Faramir and Éowyn
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Daughters of Oromë: 6. Eorendel, the Daystar
Late autumn, 3014
Despite the warm evening, and a quiet one at that, as though the dogs and distant sheep had been drinking from a pool filled with a sleeping draught, Éowyn couldn’t sleep. The fact that she didn’t know what was going to happen that evening was what kept her thoughts tumbling, like rocks being ushered along the streams of the Entwash, continually in motion. She felt absolutely famished, now at the end of a four-day fast, combined with the physical exercises that were expected of her. There had been archery, shooting at tiny points far off in the distance that she was sure she would miss, but, perhaps thanks to the winds on the plains, she had not. Then she had been sent off into the grassy lands to spend a night alone, with only her horse Léoma to keep her company. She had spent a rather sleepless night under the stars, a small fire as her companion, wishing that there were something stronger in her small flask than water, as she strived to pass the many tasks that were required before she could join the recently revived clan of shieldmaidens. She could not get sick, and needed to return with several healing herbs that could only be found in particular soils, and she had done so.
Sighing, she turned from one side to the other on her sleeping pallet, then surrendering to the inevitable, she sat up. She rose and padded across the sheepskin rug to a window in her room and leaned on the stone ledge. After gazing out over the thatched-roof houses of the sleeping inhabitants of Edoras, she raised her eyes to the heights of the White Mountains, starkly beautiful under the full moon that seemed to blot out the flames of the stars with its overwhelming brightness.
She stood, and closed her eyes, not minding the exposure she felt in the light of her night-time companion, a sensation distinctly different from that of being under the scrutiny of her uncle’s advisor, Gríma. An unbidden shudder came over her, thinking of those icy blue eyes which seemed always to be turned in her direction, except in those times when her brother or cousin were in the room discussing details of the Mark and the latest incursions of the Orcs. Gríma's words and advice were so seemingly helpful and yet she tended to feel inferior and belittled after being in his company, which gave her all the more reason to avoid him.
Éomer seemed changed. He was still her brother and occasional confidant, of course, but the pressure of filling the shoes of his father so young had chipped away at him, leaving a more stony exterior than perhaps he would otherwise have borne. He was fully a man at twenty-three, having seen his share of dreadful carnage and keeping a wary eye to potentially desperate situations that appeared likely in the future. She shook her head, and wished not for the first time that she, too, would be riding off with the Eorlingas, but that was not her fate. It could be worse, she consoled herself. Your battle skills are valued among these few other shieldmaidens, and it is with them that you must show your mettle on this last night. I would do them and myself honour.
With this heartening thought she left the window and walked to the washbasin that stood on her table. Using a comb of white coral handed down from a distant relation who had travelled to the coast of Belfalas, she pulled through the small knots that had formed in her wavy hair that now reached halfway to her shoulder blades. Unlike many of Rohan, her hair was not particularly straight, nor was it exceptionally thick. She had wished to herself that she could have it cut off at the shoulders, or higher, the better to keep it out of her face during fighting exercises. But some things just weren’t done, even during times when uncertainties outweighed those that could be counted on, and young women sporting boy’s hair was one of those. Once she made sure she had gotten out the tangles, her nimble fingers with years of practice plaited her hair on both sides, then combined them into one braid to go down her back. Fumbling for a bit of twine in the half-dark, she tied off the braid, then stopped over her basin and splashed some water on her face. Brusquely she used a sleeve to dab off the water.
Éowyn crossed back over to the window, craning her neck. Where was it? she wondered. On such an auspicious night as this, the moon is too bright. No, wait… there. The shape was unmistakable, once she found it, curved from front to back, the long neck obvious once first glimpsed. “Swánsteorra,” she breathed. Her long-suffering friend Fréalas had been trying to teach her the placement of the stars. She did see the value in knowing the patterns of the stars in finding direction, should one find oneself far from home, on the sea or in unknown lands. Unknown lands. She shook herself out of her reverie. I’ll naught be going anywhere at all, at least not without an escort. Would that I were Éomer’s brother, instead of his sister. She paused, gazing out at the moon, which on this night appeared ringed with a rainbow of white and silver. It is time.
