14. Fly Away Home
Not a breeze to stir this wretched, still night! Éowyn thought to herself, standing in dark shadows behind a tree. Her uncle Théoden and brother Éomer were in conversation with a creature so odd that had she not seen it with her own eyes, she would have believed anyone else describing it to her had enjoyed too much wine. It? He? looked disturbingly familiar, but she was sure that she would have remembered seeing and hearing such a one as this. It was a man shorter even than the holbytla whom she had taken with her, his desperation drawing her to him like a magnet to iron. This creature, however, had a beard, and wore grass around his middle, and looked as though he had walked out of the nearby stone. Even his voice sounded like rocks grinding together.
As Dernhelm, she was able to blend in with the Riders, but she had taken to speaking as little as possible to avoid suspicion, and all in the company were few of words. I must be already half-dead, she considered, and therefore only taken half as much notice of. Despite such thoughts to which she clung tightly, her mind strayed to the halfling, Meriadoc. Well, the ghost of a smile on her face, almost all are few of words. He had suffered during their four days’ journey to this place, and she was assailed by a wave of pity. He does not really know, she thought, what our end is to be. But he is of stronger kind than I would ever have considered. Leaning into the tree so that she could better hear the conversation between this person from seeming ages past and her kin, she thought back to when she had invited Merry to join her in her perilous ride.
He had not recognized her in her raiment as Dernhelm, and he had tried more times than she could count to engage her in a conversation while they fled to the south, the fair lands of Rohan passing league after league under the swift feet of Windfola. “So!” he had attempted. “You don’t want to leave the side of Théoden either, do you? I mean, King Théoden? Even though you aren’t wanted? I think he really does like hearing about the Shire, and I would like nothing better than to show him around Buckland and the Brandywine, but he is so busy…” and “Well, that wine they serve in Rohan is nice, I would never snub my nose at that, to be sure! But it doesn’t begin to compare to the ale we have in the Shire. You should come and visit sometime! I will personally pour you a pint myself from the Master of Buckland's keep if you’ll just make the journey. I know that it is a long way, but more than worth the effort, if I do say so. You’ll love Pip, I mean, Peregrin Took, he is my first cousin on my mother’s side and he can be irresponsible at times, but we have some grand plans for the future, assuming Gandalf has kept him safe, that is…” here he had stopped, and hanging his head, took to looking at the plains as they sped under their horse.
A night ago, she had bivouacked near to him, and hearing him cry out in the night, she had let down her guard to console this other lost soul whose path she had joined as they rode into a yawning blackness.
“Pippin!” he had murmured into the dark. “The stone! Don’t look into the stone! He will take you with him! Pippin!”
Éowyn raised her head, awakened by his cries, and seeing that he had not alerted others in the Mark sleeping nearby, she took the liberty of moving nearer to him. Assured of the heaviness of the night, she put her arm over his small form, hoping to provide comfort. He ceased his dream-speech, and she passed the rest of the night in a rare sound sleep, his even breathing somehow evoking a sensation long unremembered, that of being rocked outside in a cradle, under the skies.
Now she refocused her attentions on what was being said. “Let Ghân-buri-Ghân finish!” the stony man seemed almost to be shouting in his low and gravely voice. “More than one road he knows. He will lead you by road where no pits are, no gorgûn walk, only Wild Men and beasts…”
In a flash it came to her. The statues that line the stairs to Dunharrow! But that is leagues away from this forest - perhaps Fréalas really did see one of them. The thought of her friend was a painful and angry one, bringing back with it the memory of that decisive morning when Aragorn would not let her join his small company on the Paths of the Dead. There had been dark circles under his grey eyes, and his face bespoke of worry. Ah, but proud Aragorn, she angrily mused, I was not to be abandoned so easily. There is yet need for Dernhelm of the Mark.
She heard her uncle and Éomer speaking in Rohirric, discussing the offer of guidance and safe passage that the Wild Man had proposed. Her brother was anxious to be on their way, especially since he had heard that Mundburg was on fire, and Théoden was in agreement. They both acknowledged that a more straight route was impossible, and though this way would be slower, they were more likely to arrive unharmed and unexpected.
“We will receive your offer,” Théoden said in the common tongue to Ghân-buri-Ghân, and with that, Éowyn took a few moments to scan around the lit enclave to make sure that she could leave unnoticed. The conversation seemed to be coming to a close as she quietly left her hiding place behind the tree and moved into the gloom. As she did, she saw an uncommonly short person furtively look around from a nearby tree, then make his way in the same direction that she was heading.
Another spy! Éowyn thought wryly to herself, admiring the bravery of the hobbit to eavesdrop on the King. His loyalty is unwavering, and he must feel as cast aside as I do, no longer able to be in the confidence of one whom he wishes to serve. She tread lightly toward her horse and pack, following the muffled sounds of horses snorting and murmurs of conversations. Should I have him confess to his night-time activity? she considered for a moment, then decided against it. This journey already weighs heavily on him. I will let him know of our plans and if he wishes to confess, so be it. She walked into the camp, getting a couple of pieces of dried meat from their dwindling supplies before making her way to her bedroll on the outskirts of the group.
