It was the birds that woke Eowyn, twittering in the gardens in the sixth circle of the city surrounding the Houses of Healing. The sun had risen, and the light in her north-facing room was full and bright, reminiscent of her bedchamber in Edoras.
But today there would be no bounding out of bed, filled with energy to face the day ahead. She turned slowly, the white linen of her bedclothes rustling beneath her, and resettled on her left side to watch the sunlight play on the wall of the room.
It felt strange to be alive. That in itself was taking some getting used to. She had gone into battle with no expectation of coming out of it, and had given herself up for lost the moment she had faced the Lord of the Nazgul. To come back from that, to accept life again – especially at the hands of Aragorn – was very difficult.
And what of the other man who had called her, who had haunted her dreams and troubled her waking hours? He had clearly been in Minas Tirith during the battle… but now she felt nothing, and heard nothing. It was like a switch had been turned off, she mused.
He could be dead – he could be. So many had died in the battle; he could easily have been one of them. But surely she would know.
The light was moving down the wall as the sun rose further. Just as Eowyn began to wonder what the time was, there was a knock behind her. She turned her head and, seeing Elfhelm at the door, welcomed him in with a voice that sounded weak and thin, even to her.
Elfhelm looked anxious as he sat by her bedside. “Are you sure you’re well enough for a visitor?” he asked. “You look – well, feminine vanity aside, Eowyn, you look lousy.”
His familiar bluntness made her smile. “I’m sure I do. But I was a little too busy yesterday to worry about my looks.”
“Yesterday?” he said, surprised. “But you’ve been asleep for 36 hours. The battle was over the night before last. This is the fourth time I’ve looked in on you.”
“The fourth time? I admire your persistence.” Eowyn yawned in spite of herself, and Elfhelm frowned at her.
“Are you sure you’re well enough to see me?” he repeated.
“Well enough,” she responded. “Truth to tell, I’ve never felt so tired. I feel like I can barely move. But I can talk – and listen. I’m glad to see you, and in one piece.”
“Not as glad as I am to know that you’re safe,” he said. “What I would have said to your brother if you had died on that battlefield…” his voice trailed away.
“The choice was already made, and by me,” said Eowyn. “The only thing I am sure of about that battle is that I was meant to be there. I know how many have fought the Witch King and failed, but I don’t think that makes me a better fighter than they. I was just the right person, fated to be there on that day, and with the bravery of someone like Merry to aid me. I do not feel it makes me especially heroic or important – just lucky.”
Elfhelm nodded. “I understand. It never seems that way when you have faced your frailties and your enemy at the same time. And yet your feat will be seen as one of the great moments in battle in the Third Age. You will have to accept that, along with the admiration of our people and the people of this city. They will want to honour you when this is over.”
Eowyn caught something in the tone of his voice. “What is it? What is yet to come?” Elfhelm looked uncertain, and she frowned. “I could command you,” she said. “But it seems a little impolite to demand things of my battle superior. Can you not tell me as a friend and comrade at arms?”
“It is difficult,” Elfhelm replied. “But I will tell you what I can. Tomorrow I will lead a little under three thousand of our men back up the road into Anorien. The orcs we skirted around on the way in to battle are still there, and it is better for us to ride out and meet them on our terms than face them in a fractured city on theirs. Or, indeed, have them ride into Rohan and attack our people.”
But why does my brother not lead the army?” asked Eowyn.
Her companion sighed. “That is because he is leaving tomorrow – for Mordor.” Eowyn’s face grew paler, but she did not speak. “The captains, led by the Lord Aragorn and Mithrandir, have chosen to ride out to battle against Sauron at the Black Gate itself, with seven thousand men.”
“Seven thousand?” she exclaimed, incredulous. “That is madness. They cannot win such a fight.”
“They know it,” said Elfhelm. “Believe me. This course is not being taken lightly – I do not know for sure why it is being taken at all. But I do know there are other forces at work against Sauron beside ourselves. Perhaps they seek to aid them by going out to fight in this way. I do not know.” He stood up, and walked to the window, putting his hands on the sill. “This is our fight, however, and we shall do it until we drop, or they do. We will not give in now.” He stuck out his chin.
Eowyn’s heart sank. Here they all are, going off to battle and I shall be left behind again, she thought. There must be some way I can go with them. She raised herself up on one elbow, but the effort of it made her head swim. She sank back onto the pillows.
“I’m so weak,” she raged angrily. “But don’t you dare go without me. I refuse to be left behind, do you hear?”
Elfhelm turned, and his brows snapped together. “Now you listen to me,” he said, the note of authority back in his voice. “You left Edoras under my command, and you were wounded as a soldier of the Rohirrim. Therefore you will stay in bed, and I’ll have no more of this nonsense about rushing back out to war. You’d drop out of the saddle in five minutes, and I’m not in the business of wasting good men on your behalf because you’re too stubborn to stay here and get your strength back. I order you to stay in bed. Is that understood?”
She smiled weakly at him. “Understood, sir.”
“Excellent,” he said brusquely. “I’ll let you rest now. You’ve earned it – and I’ve got a lot to do before we leave in the morning.” He headed for the door then stopped, facing away from her, his hand on the doorknob.
“I hope you realise how proud I am of you,” he said quietly. “And your father would have felt the same. His daughter the vanquisher of the Witch King of Angmar – I wish he had been here to see it.”
Eowyn’s throat grew tight, and her eyes pricked with tears. But before she could recover herself enough to respond Elfhelm, brushing one hand across his face, walked out without a backward look.