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Unto the ending of the world: 10. Allies
March 26, 3019
The day dawned overcast and grey, matching Éowyn's mood and her expectations for this council. Her dismissal of her guests from the hall the night before had been close to rude, but her own people's disapproval of her leaving Dunharrow was hard enough to accept; she could not speak of it before strangers in the hall. Then, when the Northerner named himself Chieftain, Éowyn knew that could only mean that the lord Aragorn had fallen, and she could not bring herself to face such bad news at that time. Watching him enter the dark Dimholt with his followers, she had abandoned the hope that he would let her escape the cage her life had become – whether through winning his love or through letting her ride to battle and the chance of great deeds. Yet, though she had come to admit in the bleak days after he left that she did not love Aragorn, it was still bitter to learn that even the greatest were no match for the Darkness in the East. Alas for her brother and her uncle! And alas that she had not fallen with them, for what hope could there be for her or for Rohan? But such black thoughts were best consigned to the dark night, and should be given no place in the light of day.
As Merry led the Northern delegation into the room, Éowyn turned away from the window where she had been waiting and came over to welcome her guests. "Lord Halbarad, I am sorry to hear of the death of the lord Aragorn," she said. "Rohan shares your grief."
He bowed his head at her words, but she noticed the pain in his eyes before he looked away. Halbarad mourned his fallen lord as deeply as she did her kin, Éowyn realised. As he looked at her again, he hesitated briefly before speaking. "Lady Éowyn, there is one thing I would speak of to you before this council."
His tone was grim, and Éowyn wondered what this thing might be. "Tell me," she said, bracing herself for yet more evil tidings.
"Lady, do you know of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and of the Ring of the Enemy?" Halbarad asked.
Éowyn recalled the Gondorian tutor her uncle had sent for one winter for her and her brother. Even from the dry lessons he had made them read from a dusty and faded tome, the Last Alliance and the great battles of those days had stirred her imagination. "I know somewhat of the Last Alliance," she said, "But not of this Ring."
Halbarad nodded sharply in acknowledgement. "I can only tell this very briefly," he began, "In the Second Age of the World, the Enemy made a Ring into which he put most of his strength. In the final battle of the Last Alliance, it was taken from him, when it should have been destroyed."
"Taken, you say?" Éowyn said, going on at the other's impatient nod. "Then, who has it now?"
"Alas, he has it back in his possession," he replied, "And so it is that he has regained all his strength of old. There is more to be told of this, but time is short, and I would only have you consider whether this should be spoken of in council."
Éowyn thought quickly. She knew naught of such matters, but anything that strengthened the Enemy was dire news. It would be best if it were not known widely, not so soon after the disaster of the Pelennor, and certainly not until she understood more. "No, it would be best not to. If such news were to spread, the people might lose heart even more, and I do not trust all those who will be present to keep such knowledge to themselves. If there is more to be told, we should speak of it afterwards."
It was not long before all those she had called to this council had arrived. Éowyn looked round the table as they sat down and introductions were made. When it came down to it, she only trusted Elfhelm and Erkenbrand of her advisors. Elfhelm was unreservedly on her side, and Erkenbrand had been clear that while he disapproved of her actions, he was loyal to the House of Eorl, and would give her his support on that basis. The other two? Folcwine had ambitions of his own; tainted by bastardy his descent from Fengel might be, he had enough of a following that she could not ignore his influence. She hoped Erkenbrand could keep him in check. Swithulf had been too friendly with Wormtongue, though he had distanced himself very quickly when the Worm was banished. He remained one of her councillors only because her uncle had not had time to remove all of Wormtongue's supporters from important positions before he rode for Gondor. That oversight would soon be amended. Once introductions had been made, Éowyn asked Halbarad to speak first.
"Much of what I am about to say will already be known to you, so I will be brief in the telling," he told them. Éowyn watched her councillors as much as she listened to Halbarad's tale. He quickly related his company's journey through the Paths of the Dead and on to Pelargir. Erkenbrand looked ready to interrupt him when Halbarad mentioned that they had found the bones and armour of Baldor son of Brego under the mountains and Éowyn was distracted into wondering whether she should have Baldor's remains retrieved for a more suitable burial.
