Haleth peered out from the wall of the sixth circle for what felt like the hundreth time that day. The height above the ground and the vastness of the city unnerved her, all the more so as she knew no-one – not now Elfhelm had ridden to Cormallen to brief King Eomer about events in Rohan.
Elfhelm had won a mighty victory over the orcs in Anorien, before returning home in triumph with news of battle and the sight of the blackness over Mordor blowing away as if with the wind. It had also lifted a great burden from the hearts of everyone in Dunharrow. They knew now that somehow, miraculously, Sauron had been overthrown. Horns rang and voices sang across the Mark to rejoice and wonder at it.
But far greater and more blessed to Haleth was the news Elfhelm had brought that her dear Eowyn was alive – that she had fought the king of the flying witch men on the field of battle, alongside the great captains of the west, and she had prevailed. Haleth could scarcely believe it. It seemed a feat of might beyond human strength and skill.
However, the news of Eowyn’s wounds had tempered her joy and created new concerns. Wo
uld those people in Gondor look after her well enough? And how grievous were the wounds in her heart?
After a few days of worry and troubled sleep, Haleth had convinced Elfhelm to take her on his return journey to Gondor, only to find Eowyn not in Minas Tirith upon their arrival. The young Steward and she had struck up a friendship, it seemed, and so his visit to the ruling family of Lossarnach had included Eowyn – keen to return to the land of her grandmother’s birth.
To Haleth’s surprise, the wife of the chief herbalist in the Houses of Healing had made many hints and given many winks about the friendship between … Faramir, that was his name… and Eowyn.
“They’re made for each other,” she assured a wary Haleth. “She’s a royal lady and he’s the Steward of Gondor, no less – and my, what a handsome pair they are. It’s lovely they should find each other after so many losses in his family, and in hers. It must be a great comfort.”
Haleth had been silent, letting Ioreth prattle on, but she was deeply suspicious of the idyllic picture the other woman had painted. Her lady’s mind had been fixed upon the Lord Aragorn before she had ridden off to battle. Now he was to be king – and would she not feel a longing to be part of that? Would she not ache and weep for the part that could not be hers? Only a sweeping change could have altered the state of her heart and the course it had taken her on, thought Haleth grimly.
The sound of hurrying feet made her turn. Ioreth was coming towards her from the House, busy and bustling as usual, with a broad smile on her face.
“Can you hear those trumpets?” she asked breathlessly, as she came to stand at Haleth’s side. “That’s for my lord Faramir. Only those trumpets are used to welcome home the Steward and his sons. Look!” She pointed down towards the great gates far below them, and Haleth could distinguish a tall figure on a dark horse, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd that had gathered with a wave of his hand. As he halted to speak to one of the guards a cart drew up beside him. It was being driven by a small woman in a green cloak, and next to her was…
“It is my lady!” cried Haleth. “She is here!” She turned at once, ready to run down the levels of the city as fast as her old feet would carry her to hug the slim, blonde figure that sat so tall and straight next to her friend. She felt tears rising in her eyes and wished she could let them flow, but not now – not here.
“They’ll come up soon enough,” said Ioreth, guessing the other woman’s thoughts. “The guards at the gate will be informing my lord Faramir that you are here, so I expect they’ll come straight up to the House.” Haleth could hear the satisfaction in her voice at being the chosen stopping place for the Steward – and the woman she confidently believed he was courting.
Haleth cleared her throat in an attempt to keep her voice steady. “Is there a quiet place where I might be able to meet the Lady Eowyn undisturbed? It is many weeks since I have seen her. Great deeds have been done and … and there is much to say.”
“Oh, bless you, of course there’s somewhere you can go for a bit of peace and quiet,” said Ioreth kindly. “There’s the big sitting room up there, the one that opens out to the eastern garden. You see it? Let me take you.”
The women walked back up to the House from their vantage point by the wall. Ioreth led Haleth to the sitting room where Eowyn and Meren had spent so many mornings together during her recovery, and closed the door with a smile and the promise that they should be left in peace.
Sitting down, Haleth felt a little weak. What state would Eowyn be in? She had turned that thought over and over in her mind for days, worrying at it like a small child with an itch. Yet she was still no nearer to knowing how she should behave if her mistress proved to be in the same dark mood that had led her to ride with the Rohirrim all those weeks ago. What should she say? What comfort could she give? For as sure as the sun would rise in the morning, the Lord Aragorn would marry his elf maid and there would be no place for Eowyn at his side.
