In the half-light before dawn, Eowyn was awake, dressed and packed. She buckled her sword belt around her waist, pushing down on it a little to make sure it was firmly in place. Walking to the long table where her sword, Herubryn*, lay waiting, she picked up the cloth beside it and began to clean and polish away any traces of dirt or wear.
The light grew, pale and watery, through the canvas walls of her tent while she was absorbed in her work, and the sun was well up on the other side of the enclosing mountains by the time she had finished. Eowyn held up her sword in the light and inspected it, then swung it slowly and firmly through the air, practicing a feint to the right the way Elfhelm had taught her. Satisfied, she spun the blade in her hand, and sheathed it in one swift movement.
Outside she could hear the distinct sounds of Aragorn’s company packing and making ready to ride. Now was the moment. She took a deep breath and headed for the entrance to the pavilion, but before she reached the makeshift doorway of hanging fabric and canvas Haleth came in and held out a hand to stop her mistress.
“Wait, my lady… wait, Eowyn,” she said. Eowyn stopped abruptly. Haleth never called her by her first name. It was always, “Lady Eowyn”, or “my lady” – she was always so correct.
“What is the matter, Haleth?” she asked. “I need to go out, I have things I must see to.”
“I know what you plan to do, my lady,” said Haleth. “But do not try. He will not let you go with him. You will not win him by riding into battle at his side.”
“Does he prefer a maiden who stays quietly by the fireside, then?” said Eowyn, forcing a smile. “How disappointing. But I am prepared to take the chance that you’re wrong. I will go. I will be with him.” She made another move for the doorway.
“No, my lady, you will not,” said Haleth, with such emphasis that Eowyn swung around, surprised. At once, she saw the marks of worry clearly stamped on the older woman’s face, and her spirits – raised to cheerfulness and confidence by the previous night’s talk with Halbarad – sank again, and quickly.
“What do you know?” she asked quietly. Haleth bit her lip and took Eowyn’s hand. She tore herself away. “What do you know?” she demanded again.
“My lady,” said Haleth steadily, “I overheard some talk between the elf, Legolas, and the Lord Aragorn as they watered their horses just after dawn. He… Legolas, my lady… spoke of his gladness that he had no wife or love left behind to wait and worry over him.”
“So?” said Eowyn, tilting her chin and folding her arms tight to her chest. “What is that to me?”
“My lady,” said Haleth sadly. “You know what I am about to say. The Lord Aragorn has… he does have someone waiting for him.”
“Is she his wife?” Eowyn asked.
“I don’t know… but Aragorn said that this path, and what lies beyond it, will soon choose their fate – that their waiting will be over for good or for ill before long.”
“They are not married, then,” replied Eowyn. “She is not his – not yet.”
“But my lady… Eowyn, listen to me,” said Haleth urgently, taking her hand and pressing it. “He is not for you. He has chosen.”
“There is still time,” she said. “He may decide to make another choice.”
“No, he will not,” said the older woman. “He cannot. My lady, he said they gave each other their promise in the same year that Theoden became king of Rohan. He would not break such a promise – a promise he has waited so long to fulfill.”
“But how can that be possible?” asked Eowyn, her own feelings overcome for a moment by her astonishment. “The same year my uncle became king? That is nearly 40 years ago, Haleth. I know the race of the Dunedain is long-lived, but no woman’s womb could wait that many years. She would be past child-bearing age. No. You are wrong. You must be.”
“My lady, she is not of our race. She is an elf.”
Eowyn rolled her eyes. “Now I know you are telling me stories. Elves and men do not intermarry. Elves are deathless, remember? And we die of old age. Now let me go.”
Haleth held on to her mistress’s arm. “I am telling you the truth,” she said. “I asked the dwarf, Gimli, because I wanted to be sure. He said she is the daughter of Elrond of Rivendell, and if Aragorn becomes king in Gondor they will marry, and … she will die.” She looked at Eowyn, expecting another outburst, but although the young woman’s face became white to the lips, she was quiet.
“It is true, then,” she said eventually. “He said Rivendell was where his heart would take him. I thought perhaps… I thought it might just have been his home. There is… there is no hope for me, then.” Her head drooped forward.
“That is nonsense,” said Haleth. “The Lord Aragorn is a great man, to be sure, but he’s about to go off through that deadly door, and that’ll be the end of him.” Eowyn drew in a sharp breath. “You want a man you can rely on – one who will fight battles with the living rather than the dead and will be here for you at the end of it.”
“I want to fight the battles beside him,” said Eowyn grimly, “not wait at home to be remembered or forgotten as a man so pleases. And I will fight. I am going with them.” She moved to a side table where a filled cup of wine stood ready, and picked it up.
“Eowyn, no,” pleaded Haleth. But the younger woman paid no attention. Striding to the entrance of the tent she thrust the hangings aside and walked out towards Aragorn.
He and his company were ready to leave. Taking a deep breath, Eowyn came closer, drank a sip of the wine and offered Aragorn the cup. “Ferthu, Aragorn hal,”* she said. He thanked her and drank, then wished her, and her people, good fortune in the dark days to come. “Say to your brother: beyond the shadows we may meet again,” he added.
Her reserve began to crumble at the mention of the road ahead of him, and her lip trembled. “So you will go?” she asked. He nodded slowly. “Then take me with you.”
Aragorn shook his head. “That is not in my power. It is for the king or your brother to say and they may be another day, or more, from here. I cannot wait for them. Every moment wasted is a moment nearer to Sauron’s victory. I must go. Ferthu, hwit blost’ma hal.”*
She put trembling fingers to her mouth at his words, her eyes filling with tears. Aragorn took her other hand in his, kissed it gently, then nodded to the assembled group.
“It is time, my friends,” he said. At once he mounted Roheryn, lifted his hand, and without looking back the company rode towards the Dwimorberg.
Eowyn clenched her fists, watching them go, then shook her head. “No,” she said to herself. “Not this time. I will not be left behind.” Walking quickly to where Windfola was tethered, she untied him and checked the saddle bags she had packed before dawn. She jumped onto his back, turned his head towards the Haunted Mountain and dug her heels in, geeing him on up the slope.
* Tolkien used – pretty much – Anglo-Saxon English for the names and language of Rohan. So I’ve (more or less) done the same thing.
Herubryn – fire sword, or sword of fire
Ferthu, Aragorn hal – Fare you well, Aragorn
Ferthu, hwit blost’ma hal – Fare you well, white flower