As Halbarad spoke of Pelargir, and described the release of the Dead from their oath, Elfhelm said, "That is a wonder, the curse of the Dead lifted, and the shadow of their presence gone from Harrowdale. So now the Paths are open?" Halbarad confirmed this, and Elfhelm turned to Éowyn, "You should send messengers to Gondor as soon as possible, my lady. We do not know when or where the Enemy will strike next, and early news will be vital."
Folcwine interrupted, "But can we be sure that the Paths are safe? Who knows that the Dead will not return?"
"We do not know that," said Éowyn, "But that risk we will have to take. The First Marshal is right that we need news quickly, and I will send messengers to Gondor through the Paths of the Dead as he suggests. Before we discuss what will be done, though, all should know fully what went before. Please continue your tale, Lord Halbarad."
Halbarad went on, speaking now of the Pelennor and Aragorn's fall. Éowyn tried to keep her face expressionless, though she paled at his description of the confrontation between Aragorn and the dwimmerlaik. The wraiths had unnerved her even when they flew high over the Mark towards Isengard weeks before.
As Halbarad told of the fall and evacuation of Minas Tirith, Éowyn asked, "Where has the Steward retreated to? Pelargir or Dol Amroth?"
"Pelargir," he replied.
Éowyn looked at him pensively. She would have expected Dol Amroth, since it was said to be the more defensible position. She continued, "How heavy were Gondor's losses? Do you think they will be able to withstand another attack?" It seemed Erkenbrand had wanted to ask the same things, as he nodded at her question.
"Close to half the troops in Minas Tirith were lost," Halbarad said, "But though they were attacked in the southern fiefs as well, Gondor's strength there is mostly unaffected. Whether they will be ready depends on when the next attack comes. The Enemy's losses have also been great, and he may not have the numbers at hand to press his advantage immediately. That makes it all the more important that we prepare as much as we can for when he does strike."
Erkenbrand was about to speak, when Éowyn raised her hand to stop him, replying to Halbarad herself, "I agree with you, Lord, but first you should hear Rohan's tale." She looked at Elfhelm, waiting for him to begin.
"The tale of how Rohan fared before Minas Tirith will also darken the heart, though many deeds worthy of song were done. Théoden King led us out from Harrowdale under the darkness that had come out of Mordor the day before," Elfhelm started his tale. Swithulf began to interrupt, but Elfhelm silenced him with an abrupt gesture, adding, "I will tell it as it happened, not from hearsay."
"In the dark, we rode east towards Gondor as fast as we might, ignoring the news of the north of Rohan being invaded. With aid from the Wild Men of Drúadan Forest we avoided the Orc host that lay in wait for us near Amon Dîn, and so at last we came to the Rammas at dawn."
As Elfhelm continued speaking, Éowyn recalled how the Riders of the Mark had come down from the hills towards the Rammas, waiting for Théoden's command. She had felt the first touch of the wind as the weather changed to blow away the Enemy's darkness, the pale light of dawn revealing the devastation that had been wrought on the fields and orchards that dotted the Pelennor. The Sun rose, and the host of Rohan cut through the Orcs that were on the northern part of the Pelennor. Though she had feared for her uncle as he rode at the front of the first éored, the charge of the Rohirrim as they swept over the field had been glorious. All too soon, though, the day turned black, as the Riders came up against the main force of the Haradrim, who unlike the Orcs they had faced at first, met them head-on. Their attack faltered when the Southron line failed to break. She had watched in horror as Théoden was hewn down when he engaged a Haradrim chieftain and his guards.
The Riders quickly reformed as Éomer, now King of the Mark, gathered them to attack the Haradrim again. Éowyn had dismounted and, together with Merry, briefly paused beside her uncle, overcome by grief. She knew she could not linger long, and all too soon she was back in the saddle, the hobbit clinging on behind her.
As she caught up with the first éored, Éowyn saw that Éomer had charged ahead with only a few men around him. Elfhelm had also noticed the danger, and she followed as he and his men raced towards Éomer. Her horse Windfola easily caught up with the others, and she was at the front of their group as the Haradrim closed in on Éomer and the Riders with him.
