Fréalas ignored the flies that buzzed around her head as she deftly wielded a large pair of clipping shears, holding a wriggling sheep in place. The sun hung heavily above the horizon, casting a golden glow over the paddock and pastures. With a sound of satisfaction she released the shearing and watched it scamper away to join its fellows, much lighter given the pile of wool now lying at Fréalas’ feet. Standing straight she looked around her at the dense curly hair and gave a smug nod. “Despite all that has happened,” she said aloud into the hazy air, “this will keep the weavers busy for quite a time!” She leaned over to pick up some of the wool when she heard someone yelling. Rushing out of the shelter toward the road, she saw one of the recently returned Riders racing up the path to Edoras, and she felt her heart rise in her throat.
She stood, gripping a wooden fence-post as one of the women of the homestead rushed to her.
“Did you hear?" the homestead woman gasped. "King Éomer and the Lady Éowyn are returning! We are to go to Edoras with all haste.” She turned and without awaiting a reply, ran on speedy feet back to the main house.
Fréalas continued to stand at the fence, her stomach churning as though she had just eaten a piece of undercooked meat. She had known for several weeks that this moment would come, and yet now that it was fast approaching, she felt completely unprepared. Éowyn and her brother the King were returning, and the royal city would be hurriedly decked in splendor and a great feast held. What place would there be for her, for Swi
Fréalas took her hands off of the fence and angrily saw that they were trembling. You have faced far worse than a feast and welcoming ceremony in Meduseld, she thought as she strode swiftly to the shearing pen. Hastily hanging up the shears and piling the wool, she turned to ensure the area was remotely tidy, latched the door, and ran to Salupád.
It did not take her long to reach the barrows and the city walls. She dismounted from her horse, guiding her to the path that led down to her mother’s house. People were hurrying to and fro, and Fréalas could smell that the meats roasting for the feast were well underway. Salupád pulled toward the road leading to the royal stables and Fréalas paused, troubled. Much of the stable had remained empty since the exiles’ return to Edoras, and so she had felt it not inappropriate to board Salupád there, but what now? She bit down on her lower lip in frustration and pulled Salupád back down toward their house.
“Fréalas! Where have you been?” Her mother’s voice rang out as her daughter approached, brows furrowed. When she didn’t answer as she came into the house, Fréawyn said her name again. “Fréalas! Horse’s mane, my dear, you are a sight.”
At this Fréalas looked at her, then down at her coarse dress with bits of sheep wool still clinging to it, then back at her mother. Still unable to speak, she sank into a straight-backed wooden chair, shaking her head.
“What is it?” Fréawyn’s voice was concerned, though she continued her actions in the room, tidying shelves, standing a broom upright in its corner, then stopping before Fréalas. “Well?” she asked again as Gold Eyes wandered over and placed his large head in his master’s lap.
Fréalas stroked his ears for a moment, then looked at Fréawyn. “I feel like two people,” Fréalas replied. “I am so glad that Éowyn has survived and is to be celebrated and lauded with Éomer. King Éomer.” She corrected herself. “But I am so angry!” she looked beseechingly at her mother. “She abandoned her people - us - she did not heed the wishes of King Théoden. She was selfish beyond measure and now returns in triumph and glory.”
Fréalas stood suddenly, prompting Gold Eyes to pad over to Fréawyn, seeking friendlier hands. “Does no one else see this? Will she be unrepentant to the end? If so, I can no longer be friend to her. Not that she will be lacking for company,” she continued, more quietly. As her anger reignited, she said, “Do you know, never once was I invited to Meduseld! Not once! All these years of companionship…” Tears began to well in Fréalas’ eyes, but she shook her head, furious, wishing that she could simply confront Éowyn alone, now, and be done with it, all the while knowing that was not possible.
Fréawyn placed a loving hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “If the stories are true, she will soon be wed to a ruler of another land, and your dealings with her will be of no import. Your friendship with her has been unique, but you must tread carefully with those of royal houses, no matter how long you have known them.” She gently squeezed her, then moved back into the kitchen, took two loaves of braided golden bread out of the oven and wrapped them in a cloth.
As she left the house to go up the road to Meduseld, Fréawyn turned and said, “Let her speak first before you judge.” Then Fréalas was alone in the house, Gold Eyes gnawing contentedly on a bone near the warm oven.
The noise was impressive enough. The thundering of hooves of an eored stirred the hearts of the waiting assembly, all the more since the sound was approaching, rather than departing. As the crowd of horses drew nearer to the city, at the gates a cry went up, “Long live King Éomer!” 'King Éomer' echoed from the walls, even as a dark green standard bearing the image of a white horse could be seen nearing the barrows. Éomer approached the outer walls of Edoras, his long golden hair shining in the sunset. He nodded both to the left and right at the First and Second Lines of the Kings of the Mark he passed into the city. It was suddenly quiet as he rode up the main street, though there was a muffled “King Éomer!” heard as a mother clamped a hand over her son’s mouth even as his oversized Rider’s helm slid down over his eyes.
