Merry looked out into the brown haze that passed for a morning. The rider who had woken him had bidden him into the king’s presence – even though it looked like the middle of the night from inside his tent.
What was causing this? The very air was thick and hard to breathe. He gave a little snort of disgust, popped back inside the tent to retrieve his sword and made his way to the king’s pavilion amid the gloom.
Not that it mattered if he strapped his sword on or not, he thought miserably. Theoden had said, last night, that he didn’t want Merry to ride with the Rohirrim to Minas Tirith. So much for the service he had offered. How on earth could he sit here happily in safety, knowing all his friends had gone off into battle and danger?
In the pavilion Hirgon, one of the men of Gondor who had ridden in last night with the Red Arrow – begging Rohan to ride to the war – was telling the king about the oppressive colour and feeling in the air. It was from Mordor, it seemed, so there was no chance of it blowing away any time soon.
Merry sighed, looking around the room at the group that was gathered there. All talking about the war and what they planned to do, except for Eowyn. She was silent, and when Merry caught her eye he was immediately struck by how strained she looked. But then, she was being left behind as well, and it was clear that she didn’t like the idea any more than he did. He sighed again and looked at his toes.
Eowyn, for her part, was finding it hard to contain herself. To start and get the hiding and waiting over was all she wanted. There was no point asking the king, yet again, whether he would agree to her going with the men. Not when Eomer himself had been so anxious last night to make sure she stayed at home.
She had Windfola saddled already, waiting out of sight; all that remained to do now was farewell the king and her brother. Then it would be time to put her armour on, and she would be ready. Ready to fight. Ready to die, and show them all how it was done.
Her thoughts was wandering so far away that it took a few moments for her to realise what the king was saying to Merry. She could hardly believe her ears. The poor hobbit was being left behind as well – left behind to serve her, another miserable stay-at-home.
Eowyn was angy, but tried not to show it. How could Theoden do this to him? Merry’s friends were all in the thick of it and he was being told to go and hide himself in a corner like a little child. Poor Meriadoc! He was clearly distressed – she knew the signs only too well – but the king would only let him ride as far as Edoras. Just to make sure he had a really good view of what he was being forced to give up.
She stood up quickly. “Come, Master Meriadoc,” she said, her voice brittle with the effort of keeping calm. “The Lord Aragorn asked me to find some war gear to suit you. He would not have his friends left unprepared for battle,” she added, throwing a defiant glance at Eomer and flinging open the flaps of the pavilion. She stalked off into the half-light, Merry hurrying to keep up.
They walked in silence to the little booth where the armourer had laid out a selection of gear for Merry: a helm, a shield with the white horse running on green, a tough leather vest and a small knife.
The hobbit thanked Eowyn quietly – a little sadly – and bowed formally to her. Touched, she put a hand on his shoulder. “Do not despair,” she said. “Seek for a way – I am sure you will find it. And when you do, bear these to good fortune.”
Merry bowed again and left her. Eowyn watched him walk back to the stable to get his pony ready for the ride to Edoras, his head slightly bowed and his shoulders low, and made her decision. She would help him. But before she could do that, she must first make her farewells to the king. She walked briskly back to Theoden’s pavilion, her head held high.
The king and his company had left the Hold and taken the winding path down to Dunharrow, where they now waited for all the companies of Riders who had ridden in to the weapontake to be marshalled and assembled. Although there were thousands of men making ready to ride, there was little talk and almost no sound except the rush and clatter of the Snowbourn above and beside them, the jangling of harnesses and the clink of armour. All the men were busy with their thoughts, wondering how the battles would go, and whether or not they would return.
Now disguised, Eowyn had kept well away from the king and his men while the Riders were assembling, but now she was sidling closer. She had to find Merry, but the lowering sky and his small stature were making it difficult.
Suddenly, the hobbit’s little head bobbed up on one side of a tall Rider – and right by the king. There was no chance to get to him here. It would have to wait until they were at Edoras.
Theoden raised his hand at that moment, and his company began to move. Eowyn, alarmed, realised that they would pass right in front of her. There was no time to move back in the ranks to cover herself. She would be seen. She gritted her teeth and prayed that she looked invisible, indistinguishable from any other Rider.
Fortunately the king, sitting proud and tall in the saddle, only had eyes for the road ahead and did not look in her direction. Merry, however, glancing up and down the lines of Riders so much taller and stronger than he, looked straight in her eyes. Eowyn heard a sharp intake of breath – why, she did not know – but she stared hard at him, willing him to understand that his anguish would soon be over; that she would help him. But after a few moments he frowned, and looked away.
Following the king’s final meal at Edoras, Eowyn watched as he said his farewells to a despondent Merry, who was then left alone to watch everyone make ready to depart. She quickly rode up to the hobbit’s side and leant down slightly from her saddle.
“Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say – and so I have found myself.” Merry looked up, puzzled, and slightly wary. No matter why. She pressed on: “You want to follow the king into battle: I see it in your face.”
“I do,” said Merry sadly, “He has said it is impossible. I don’t know what to do.”
“I know exactly what to do: you will ride with me,” said Eowyn. Startled, Merry opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, too surprised for words. “You are brave, and willing, and should have your chance like all the others to win fame and glory,” she continued. “I will hide you under my cloak until we are well away from here – not that there is much to be seen in this murk. Come with me.”
“Thank you so much,” said the hobbit, his face splitting into a broad grin as he looked up into hers. “Thank you… but I don’t know your name.”
“Call me Dernhelm,” said Eowyn, and held out her hand.