Though he fought well and slew more than a few of those surrounding him, Éomer was overwhelmed before Éowyn could reach him. Desperately, knowing she was too late, she fought her way through to her brother, Elfhelm and his men close behind to hold off the Haradrim.
Éowyn rushed to where Éomer lay. He was badly wounded, with a deep wound in his chest, and many other cuts. Her brother turned his head and met her gaze. Éowyn knew he recognised her despite the disguise of her helm. "Brother, Éomer..." Éowyn spoke softly, as she reached for his hand. She looked up briefly as Elfhelm knelt at Éomer's other side, but quickly returned her attention to her brother.
Éomer was gasping for air, flecks of blood on his lips. Finally, he found the breath to speak, and looking at the Riders standing around them, he said, "Éowyn shall rule after me." He closed his eyes, but when Éowyn raised her hand to remove her helm, he opened them again, and looked at her. "Hail, Queen of the Mark!" he spoke as he died.
There had been no time to mourn. The Haradrim were pushing them hard and the main body of the Riders had been thrown into chaos with Éomer's fall. Éowyn had cared little whether she lived or not as she sat by her brother's side, but prompted by Elfhelm and Merry, she remounted Windfola. She had pleaded with Elfhelm that they should at least retrieve Éomer's body, but they were driven back before the attempt could be made.
The charge by the Men of Harad had been fierce, and the Riders disheartened by their losses. They were driven back towards the Rammas, until Éowyn took the banner of the White Horse from Elfhelm's banner-bearer and called all to rally to her and stand their ground. The Riders heeded her call, and what had been a rout became a holding line.
With the Enemy's armies distracted by the arrival of the Corsair ships, the Rohirrim briefly regained some of the ground they had lost earlier. The pressure from their enemies was such that for the rest of the day and overnight they had to settle for holding position near the Rammas, occasionally gaining or losing some small amount of terrain. It had helped their situation that they were joined by a company of Gondorian foot soldiers who had been cut off from the city.
The next day, Éowyn had wanted to take the field again, but Elfhelm forbade her to do so. Though she had argued, he held his ground, telling her that while he had condoned her riding with them, he would not now risk the life of the last of the House of Eorl. Even her argument that her presence would lend the Riders courage he dismissed, saying that would be just as true if they knew her to be there, but safely behind the lines. In the end, she had given in; not that she agreed, but to argue further would achieve nothing, and the effort would be better spent against the enemy.
She had watched in frustration as the Riders, now led by Elfhelm, attempted to break the siege again. They made some headway at first, but when the Enemy put even more troops in the field, the men of the Mark were driven back. Their opponents had kept on pushing, and in the end they had to fall back to behind the Rammas, completely yielding the Pelennor. Some time later, signal flags were raised over the walls of Minas Tirith, telling Rohan to withdraw, to abandon the siege. The Gate of Minas Tirith had been breached, and the city was lost.
The final retreat of the army of Rohan had been a terrible sight. Éowyn had known that their losses were bad, but it was not until she saw the Riders file past on their way towards Drúadan Forest that she realised that they had lost close to half of the six thousand who had set out. And not only had so many fallen, they had lost both her uncle and her brother, and had failed to deliver Minas Tirith. She wondered how long it would be before Rohan came under attack from the East.
The Gondorians who had been cut off from the city would come to Edoras, and make their way home from there, rather than attempt to break through to Minas Tirith. There were enough riderless horses that they could all be mounted. The Gondorian captain had suggested that on the way he should find out what the situation in Anórien was. Any who had remained behind in villages or towns would be told to follow the retreat towards Rohan, as they were now cut off from the rest of Gondor, and would be in danger if they remained in Anórien. Gondor could not protect them, and Rohan would be stretched to keep more than a light presence that far east.
To Éowyn's surprise, Anórien had been clear of enemy troops, at least as far as the scouts she had sent out reported. Though the ride home had been a sombre affair, they made good time, and had arrived back in Edoras four days ago.
While Théoden's death was sad – and she would dearly miss the man who had been as a father to her for most of her life – it had been clear when they set out that he expected not to return even in victory. And to fall in battle had been a better death than he would have looked for in his old age, weakened by the Worm's whispers and ministrations.
