The silence following Aragorn’s words was so complete that the banner of Rohan, lifted gently by the evening breeze, could be clearly heard outside the pavilion.
Halbarad watched the colour drain from Eowyn’s face as, for a moment, she was speechless with shock, and fear. Then she shook her head. “You can’t be serious,” she said. “You can’t be. That road means death – for all of you. No-one can pass that way and live.
“The dead may allow me to pass,” replied Aragorn. “But I must go that way. There is no time to take another road.”
“But this is madness,” she said, trying to keep her voice from trembling. “Why should you choose a road from which there can be no return, when your sword and your strength are needed in Gondor with my brother? You can help – if you are there, there is greater hope for us all.” She turned to Halbarad, as if willing him to agree with her. He shook his head silently, and looked down at his hands.
“I have not chosen this path lightly, Eowyn,” said Aragorn. “Perhaps it is best to say that my path has chosen me. I must go, and those who wish to go with me have chosen to follow.”
Eowyn said no more, but her face was white and strained and the rest of the meal passed in an awkward silence.
As they left her in the pavilion to return to their lodgings for the night, Legolas sought Aragorn out. “Is there no-one here to whom we can speak about Eowyn?” he asked. “I fear for what she might do once we are gone tomorrow.”
“I know,” Aragorn responded. “But I have not spent time in Rohan for many years, and now I know no-one here well. I wish that Eomer were with us. It is not my place to advise or command her, in any case, but …” he paused. “I am sure you can see that matters have become more complicated than that.” He sighed heavily.
“I have seen it, my friend,” said Legolas. “It is that which troubles me most. I saw her struggling against the life she has been forced into, as you did, on the day we first came to Meduseld. No woman with her spirit and strength would bear that kind of restraint for long. And now she has lost her heart as well. It is dangerous for her.”
Aragorn ran a calloused hand through his dark hair and frowned. “I do not think she loves me truly,” he said. “It is just the idea, the hope of someone who could rescue her from…” he stopped abruptly. Eowyn was approaching them from under the trees, her gown glistening white in the torchlight. He cast a look at Legolas, who nodded and went into their tent.
“Is something is troubling you, lady?” asked Aragorn, ushering her away from earshot of the others towards the broad stone wall at the western edge of the field, which looked down on Edoras and the plains below. “Tell me how I can help.”
Eowyn took a deep breath. “Aragorn, why will you go on this deadly road?” she asked.
“Because I have to,” he replied, looking southwards. “A great force is coming to attack Minas Tirith from the south and it cannot be stopped by any other path.”
“How can you know this?” she asked.
“I have seen it,” he said simply, “in one of the Seeing Stones given to my people long ago. If I do not cut off this army then no-one will, and Gondor will fall because of it.” He turned “I do not take dangerous roads out of choice, Eowyn. This is the only way I can do my part in the war against Sauron.”
He sat down on the wall, wondering how much more it was safe to reveal, and how she would respond. Eowyn, after standing irresolute for a moment, sat down beside him and put her fingers over his. “What of your heart?” she asked softly. “What does that tell you?
Gently, Aragorn took his hand away, and Eowyn bit her lip. “If I could go where my heart led me, then right now I would be walking among the tall trees in Rivendell.” She looked at him, puzzled, willing him to explain. But he said no more.
All I know of Rivendell is that it is the home of Elrond and his sons, she thought. Perhaps it is his home as well, and that is why Elladan and Elrohir ride with him now. Or perhaps there is a woman…
Eowyn stood up, her arms folded, looking down upon Edoras in silence. The breeze was dying now as the night drew on. The trees were quiet and banners hung limp and flat. Suddenly she turned.
“Take me with you,” she said. “Please. You are a great lord and captain, and those who go with you will be among the greatest heroes of this war. Don’t make me stay here any longer. Let me ride into battle.”
“I can’t let you or make you do anything, Eowyn,” said Aragorn. “And you were placed in charge of the people here. It is your duty to stay.”
“Why is it always me?” she said angrily. “I have spent my life in doing what others wanted. No more. I am a shieldmaiden of the House of Eorl, not some farmer’s daughter who knows nothing beyond sewing and baking bread. I can ride and fight as well as any of the men of my country, and I do not fear battle or death.”
“What do you fear, lady?” he asked.
“A cage,” she replied. “To be trapped at home because of what I am, and left behind until I am no longer able or willing to fight. Until I no longer care about doing great deeds or winning the kind of glory that will be remembered forever in song.”
Aragorn smiled slightly. “And yet, because of its dangers, you want me to turn aside from the road I have chosen?”
“Not because I want you to run away from the enemy,” Eowyn said. “You should ride into battle, where you and your sword may win renown and victory.” She paused, and swallowed. “I would not see a thing that is high and excellent cast away needlessly.”
“Neither would I,” he said, resting one hand on her shoulder. “Therefore, although I have no authority over you, I ask you to stay here. For you do not have to take the path I have chosen.”
Placing her hand over his again, Eowyn’s eyes filled with tears. “Neither do the company that go with you. They ride with you only because they would not be parted from you… because they love you.”
And before Aragorn could reply, she turned and was gone.