Before leaving her room, she walked over to the cage that held her dear finch, Máthmæht. He was sleeping, of course, his cage shrouded. She could not leave without saying goodbye, so she lifted the cloth and whispered a quiet "Farewell!" to him.
Wearing her usual summer attire, a muslin dress with mid-length sleeves and a small bit of embroidery at the hem and neck, she quietly stepped out into the corridor that curved around the back of the Golden Hall. Glancing side to side, she quickly made sure that there was no one present before leaving the side entrance near the royal stables. A young woman walking alone down the main path of Edoras in the middle of the night would cause a stir at any time, so Éowyn chose her discreet path carefully. She walked stealthily through the dark on almost hidden roads. The maze of houses, horse-stalls and paths were known as well to her as the patterns on her sword blade, which hung girt at her side. Although she was of the royal line of Rohan, she was without any other adornment.
Upon reaching the gates, she paused, and stole a glance up at the dark windows of the Golden Hall. The newly resurrected night rituals of the women warriors of Rohan’s ancient past were kept secret, and Éowyn knew that her silence was of utmost importance. Hearing a nearby noise she wheeled around and saw Sundéaw standing in front of the gates.
“Are you ready for your final trials, Éowyn, daughter of Théodwyn?” she asked.
Éowyn’s bright grey eyes looked keenly into the eyes of the inquisitor. “I am a daughter of Oromë. His horn summons me to show my worth. I am ready.”
The great gates opened slightly, and the two figures walked through them to the small group who awaited them. Only three other women stood there, all wearing dark cloaks. They turned from the gates and walked past the barrows, Éowyn following. Without a word the quiet entourage followed a path to the southwest of the city, to the base of the Ered Nimrais. As they went, Éowyn tried to keep her mind clear, knowing that much would be asked of her, although she was quite unsure what form these trials would take.
After walking for a quarter of an hour, they stopped in front of the rocky mountainside. Éowyn looked around, but could not see why they were standing in this particular place. The leader of the group walked toward the mountain and then seemed to vanish into the rock. Éowyn stared, as one after another the others did likewise, disappearing into the mountain. She followed, and then realized that they were walking through a very narrow passageway only visible from a particular angle. After several uncomfortable steps in the pitch dark, she was stunned to find herself in a great cave, with torches set into holders along the perimeter of the walls. It is as big as the Golden Hall! she thought in amazement. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the relative dimness compared to the bright evening they had left outside under the full moon.
Éowyn found herself looking at a semi-circle of women of Edoras. They were all familiar faces, but in this previously unknown cave with its flickering lights, they looked different, and impassive.
“Why are you here, Éowyn, daughter of Théodwyn?” The question came from Fréalas, who many years earlier pledged to be her sycldesweoster. Centuries before when women warriors had been more common, there had been an understanding that an older woman would act as a mentor to a younger woman and provide more personal tutelage. This was most oftentimes the role taken between sisters, but if a girl had no sisters or cousins, occasionally someone else would offer to take on that role instead.
Éowyn lifted her head and, looking straight into Fréalas’ green-grey eyes, replied, “To prove my worth that I may join the clan of the horse warriors.”
At this response, the other women removed their cloaks. They were all clad in traditional Rohirric fabric of muslin, but instead of dresses, they bore square-necked tops that fell to mid-thigh and were cut on the sides to the waist. Instead of long skirts, as Éowyn had thought, they wore… “Pants?” she breathed. Well, not form-fitting breeches as worn by men, and yet not a skirt either.
“You are to perform the sword exercise of fyrclian.” Another voice echoed in the cavern, and Éowyn suddenly realized how helpful such raiment would be for extensive swordplay. Or horse riding. A rueful thought of wishing that she had been living back when women of Rohan were valued as fighters made its way into her mind. She quickly pushed it aside to concentrate on the exercise demanded of her.