Éomer... Part of Éowyn had died with her brother. While he too had fallen sword in hand, as befitted a Rider of the Mark, that was a hollow consolation. She herself had ridden out in search of a glorious end in battle, but now there was no other choice than to resume the duty she had abandoned, and face her responsibilities as leader of her people. She still felt overwhelmed at the thought that she now ruled the Mark. Death would no doubt find her soon enough, and she wondered if, when that day came, she would face her doom as well as her kin had.
Éowyn also spared a thought for Théodred; it had been no more than a few weeks since his fall, and so much had happened in the meantime that one could almost forget that it had been the Battle of the Isen and her cousin's death that had started it all.
Shaking off her dark thoughts, Éowyn returned her attention to the present. Elfhelm had just started describing the ride back from Gondor. Waiting for him to finish, she watched how her guests were reacting. While the others were concentrating wholly on Elfhelm's tale, she noticed Halbarad's disapproving gaze on her. She briefly met his eyes, almost as if in challenge, and as Elfhelm finished speaking, addressed him, "Are you surprised, Lord Halbarad?"
"Surprised?" he asked in return.
"At a woman who takes up arms to stand beside her kin, rather than wait at home to find out whether they will come back to her or not?"
"Do you want me to speak plainly?" he asked.
"Yes," Éowyn replied, though she suspected she might regret it; from what she had seen of this Northerner so far, she could expect him to be direct in any case, if not outright blunt.
Halbarad nodded, then spoke. "Then, Lady, I will say that, yes, I am surprised that, woman or not, you forsook the task you accepted from your king, failing the trust placed in you. You took up a lord's responsibilities in accepting the rule over Dunharrow, then abandoned your duty within days. Did you not consider that, had you fallen with your kin, you would have left your people leaderless and it would have been the end of the House of Eorl?"
Éowyn hid a wince at Halbarad's reply, angrily meeting his gaze, though she knew he spoke nothing but the truth. Her councillors made a show of outrage at his frank words, but backed down when Éowyn looked at them sternly. "Do not tell me, Men of the Mark, that you have not had the same thoughts, or that you would not have voiced your agreement did you but dare," she said coldly as she looked around the room, and then laughed. None spoke, though she noted Erkenbrand and Elfhelm at least looked abashed. Éowyn continued, now addressing Halbarad again, "Does mere duty come before loyalty to lord and kin in the North?"
"No, but neither do we leave our posts to abandon those left in our charge."
"Is obeying the yoke of duty all that matters then?"
"A yoke, Lady? Is that what duty is to you? Then why did you accept the charge offered you?"
"Your answer first, Lord."
Halbarad remained silent for some time, deep in thought. Loyalty. Kin. Duty. Perhaps that was what it came down to, but it was not all the answer. He had honoured Aragorn as his chieftain and lord, as the Heir of Isildur, but served him as his friend. The service one owed one's lord, duty, if it must be called so... it had never been a yoke. Not that Aragorn had not demanded much, but it was service gladly given, in token of friendship rather than duty. Nor had it been cast in terms of lordship and fealty all that often, if truth be told. For what did it matter who was lord and who was liege when slogging through mud and rain for days in search of raiding Orcs, or when grudgingly let into the Prancing Pony, but shuffled off to a side-room, because even if you had coin to spend, you still looked too roadworn to sit in the common room with the respectable folk of Bree?
He closed his eyes as an unexpectedly sharp stab of grief hit him at the memories that flooded his mind. Taking a deep breath, Halbarad regained control of his emotions and thought further on Éowyn's question. There was indeed a point where duty became mere duty.
Reluctantly, his thoughts returned to Minas Tirith. Had the City been faster to fall, and Elrohir not willing to take on that grim task if needed, he would have stayed behind with Aragorn, and, if he had to, would have killed him to keep him from Sauron's grasp. And then, rather than be taken alive by the Enemy, either turn the blade on himself, or attempt to take some few of his enemies along with him and let the Orcs finish him off. Thankfully, it had not come to that, but if it had, he could have made no other choice. He could only have abandoned his appointed post, abandoned the people left in his charge by his lord. Protecting Aragorn, even if all he could do was keep him from the Enemy, would have overridden any other duty.
