When Eowyn came to herself, she was lying face down in a pool of blood. She had drowned in the outpourings of black filth from the winged beast, and it had mingled with her own blood before she died. But wait – how could she remember that if she was dead?
She sat up, rubbing her head with a grimy hand, then froze: the landscape around her had changed completely. The Pelennor and Minas Tirith’s outlying farmlands had disappeared, and in their place was a tall, menacing tower, strangely luminescent in the dark pall that filled the sky. She was sitting right under its outward wall, and instead of blood her hands and her nails were filled with grey, powdery earth, as though she had been clinging to the ground for dear life.
But she hadn’t even been here before. What was this place? Eowyn stood up and looked around her. There were no trees here, just blasted earth and a few twisted strands of weed. The path that led away from the tower crossed a pale bridge, and beneath it a sickly-looking river flowed slowly past. The very air was heavy with the stench of death. She swallowed, afraid to stay where she was but also afraid to move, lest she be seen.
Suddenly, she saw a man tottering across the bridge up to the tower. She shrank back against the wall and watched him. He was wearing the armour of Gondor, but his eyes were empty and expressionless. His arms and legs seemed to be moving as if by another will than his own. As he wandered, muttering, in through the gate of the tower, Eowyn saw his face bleach to a deathly white, but the whites of his eyes burned black. And he fell through the entranceway.
Eowyn stuffed her hands in her mouth to keep from screaming. Legends of the Rohirrim had spoken of a dreadful fate awaiting the souls of evil men, but this man had not looked evil. What was happening?
Ne daeg sonne, ne sweg ofer nihta genipu;
ne blost’me, ne tungol hwit in feirnes.
Ac maegas in aegsa, ond beorna waelgifu
– ond blodegute, ond bryne.
Thonne won cymeth.*
No day-sun, no music over the mists of night;
no flowers, no white stars in their fairness.
But kinsmen in fear, and warriors greedy for slaughter
– and bloodshed, and burning.
Then dark comes.
The despairing lines written by her forebear, Helm Hammerhand, at the Hornburg before he was lost in the snow of the Long Winter returned to Eowyn now, and she wept. There was indeed no sun here to break through the darkness: no stars, no joy. Just fear, despair and death far from home.
As she leaned against the wall, tears rolling down her cheeks, a harsh, evil voice began to laugh softly. Then it grew louder, until the merciless sound boomed with such force that the craggy cliffs surrounding the tower echoed and shook.
“Poor little woman,” it mocked. “Weak mortal left all alone, deserted by those she thought loved her. You will never see them again. Now you belong to me.”
At that, Eowyn sat up, a fierce pride overcoming her fear. “I am not your creature,” she said angrily. “I was brought to this place by force. And I am not alone. Our armies have turned the tide in the battle at Minas Tirith. My brother leads them, and we will prevail.”
“You think so?” the voice said softly, and the menace in it set a shiver in Eowyn’s body, just as it had with the Lord of the Nazgul. “Things may change, little woman. Battles are not kind to mortal men. No, not kind at all… I’m afraid you might be mistaken.”
Her heart went cold within her, and her mouth went dry. What did he mean? Was he talking about Eomer? But she pressed her lips together. She would not ask for news from him – whoever, whatever he was.
The voice seemed to know what she was thinking. “Surely you would wish for tidings of your brother?” it asked. “Your only kin… all you have left in the world. Such a pity he got in the way of a mumak. The end of the kingdom of Rohan. No-one left to fight or die… and no-one living to come for you.” The laughter began again, a harsh chuckling with no humour or warmth.
Eowyn bowed her head, too crushed to speak. So he was dead. Her only brother. Yet she had no more tears. All she felt was numb. Why could she not cry?
“You are growing ever closer to me,” the voice said. “You cannot even weep for the dead. Come, little mortal, come in. There is nothing else for you now.”
Dizzy and lightheaded, Eowyn stood to her feet. Yes, he was right. She should go in. This was her home now, and he was her lord. She could serve him. What was she thinking to feel sorry for the death of… of … who was it again? She shrugged, and took a few steps towards the archway.
A small voice of doubt cried within her, but she ignored it. There was nothing to worry her here. Her struggles were over. The arch glowed just a stone’s throw away. Then the voice in her head grew stronger. But it did not seem to be speaking to her: “Who would lie idle when the king has returned?” it asked.
Eowyn stopped. She knew that voice. But it was such an effort to remember. She shook her head, trying to think. Then: “wait for me,” it said.
“I will,” she responded, and turned around, her back to the arch, peering put into the darkness to try and find the speaker. He seemed so close.
“Why do you stop?” asked her master. No, he was not her master. Eowyn pressed her fingers into her eyes, willing her brain to work. “Turn around,” it said, and this time she could hear the harsh note in the voice. The fog in her mind cleared. She would not obey him. She would not.
“No!” she said defiantly. “You are not my lord. I will not bend to your will.”
“Indeed?” mocked the voice. “And who is to stop me? Your dead brother? Your dead king?”
Eowyn clenched her fists. “They are dead because of evil like yours,” she cried. “I defy you, evil one! I spit on you! You have power, and yet you will not face me. Come out, coward! Show yourself!”
Eastward of the tower, over the cliffs, a red light suddenly blazed, fierce and terrible. Frozen to the spot in horror, Eowyn saw a huge eye rising into the air, burning and flaming, its centre dead and black like the grave. The voice within it roared at her, spouting a stream of vile language that she could not understand, but which left her spellbound, incapable of speech.
But as plumes of fire from the eye escaped and came shooting towards her, another voice spoke, gentle but commanding: “Eowyn, Eomound’s daughter, awake! For your enemy has passed away.”
The tower and the fire grew dim, and the voice within the eye screamed with rage. The fire pursued her, but the voice of command spoke once more: “Awake, Eowyn, Lady of Rohan” it said.
The darkness dissolved, and she awoke in a room full of light.
* Anglo-Saxon scholars will forgive me, I’m sure, this little poem of gleaned words and phrases from Anglo-Saxon English. I’ve no doubt it’s very unsound grammatically, but it seemed right to put something here – so I hope you’ll be kind