Meriadoc was readying his pack when Éowyn reached him and said, “The news of our leaving must be whistling through the camp like winds on the plains!”
The hobbit’s ears turned bright red, and he said, “Well, yes. We need to be moving on. I could tell.” He added almost proudly, “The horses have been fidgeting, and that means they know that things are changing.”
Éowyn valiantly tried to suppress a smile. “You have learned much during your days with the Riddermark, Master Meriadoc. I hope that your valiant acts are sung with great praise upon your return to your fair Buckland, as you have so eloquently described it to me.” More quietly, she continued, “You are indeed brave, and have borne up well in difficult circumstances, to say the least. Who again shall say that simply because one is small that one has lesser worth?”
Merry looked at Éowyn, and his face glowed with pride. “Thank you, Dernhelm.” Then, embarrassed, he began to fidget with something in his pocket. “I must say that although I do have a mighty sore backside, I am grateful to you for bringing me along. I couldn’t stand the thought of Pippin being burned alive in that huge stone city with me far off, safe… and useless…” He stopped, then looked at Éowyn with a very serious expression. “This may be the end, mightn’t it?” He put his hand to his sword, his knuckles turning white as he clutched the hilt. “But I’m ready. We Brandybucks are full of surprises, and I plan to do my bit in this battle.” He looked around the camp. “I pledged my sword to the King, and even if he doesn’t realize it’s here, I feel the more honourable for it.”
Éowyn knelt, and placed her gloved hand over his. “King Théoden has many who fight for him whom he realizes not.”
Merry looked keenly into her eyes, and felt a flicker of deeper recognition, though it quickly vanished like a spark rising from a fire.
“Let us ready ourselves and join the rest of the eoreds.” Éowyn stood, and gathered up their few belongings.
They followed their several-days routine of Merry standing on Éowyn’s clasped hands so that he could climb onto Windfola’s back, then Éowyn also got astride the horse. As they cantered off, Éowyn felt an odd sensation of regret, since despite herself, she had become very fond of her talkative companion. He was quite unlike anyone she had known, and though she knew their time together would be short, and they would both soon be dead, she was grateful for his honest attempts at friendship. I wonder how differently he would treat me if he knew it were Éowyn of Edoras rather than plain Dernhelm to whom he spoke. Éowyn turned her thoughts to the brief trail to Minas Tirith. It is all for the best, she consoled herself. It has been good finally to be truly myself, and yet not be so alone.
They began riding in the afternoon, following the line of riders down a hidden path. At a couple of times during their slow sojourn, Merry sat alone on the horse while Dernhelm went off into the woods to take care of his needs. The hobbit found himself looking at the escort for their company, one of the creatures that he had seen in the dark the night before.
Nobody in Buckland, oh, who am I kidding, he thought, no-one in the Shire would believe me if I told them about these people who look like stone statues brought to life. If only I can see Pippin again… he would believe me. He fidgeted in his pocket to feel his pipe, its familiar shape a reassurance for him in such unfamiliar situations. Well, Meriadoc, he mused, you are indeed far away from home. Thanks to Dernhelm, at least you aren’t seen as unwanted. And that means something. Probably means you’re going to be killed, most likely. He sighed, then saw Dernhelm emerge from the trees.
A message rushed like wildfire through the ranks that the Gondorian messengers carrying the Red Arrow from King Théoden had been found dead. The Riders paused only for Théoden to arrange the line of attack of the eoreds, Elfhelm’s going to the right of the city walls. Éowyn heard the cries of some of her kinsmen as they battled a small cluster of orcs still remaining at the scene of the siege. It was quickly over, and then they could see the line of fires on the field of Gondor. The smell of smoke was growing more pronounced as they got closer to the stone city, and a dread stillness fell on the group. Éowyn looked to her uncle, waiting for the call to charge, but he sat as though undecided. Suddenly a wind passed over them, with a scent new to the warrior-woman. I have smelled the sea! she thought, and an abrupt melancholy filled her heart. Alas that I shall never see it.
Just then, Théoden cried aloud, “Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!”
Éowyn felt the hobbit behind her clench his arms as tightly as possible around her waist and she manoeuvered her horse forward.
Unbidden, as Windfola leapt forward into the fray of battle, a long-forgotten childhood song came to Éowyn.
Your house is on fire and your children are alone.
Her eyes were already smarting with the smoke of the fire raging from the siege of Gondor, but now tears born of loss began to flow down her cheeks.
“Forth Eorlingas!” she cried into the din, then spurred her horse on, keeping her sights fixed on King Théoden.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.