Eowyn ran to the farthest edge of the Firienfeld – away from the tents, the horses, the prying ears. She fell to her knees beside the dry stone wall, put her hands over her face and sobbed uncontrollably.
I will always be left behind… there is no-one to understand… he does not love me… why does he not love me? I won’t let them shut me away… but what can I do? There’s no choice, no escape. We will all die here in the end. And he does not love me…
Another sob caught in her throat, and Eowyn gulped and sat up, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand.
She sat back on her heels, looking out towards Eastfold, the region of the Mark where her father had been born.
“How I wish you were here, father,” she said softly, another tear sliding down her cheek. “You would know what to do. You would have let me go. There is no-one here who understands. Haleth certainly doesn’t. She would tie me to a fence post to make sure I stayed at home if she knew what I was thinking.”
“What are you thinking?” a voice nearby asked gently.
Eowyn stood up abruptly. “Who’s there?” she said sharply. “What do you want?”
“It’s alright, Eowyn,” said the voice, and a man who had been sitting in the shadows stepped forward. It was Halbarad.
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was just sitting over by the edge of the wall to look at the stars before I went to bed.”
Eowyn sat down, feeling a little weak at the knees. “I’m sorry,” she replied. “That was very rude of me. I thought I was talking to the air and, well…”
“Forgive me,” Halbarad said again. “They were words that you meant no-one else to hear. Although…” he paused, as if considering. “Eowyn, you seemed to be wishing for a friend. If it’s a non-judgemental ear you need, you can talk to me… if that would help.”
“I don’t know what would help me now,” she said bluntly. “I’ve been an orphan since I was seven, and I have been coddled and closed off from the world ever since. Everyone else tells me what is right for me. Everyone decides what I should do, and where I should go, and how I must live.
“And just when the king is freed from his bondage to Saruman and I think I may have my chance to play a part in the war, I am sent off into the hills to mind the old men and the women and children. Why do they all want to shut me away like some domestic animal?” she flung the last line at him, almost accusingly.
“I don’t know,” Halbarad replied, sitting beside her. “Your culture is different from mine. Dunedain women have never gone into battle with the men. They have never wished to. It is something outside my experience, but I wonder at it. You seem to have the desire for battle and the fighting will of a man. I have heard nothing like it since the First Age, when Haleth led the people of her household after her father and brother were killed.”
“Did she?” asked Eowyn, and to Halbarad’s surprise, she laughed. “I am sorry,” she said, seeing his confused expression. “My waiting woman is named Haleth, and I can’t think of anybody less disposed to going to war than she is.”
“Ah yes, yes, I heard,” he replied, remembering. “Your Haleth would not approve of your going to war. She would – what was it? Tie you to a fence post?” Eowyn laughed again, still more heartily, and Halbarad smiled.
“Thank you,” she said at last, wiping away a final, stray tear that still clung to her cheek. “I can’t remember the last time I laughed like that. Your wife is a very lucky woman.”
“If you say so,” he replied gently.
“Tell me,” Eowyn said impulsively, “if I may ask… what is her name?”
“Firiel,” he replied. “Oddly enough, it means `mortal woman’ in the High-elven tongue. As if we needed any reminder that time is short.”
Eowyn laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t let your sadness at being separated from her take your mind away from the work you must do. She will not thank you for dying in battle because you were thinking too much of her.”
Halbarad smiled. “Spoken like a true warrior,” he said. “But now I must go and get some rest, or I will be of no use to anyone tomorrow.” He took her hand and kissed it. “Sleep well, Eowyn.” And he left her.
Alone in the dark, Eowyn took a deep breath and looked up, considering the stars as Halbarad had done. What was her fate? Already decided… or should she make her own? There was a path for her to travel, she was sure, but it seemed she would have create it herself. And she would.
Her mind made up, Eowyn walked quickly back towards her pavilion.