Yes, Halbarad thought grimly, he dared say that he understood about hard choices. And the choice the Lady Éowyn had faced had been hard, to stand – or fall – with her kin, or to stay behind, caught in her duty. At the same time Halbarad disagreed with her answer, for her actions had served no greater purpose than her own desires, and could have been the end of her House. No matter what duty meant to her – and it was clear there was much she was not speaking of – what it came down to was that Éowyn had willingly accepted the charge Théoden had given her. For her to abandon her responsibility so easily, for mere self-indulgence, even if it was partly love of kin that had moved her, did not speak well. Maybe it had turned out well in the end, for based on what he had heard, Halbarad agreed with Elfhelm. Had Éowyn not made herself known upon the Pelennor, the Rohirrim would not have rallied after her brother's fall, and their losses would have been even worse. He had to admit that what she might lack in sense, she more than made up for in courage, though that combination of traits was not generally what one looked for in a ruler.
Finally, Halbarad replied. "Yes, Lady, there is that which goes above mere duty. I deem, however, that your actions in following your kin into battle were not such." As he spoke, he held Éowyn's gaze until she lowered her eyes. He hesitated whether to press her further on why she had accepted the task offered her if duty was such a burden to her, but decided against it. He had already said much, and while she had wanted him to speak plainly, he should still practice some restraint.
An uncomfortable silence lay over the room until Erkenbrand coughed apologetically, and spoke. "My lady, shall we continue?"
Éowyn remained silent at first, as if she had not heard him, then looked up and met the eyes of each of her councillors in turn. "Yes, let us. Now that we know what went before, it is time to look ahead." She turned to Halbarad, and went on, "Am I right that you expect the Enemy to not be satisfied with the fall of Minas Tirith?"
Halbarad nodded. "When will depend on how the war has fared elsewhere, but the Enemy will continue his attack, both here and in other places. There will be some time to prepare, I think, for if he could crush us immediately, he would have done so."
"But how would we oppose the might that we saw put against Minas Tirith?" Elfhelm asked. "The strength of the Mark is in our horses, and while we would long have the advantage on the plains, sheer numbers would in the end give that advantage to the Enemy. We have already been lucky that he did not push harder in the Eastfold."
"Nor do we want to rely overmuch on either Helm's Deep or Dunharrow," Erkenbrand added. "While both can be defended long if need be, once we retreat that far, we have already as good as lost."
Halbarad was about to reply when Elladan interrupted, "But you do not stand alone, Men of Rohan. Gondor has not fallen yet. Eriador will give what help it can, both from the Dúnedain and from Rivendell, and on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains there is also Lothlórien."
At this, Swithulf laughed scornfully, "Dwimordene, you mean? That is at best a children's tale."
"As Ents are?" Éowyn asked. Halbarad noted the glares from both Elladan and Elrohir at the Queen's advisor. Swithulf fell silent, looking embarrassed as well as angry.
Folcwine now spoke. "We must not forget Gondor. Our alliance of old comes first."
"That is as it should be," Halbarad said. "Still, the two are not in opposition, and one thing we would ask of you is in fact connected with Gondor." At Éowyn's questioning look, he went on, "As the Paths of the Dead are now the quickest and safest route to Gondor, I would ask of Rohan that our messengers be allowed to use them at need."
Éowyn nodded. "That is not too much to ask, and I see no reason not to grant it, for I know you and yours to be true and stalwart friends of both Gondor and Rohan."
Erkenbrand said, "I fear that, with our attention necessarily being turned eastwards, Dunland will try to intrude on Rohan's land again once they recover from their defeat at the Hornburg. And as long as Saruman sits in Isengard the Westfold is not as secure as I would like."
Halbarad briefly held Elladan's gaze before he reacted. If Elladan was going to commit the Dúnedain to action without asking him first – even if that action was what he intended to do – Elrond's son ought to be just as free with Rivendell's resources. "There we can offer some help. The Rangers can keep Dunland in check, provided we will get help from Rivendell when needed."
Elladan hesitated marginally, then confirmed Rivendell's support. "That will be possible, though we will need to work out the details later."