Behind him rode Éowyn, resplendent in a gown of deep blue, her head held high. As they approached the wide stone steps of Meduseld, both dismounted from their horses and turned to face their citizenry.
“People of the Mark!” Éomer’s voice rang out into the gloaming. “I and the Lady Éowyn and many Riders of the Mark have returned. Our great King Théoden was slain on the fields of Mundburg, and only our finest minstrels shall have the words to do justice to his brave acts. His body shall be returned to us in due time.” As he said those words, he raised a gloved hand to motion to the barrows. “At that time we shall mourn his passing and celebrate his life. But now,” he looked around at the brave men of the Mark, and the joyful expressions on the citizens of Edoras, then looked at his sister whose face was unreadable, and returned his gaze to the city. “Now is the time for feasting and reuniting!” At that there was a roar as a thousand men, many of whom were still outside the city gates, dismounted, and putting helms in hand, went off in search of their wives and children.
Éomer went up the tall steps, cheerfully greeting the guards and gratefully accepting a large tankard of ale. From a distance in the crowd, Fréalas stood, Tóswífan’s hand on her shoulder even as she fondled her knife. He had raised an eyebrow at this when he saw her mere moments before, as she was still wearing her leather war vest and her blade tucked into her belt. She had spoken quickly, “One never knows when defense will be needed.” Now they stood still amidst the ensuing chaos as people began searching out the food and wine, children making the most of their night of freedom, forming little clusters and playing their own games.
“She is a regal vision, is she not?” Fréalas asked Tóswífan.
He shrugged. “The color suits her, I suppose,” he said, nonchalantly. “So,” he asked. “Are we rabble invited into the royal hall?”
Fréalas didn’t answer for a moment. “There’s something wrong,” she said, then gasped. “She isn’t wearing her sword!”
Tóswífan leaned in to nuzzle her ear. “We are no longer at war, my fiery locks.”
Fréalas continued to look at Éowyn, even as she stepped alone up to the stairs into the Golden Hall. “No,” she replied. Leaning her head backward, she peered keenly into Tóswífan's eyes. “And no.” As she resumed her gaze on the now empty steps, she continued, “Rabble is not invited.”
Taking Tóswífan’s hand, she led him away from the large stone building to a cluster of people who were enthusiastically helping themselves to a rare imported white cheese and some crusty bread.
Several hours later, Fréalas found herself in a small garden attached to the royal house, a place unbeknownst to her that Théodwyn had frequented while she lived, but whose plants and flowers had now grown mostly wild. After mild protestation, she had sent Tóswífan off to visit with those others of the eored who had returned, many of whom he had fought alongside with on the Pelennor.
A cup of wine in her hands, she looked up at the canopy of stars, identifying the constellations despite herself. “Fiscere… Eofer…” she breathed out the names even as she formed the figures in her mind’s eye, making recognizable patterns out of the seemingly countless and chaotically-sprinkled lights in the midnight sky. As she heard a sound at the gated entrance to the garden, Fréalas stood, instinctively putting her hand again to her knife.
"I hope that I may explain my actions before I find a knife at my throat."
The voice was familiar beyond measure, and yet to Fréalas' ears it contained far more melody that she could remember hearing, even in distant memory. She stood still, fingers remaining clutched at her knife-hilt, awaiting Éowyn's next words. Éowyn walked quietly into the garden, her heavy brocade dress trailing behind her on the tiled path, making an odd swishing sound over the stones suddenly loosed in her wake. She stood before Fréalas, a golden circlet on her head, holding a silver chalice etched with intertwining knots barely visible in the starlight.
"Fréalas," she spoke softly even as she looked into her friend's face. Silence hung in the air even as the small luminous lights of a few fireflies danced around them, appearing and disappearing in an unchoreographed dance in the night sky.
"I betrayed you. I left you all without thought to what you would endure in my absence. But loyalty and kin- " Éowyn stopped for a moment until she recognized that Fréalas would hear her out, then continued. "I rode for Rohan. I could not see a future day, I could only see death, and yes, I wanted mine to be in battle, not left to burn in the Golden Hall, the very fires of darkness licking the wood of our houses, our beautiful horses running mad, our people enslaved or killed."
She paused and took a sip of wine from her cup. "You will find me far less proud than I was, my sycldesweoster."
Fréalas continued to hold her gaze, then spiteful words rushed forth. "Well, that would not take much, now would it?"
Éowyn looked stung, but did not reply.