She took off her own cloak, and tossed it off to the side. “I am ready.” She unsheathed her sword, and glanced at the line of women to see who her sparring partner was to be. Fraetwas stepped forward, a sword in her hand. Though the young woman was nicknamed Willow for her gracefulness, Éowyn knew better than to let her mind wander while going through this exercise, for Fraetwas was deft and very strong of arm.
The two young women began a complicated routine of parries and sword-strokes. Fyrclian was aptly named, as their swords seemed to flicker, catching the light of the candles on the wall as they clashed, and withdrew, then swung again. Éowyn was beginning to breathe heavily, for as strong as she was, Fraetwas was in these skills her equal, and very quick on her feet. Faster and faster their swords sliced the air, parrying and turning. For a moment they paused, swords crossed, the sinews of their arms taut and beads of sweat appearing above their brows. In a fluid motion, they swung their blades a last time, ending with the tips hovering in a deadly position above the other’s heart. Éowyn looked into the young woman’s brown eyes, and though Fraetwas' face was guarded, Éowyn seemed to see approval there.
“You may lower your sword, Éowyn of the house of Thengel.” The two women stepped apart, Éowyn swaying slightly with fatigue, lack of sleep, and hunger, as they slowly lowered their weapons. “Through your days of trials you have performed admirably, and are considered worthy to join the warrior clan.”
“There is only one further test required of you, my sycldesweoster.” Fréalas now spoke, moving in and placing her hands on Éowyn's shoulders. “We all bear a permanent mark of our loyalty, and receiving it will cause you much pain, though the bearing of the pain is not the test.” She looked keenly into Éowyn’s grey eyes, whose pupils were now largely dilated in the dimness of the cave. “Do you still wish to be a shieldmaiden, pledging to defend every inhabitant of our fair land even unto your own death, and have forever on you the image of our people, the noble head of a horse?”
Breathing deeply, Éowyn clung to her friend to steady herself as she answered, “I would bear no other marking on my flesh than that. The pain suffered during its acquisition will remind me of the pain the innocent of Rohan have suffered under the scourge of orcs who kill and defile. Even as I use sword and shield I will see this image and take heart.”
Fréalas embraced her, then stood back. Shyly she said, “Since I have been given the gift of artistry, I will be the one to gift your skin with ink.”
Éowyn smiled in return. “If it is to be permanent, I would wish for it to be as beautiful as the designs that you make. Do not be nervous, my talented friend.”
Two women in the group moved off into the shadows and brought out stools. Another brought out a small, brown mushroom-like item and offered it to Éowyn. “Though there is pain,” Léah said, “We temper it by eating a small bit of starflower.” She tilted her head, a serious expression in her eyes. “It has particular illuminating effects on the mind and body.” Éowyn put the bit of plant in her mouth and chewed it. It was bitter, and she gagged slightly as she swallowed.
Sundéaw continued, "You may have a vision, or feel that you have left your physical self to travel in the unseen world. Whatever you see, or do, you must tell us, and from that we will know you have been led to your warrior-spirit name."
Fréalas took to getting her ink and needle out of a small pack that she had brought. This part of the ritual had not been fully explained to the newest shieldmaiden. In the past, the women of the warrior clan had marked themselves with a horse head on the inside elbow of their shield-bearing arm, but Éowyn had not heard of the ingesting of such plants to facilitate visions and dreams.
Éowyn gritted her teeth as the small needle went into her skin, Fréalas tapping some ink into it. Again and again, the needle and the tapping, Fréalas bearing down on her bottom lip with her front teeth as she bent in concentration. Éowyn at first tried to count how many times the needle went in, then gave in, and simply surrendered to the sensations she was feeling beyond the actual skin pricks. She felt a flush begin in her elbow that then coursed through her body, and though she knew she was still sitting in the dark cave, she felt a glow around her. She seemed to be surrounded by large globes of light, shooting from one side of her vision to the other. Shooting day stars? Her consciousness felt as though she were one with the golden stars, traversing the world, though it was not dark. How long she sped along with the lights, she did not know, but it felt as natural as breathing.