Suddenly the door flew open behind her and Eowyn stood for a moment on the threshold, her face flushed with excitement and a smile of joyous disbelief on her face.
“It’s true!” she cried, bounding across the room to Haleth’s side and enveloping the older woman in a crushing hug. “Faramir said that you were here but I did not dare believe it.” She drew back and gazed at Haleth with a broad smile, her eyes sparkling. “The one thing I was wishing for was you, and now everyone is here – well, Eomer will be here any day now, and that will be everyone. Oh, Haleth!” – she hugged her again – I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you.”
“Not as glad as I am to see how well and happy you look, my lady,” beamed Haleth, and Eowyn’s brows instantly knitted together.
“You are not to call me ‘my lady’ any more, Haleth, do you hear? I won’t have it.”
Haleth sputtered in shock “But my lady – Eowyn – what am I to call you?” she asked. “You are the sister of the king. I cannot speak to you as I would to others. It is not seemly.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been here, you know,” said Eowyn. “I saw many things a lot more clearly than I’ve seen them in years, and my mind is quite made up. You are the closest thing I have had to a mother since I was seven years old, and I won’t have you speaking to me as though you were a servant. I just don’t think of you that way. And if that’s not enough for you, I’ll command it – just this once.”
Her colour rising, Haleth sat down again. Although quietly pleased by the gesture, she still could not help feeling that it was somehow improper. She huffed a little and Eowyn chuckled, seeing the struggle in her old friend’s eyes.
“I can see this is going to take some getting used to,” she said. “Well – perhaps this will be easier. You may continue to give me my title in public, but I expect you to address me only by my name when we are among friends. Would that be simpler?”
“It would indeed,” Haleth replied, with obvious relief. “But tell me – ” she paused at the sound of someone in the doorway. Eowyn turned and, on seeing Faramir, welcomed him in with an outstretched hand and a smile, presenting Haleth to him as “my dear friend, and mother to me from childhood”.
Haleth huffed again, embarrassed, and Eowyn laughed heartily. “We are among friends here,” she reminded the older woman, and Faramir took Haleth’s hand, smiling warmly.
“No wonder Eowyn was so happy to hear that you had travelled from Rohan to see her,” he said.
Assessing the man before her, Haleth was surprised to see the gentleness in his eyes. All the city spoke of their young Steward as one of the greatest heroes of the war – Ioreth never stopped singing his praises – but this man did not have the gruff style of a warrior. He seemed like a man of lore, a wise man. And yet he had led a group of soldiers on the other side of the river, in hiding for months on end, and had helped to inspire a city surrounded by the encroaching dark of Mordor. How unlike the fighting men of her land he was …
Her attention snapped back. Faramir was courteously taking his leave. “There will be many matters Hurin needs to discuss,” he was saying to Eowyn. “I’m glad to have gained a clearer idea of Anarin’s needs in Lossarnach, but we need to begin preparing for the coronation and the feast that will follow. I may not be able to return for a few days.”
“We will keep busy,” replied Eowyn cheerfully. “We have much to talk about.”
Faramir laughed, bowed to Haleth and said his farewells, but his eyes lingered on Eowyn’s face for a few moments before he left the room. Haleth turned to see how her young mistress would respond to such a clear sign of admiration, and was surprised to see a slight blush on the lady’s cheeks.
The door closed behind Faramir and Haleth seized her chance. “What is this?” she asked gently.
Eowyn lowered her eyes a little. “Even if I could tell you all, there are still some things I do not understand myself,” she said, a small smile curving her lips. “Suffice to say that I am no longer the woman you knew in Rohan. She has learned more, and better, and is looking forward to … well, she is looking forward. And she is happy.”
Haleth wordlessly planted a kiss on her mistress’s cheek and pressed her hand, struggling not to show the intensity of relief. Her eye was caught by a flash on Eowyn’s right hand – her mother’s ring… but wait!
Haleth looked up again, astonished, and met Eowyn’s dancing eyes. The diamond and beryl ring was clearly something newly given, and it shone proudly next to the band Eowyn had worn all her adult life. Had the Steward offered marriage? And how on earth had Eowyn changed to the extent that she could accept?
She raised her eyebrows, but did not let her surprise show further. “I can see that I have missed a great deal since you went away,” she said calmly, after a few moments. “Perhaps you should tell me the story of your adventures – from the beginning?”