"I will not judge- I cannot judge. I am but a commoner, one of the Rohirrim grateful to be alive, but Éowyn!" Fréalas stepped back, taking in the warm air in laboured breaths. "I have loved you, and tried to protect you, and I felt that you were bound to this land, these mountains, these endless skies, just as I am." Her words came quickly now, as though she were afraid of them being burrowed away forever as in a rabbit's warren, hidden, never said.
"How could you? Was it Aragorn? Why?" She looked Éowyn straight in the eye. "And yet," she said more measuredly, "we continued on without you. Simply because we must. But Éowyn, if you have any love for me at all, if you will think fondly of the family of Frithmund in the years to come, please do not depart again without bidding me farewell. That injury was the hardest to bear."
Suddenly a white glow flickered behind some towering clouds, and both sets of eyes turned to the sky. Lightning began dancing across the midnight blackness, bright trajectories of blazing light illuminating some distant grey clouds. The two women stood silently, watching the unexpected play of brilliance and dark as the sky was lit again and again across the horizon.
“You would have tried to stop me.”
“Yes, I would have.”
The wind picked up and an air of electricity hung in the air as the show of fantastic searing bolts continued to light up the now-approaching clouds.
“I saw him, Aragorn, at Helm’s Deep.” Fréalas took a sip of wine, then turned to look at Éowyn. “Were you seeking him? How could he have become so important to you in so short a time?”
Éowyn pulled her hair back from her face in the ensuing breeze before replying, “He declined my request to join him, and for that I felt utterly abandoned. Useless. Worse than useless. I did not seek Aragorn, Fréalas. I sought the end. Death became a far easier master to follow, almost as though I already knew the way.” She continued to look up into the sky, the stars now mostly covered by swiftly moving clouds, lightning still providing bursts of brightness as they spanned the heavens.
“I love another now. He is unlike any I have ever known…” here her voice trailed away, and she looked at Fréalas. “No one can be as Frithlíc was, when we were younger, and I have dreamt about him often. But Faramir is different, and I am different too.” She moved her chalice to her left hand, and with her right, tenderly loosened Fréalas’ fingers from her knife, taking them into her own. “He is intense in his earnestness, and has suffered much. Nonetheless he has found himself smitten by one as me, and though at times everything seems so sudden, yet my heart knows that it has found its home.”
The unkempt flowers in the garden were now bending in the ensuing wind, and wild shadows were being cast in the garden as the flames in the tall torches outside the garden walls bent wildly from side to side.
“You are leaving, then,” Fréalas spoke plainly, even resignedly, as lightning continued to crackle through the sky.
“I am. But I shall return often. I was rescued from death in Mundburg, hardly a place where I would ever have expected to find comfort of any kind. But Fréalas,” she held their hands up to her heart, “I cannot stay away forever from Rohan. Éomer will certainly need to have at least one set of eyes on him for awhile, and I must say that news has reached me of a certain Rider who has set his sights on a particular woman who, shall we say, held the reins of leadership when her appointed leader had departed.”
She cocked her head at Fréalas, who returned her gaze, a hint of a smile on her face. “I am not meant to rule," Fréalas said softly. "But I did. That was your role, though it is only now that I can understand how you chafed under it.” Fréalas looked back into the sky, smelling the oncoming rain.
“I plan to return to the Firien Woods. Tóswífan does not know that, and we will discuss such things in the future if they are still appropriate. I know that you will have many obligations and responsibilities as the…” she faltered, unsure of what Éowyn would be, exactly.
“Princess of Ithilien,” Éowyn murmured. “Queen would hardly suit one who wishes to undertake as many endeavours as I have in mind, many of which involve being on one’s hands and knees in the dirt, planting things.”
Fréalas had to chuckle at that vision, then she clutched at her friend’s fingers, even as raindrops began to assail the ground. “I hope you will be a frequent and honoured guest, even if our lodgings are far less pampered than those of Gondor, which I have now heard about thanks to Tóswífan.” Wiping rain from her eyes, she looked at Éowyn.
“We are a bit old for rain dances now, and you must look after your fine gown! Shall we go inside?”
Éowyn smiled and said, “Yes, though I hate to miss a summer storm such as this. And someone should look in on Éomer and the other Riders… they are probably in need of more ale!”
The rain began to fall in earnest as Fréalas and Éowyn hastily made their way back to Meduseld. Fréalas stopped at the bottom of the steps, her dress raised above her feet, Éowyn starting up the stone stairs.
“May I join you?”
Éowyn turned, then nodded solemnly. “I should have had you do so many years before now.”
As the people of Edoras ran from shelter to shelter in the summer shower, the figures of two lithe women, their hair blowing in the wind, could be seen entering the Golden Hall through its heavy carved stone doors, the latter lingering for a moment as she traced a pattern with a pale finger before entering the royal hall.
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.