"But Saruman?" Éowyn said. "I agree with the Lord of the Westfold. He no longer is a direct threat, and his supporters within Rohan will be rooted out, but Saruman will still be dangerous as long as he sits in Isengard."
Now Elrohir spoke. "There I fear very little can be done, except to trust to the Ents to keep him safely imprisoned, and keep a close guard on Isengard."
"Would not Gandalf Greyhame be able to help us?" Erkenbrand asked, "I would expect a wizard to..."
"Alas, we do not know where Gandalf is, or what his plans are," replied Elrond's son, "And even for him, Isengard would be impenetrable."
The wizard would be a concern as long as he remained in Isengard, Halbarad knew. He also noted how careful Elrohir had been in his reference to Gandalf. "Yet we will need to do something about Saruman. I would urge you to send messengers north once we know how the war is going elsewhere, so that we can see what can be done both in Isengard and in other places."
"I will definitely send messengers to Eriador," Éowyn said, "And if possible..." She looked at Elladan and Elrohir, hesitating briefly before going on, "Would it be possible, would Rohan's envoys be welcome in Dwimordene?"
"I cannot speak for Lothlórien," Elladan replied, "But I deem that if you send messengers along with us, they would at least be given a hearing."
"Then I will do that," Éowyn said. The other Rohirrim looked decidedly uncomfortable at the idea, but no one said anything. Halbarad noted with some amusement the uneasy glances Folcwine and Swithulf cast at Legolas and the sons of Elrond.
Now Legolas spoke as well, "Mirkwood, too, should not be forgotten. I cannot offer any promise of aid or alliance, but we will do all in our power to harry the Enemy on the eastern side of Anduin."
Elladan leant forward eagerly at that. "It would be good for Mirkwood and Lothlórien to work together as closely as possible. You should perhaps reconsider your travel plans and come with us to Lothlórien."
Legolas looked thoughtful, then said he perhaps should.
Halbarad saw that Éowyn was waiting to interrupt, and guessed she was about to call for an end to this council. There was not that much left to talk about, and details of alliances would have to wait for later. He caught her eye and she nodded at him. Good, she had not forgotten about the Ring.
Éowyn raised her hand to ask for silence and spoke to dismiss her councillors. As Folcwine and Swithulf left, Éowyn held back Erkenbrand and Elfhelm, and went to the door to speak to Merry who had been on guard duty outside. The hobbit nodded at her words and went off, following Folcwine and Swithulf.
Éowyn came back inside and spoke softly with Erkenbrand and Elfhelm in Rohirric. The two looked at Halbarad before returning their attention to their queen. Elfhelm left the room, but Halbarad saw that he did not walk away, taking up position to stand guard outside the door where Merry had stood before. Éowyn was being very careful then that no one would overhear them, by accident or otherwise. Of course, this also ensured that the curiosity of all about what was being discussed would be raised, but that could not be helped.
Elladan and Legolas also left at Halbarad's sign, leaving just Éowyn, Erkenbrand, Elrohir and Halbarad himself inside. As Elfhelm closed the door, Éowyn sat down again and spoke, "Lord Halbarad, I told Lord Erkenbrand and the Marshal of what you told me before. You can now speak freely. "
"Thank you, Lady," Halbarad said. He waited for a moment, taking note of Elrohir's disapproving expression. Clearly, the peredhel had not changed his mind after the discussion of the night before. "I must ask you to be careful about sharing further what I am about to say now." He waited while the two Rohirrim agreed, then continued, "You know already that it is of the Ring the Enemy made long ago that I would speak. The Enemy again holds that Ring, and has thus regained all the power that was his before he was defeated by the Last Alliance."
Both Éowyn and Erkenbrand remained silent for some time, until Erkenbrand asked how they had learned of this. Halbarad spoke briefly of how the Ring had been found and the attempt to destroy it.
"And is there anything to be done now about this?" Éowyn asked.
Elrohir now replied, "Alas no, at least not about the Ring itself. Other than that, we can do no other than to fight the Enemy."
"Much as we have been doing up to now, then," Erkenbrand commented. "If, as you say, that is indeed all, then that is what we shall do."
