. Novarwen swung onto Brethil’s back and trotted through the masses of people. When she found Theryn, she called, “Want a ride?”
With a grin, he made his way through the people and mounted up behind her. “Ride on, my beauty,” he said, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Were you talking to me or the horse?” Novarwen teased.
“You know perfectly well who I was talking to,” Theryn laughed.
“Am I forgiven, then?” Novarwen held her breath; she had to know if her words had done something irreparable to them.
Theryn sat behind her in silence for a long time. Finally he said, “I would never challenge your right to voice your opinion, Novarwen. Just try to be careful how you say it. And yes, you are forgiven for saying what you thought.”
“That’s not what I meant!” She turned her head around to look at him. “I mean – you thought I would understand, didn’t you? That I wasn’t someone who wanted a war?”
She saw the pain in his eyes, so he didn’t bother trying to hide it. “I did, yes, and it did hurt when you said what you said. But we’re not the same people, Novarwen, and it follows logically that we’ll have different ideas. It’s up to the other one to try to talk them out of the more stupid ones.” A faint smile flickered on her face. “You don’t need to ask my forgiveness for being your own person, Novarwen. But I know what you meant, and as far as that goes, yes, I’ve forgiven you for whatever hurt your words gave me.”
If they hadn’t been on Brethil, Novarwen would have hugged Theryn. As it was, she had to content herself with a quick kiss. Then she turned her head around to see where they were going. “Wait!” she said suddenly. “You never told me how you got here, or answered any of the questions I asked you, or -“
Theryn let go of her waist and gently put his hand over her mouth. “Calm down, Novarwen. I’ll answer them all on this journey.” She could almost hear the smile in his voice when he added, “I promise.”