As she came out of her reverie, she heard a gentle voice call her. “Éowyn?" It was Fréalas. "I am finished. You need to go bathe after you speak with the shieldmaidens.” As the haze cleared and the room darkened, Éowyn thought, Bathe? Where? She looked down at her arm, at the beautiful horse’s head, surrounded by dots of blood. Raising her head, she found that she was looking at the questioning faces of several women.
"I," Éowyn began. "I saw stars. But it was not night - and they were almost dancing. I was one with them, dazzling and fast."
Sundéaw nodded approvingly. "To us you shall be known as Eorendel, the Daystar." She looked Éowyn up and down, then smiled. "It suits you, as it must."
Helping her to her feet, Fréalas took her by her right arm, and led her toward the back of the cave. “There are several reasons why this cave has been used for many years,” she said, placing her friend’s head on her shoulder and stroking her hair. “An underground water source is certainly one of them.” They walked into the darkness, Fréalas taking one of the torches out of its holder as they retreated into a more confined space. Then Éowyn heard it: a tinkling sound of water droplets hitting a pool.
Though still a bit dazed, Éowyn could almost feel the cool waters before she reached them. Gingerly she shed her dress, unashamed of her nudity. The inside of her elbow still throbbed, it was true, but she felt a sense of satisfaction in having proven herself worthy to the other women warriors. She was exhausted beyond anything she had ever felt before, but as she stepped into the chill waters and lowered herself into the shallow pool, she felt revived. Her thoughts refocused as she splashed herself, the cold drops bringing her very much back to the non-vision world. "Fréalas?" Her friend sat quietly in the shadows. "What is your spirit name?"
After a few moments of silence, Éowyn stretched, and rose from the shallows. "I suppose our visions must have been similar."
"It is not something that we often discuss," Fréalas replied without admonition in her voice. "But it is something for you to treasure through your life. You may never have visions again, though it has been known for certain shieldmaidens to be considered seers."
“Am I finished?” Éowyn asked as she walked toward her pile of clothes, gratefully accepting the drying cloth that Fréalas provided.
“Well… I am unsure.” The humour in Fréalas' voice expressed both camaraderie and relief, now that her tasks were complete. “Are you covered in goosebumps?"
Éowyn laughed, herself grateful for some levity after the seriousness of the previous days. As she stood, shivering, she replied, ”Yes!" She dried herself off and went to her garments to get dressed.
“Wait a moment,” Fréalas said, and brought her a clean white cloth, which she tenderly wrapped around Éowyn’s arm. “It will be sore for awhile, but I know that you will bear your marking with pride.” She embraced her friend, marvelling at the softness of her bare skin as she held her in her strong arms. “Now we need to get you back to the city to break your fast. Your shieldmaiden trials are over.” Fréalas produced a flask of chilled water and Éowyn drank deeply. "Unless they are tested in battle, that is."
The two young women rejoined the small group, now shrouded in dark as they had put out the torches. Silently they left the cave, through the narrow crevice, until they were again outside. Turning, Léah spoke to her from the mouth of the cave, now illuminated by the brightness of the moonlight. “Éowyn, daughter of Théodwyn, go forth from this night and defend our people as the boar defends the forest.” Her long tawny hair now shone with starlight, her cape now worn with her head bared. “We are needed, daughter of kings.” She let her eyes flicker over the small assembled company readying themselves to return to the town. “All of us.”
Éowyn bowed her head for a moment, then returned Léah’s gaze.
“I shall defend Rohan, even in her darkest hour.”
The group walked quietly back to Edoras, their path made clear by the light of the heavens. Under her breath, Fréalas asked, “Can you see - ”
“Yes!” Éowyn replied, a look of impatience on her face. “I found the swan-star. You need not give up on my stargazing abilities yet.”
fyrclian= to flash, flicker
fraetwa= treasure, ornament
eorendel= dayspring, bright star
glédfléon= firefly (I created this word by combining the Anglo-Saxon words for 'fire' and 'fly;' it wasn't in my dictionary as a word.)
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