Halbarad was surprised that the Rohirric lord was taking this so calmly. He wondered whether it was because Erkenbrand lacked the lore to understand what it meant, so that to him it would be merely another piece of bad news added to things that would seem to affect Rohan much more. Éowyn at least had seemed to grasp the implications of the Enemy regaining his Ring, and Halbarad suspected that her desire for an alliance with Lothlórien was based to some extent on that understanding.
Thinking back, he considered his own reaction. While it had been a horrible shock to learn that the Enemy held the One Ring again, it had been pushed to the back of his mind, first because of Aragorn, and then by the journey from Minas Tirith. Now, if he allowed himself to dwell on it, he did feel that same fear he had felt when he had first realised why Gandalf wanted Gollum found; yet there was too much to do to let it take over his thoughts, and he suspected it was much the same for Elladan and Elrohir. And they all knew the Enemy used fear as a weapon as much as force. Even so, Erkenbrand had shown no sign of alarm at all. Surely, no one could be that unshakeable?
Éowyn asked, "Is there anything else we should discuss now rather than later?"
"No, I do not think so," Halbarad said. He did not know what he could say to impress Erkenbrand with the seriousness of the news, and catching Elrohir's gaze, it was clear to him that the peredhel did not know what to make of it either.
"Very well," Éowyn replied as she stood up and walked to the door. Outside, Elfhelm stood talking to Elladan and Legolas. Elrohir and Erkenbrand joined them immediately, which left Halbarad with Éowyn.
"What are your plans for the rest of your journey?" Éowyn asked him.
"I will continue north with the Grey Company as quickly as possible, and the others will journey to Lothlórien and on from there," he replied.
"Do you not wish to go to Lothlórien?" Éowyn inquired.
"It is more important that I return home," Halbarad said, "And I have visited Lothlórien once before." He remembered that visit well. He had thought he was used to being around Elves in Rivendell, but the Golden Wood had been... he had no words to describe it. He had been travelling with Elladan and Elrohir, and he doubted he would have been allowed in otherwise, even if he had been with Aragorn. Though the Elves had been courteous enough, the sense of dangerousness, of a certain edge to them, that some even in Rivendell had, was much stronger. Not that the place felt evil or threatening, rather the opposite, but it made one very aware of how different Elves really were from Men. It had been an experience he would not have missed, though.
"What is it like?" Éowyn asked. "Is it as dangerous as men say? And as fair?"
"I would say it is fair. And dangerous? Yes and no," Halbarad said just as Elladan came up.
"That is a very Elvish thing to say," the peredhel commented drily.
"Appropriately so then, as we were talking about Lothlórien," Halbarad said.
Elladan nodded and turned to Éowyn, "Do you still intend to send an envoy there, lady?"
"Yes, though I do not yet know who to choose. I doubt many would be willing to go," she replied, hastily adding, "No offence intended, of course."
Elladan smiled at that, and said, "I have talked with Lord Erkenbrand and he expressed some curiosity about Dwimordene. I think he may well be willing to act as your envoy."
Éowyn looked pleased. "If you are willing to guide him and one other there, Lord Elladan...?"
After Elladan had confirmed they would take the Rohirrim with them, Éowyn turned to include Halbarad again. "Then, lords, I would ask if there is anything you need on your journeys, and if it is in my power to give you it, it will be done."
Elladan said his party would need nothing more than some supplies, and after some consideration Halbarad added, "We too do not need much beyond supplies, though if you could lend us one or two spare horses it would be welcome."
Éowyn spoke her agreement. "That is little enough to grant. Do you intend to leave on the morrow?"
It was already too late in the day for them to set off. A reasonably early start the next day would do just as well, Halbarad thought. Both he and Elladan said that was their intention, and Éowyn continued, "Then will you and your men take your evening meal in the great hall this night?"
Halbarad said they would, and they took their leave of the Lady. As he and Elladan neared the guest-house, he wondered how Éowyn's decision to send messengers to Lothlórien would work out. Though it was necessary that all would work together, it remained to be seen how the Rohirrim would take to being allied to the Haunted Wood. Impetuous indeed, he thought. Yet, when tempered by some wisdom, that impetuousness could turn her into a bold and decisive leader. She had done well enough this day.
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