My wrists and ankles still ached and moving around the large gash across jaw, throat and breast tightened painfully now and again, but altogether I felt pretty good, if not exactly right as rain.
The maid-servant whose name was Alina escorted me to Éowyn's own rooms to join the lady for breakfast. Breakfast turned out to be porridge and tea. It was hot and filling. The porridge had been cooked with milk, not with water, and there were bits of dried fruit in it. The tea was strong and golden. A promising beginning of the day, I thought – relaxing slightly.
Éowyn was silent during breakfast. She was evidently not a morning person. She put a sheaf of parchments on the table next to her bowl of porridge. She leafed through the parchments while she ate, now and then shaking her head and snorting. That was probably a list of her tasks for the day. Although I had no idea what ruling a kingdom exactly entailed, it was probably rather more work than running a big company. And there was less staff to spread the work around than in a democracy. If it came down to it, pretty much everything was her decision while her uncle was away.
Finished with breakfast, Éowyn looked up and smiled. "There is a lot to do today. If you want to, you can keep me company this morning. I will have to listen to complaints brought before the Council and decide a number of administrative problems concerning the defense of the city. But I warn you, it will be rather boring."
"I would be glad to come with you and listen, my lady," I told her. "At home I was a law student; I was training to become a judge or lawyer."
She raised her eyebrows at me. "A wise woman? Who would have thought… then you are most welcome. Those things give me a headache. Perhaps you can tell me more about your home, between the consultations."
I bit down on my lips. My big mouth. Again. Now what should I tell her?
The truth? Gandalf hadn't said what I should do when anyone – and Éowyn was not exactly anyone – asked who I was and where I came from.
But I was lucky – or was I? – that day at least I was spared from having to decide just what to tell Éowyn about me and my origins. In the first lull between the various audiences and consultations a small, scrawny messenger boy clad in the royal green livery arrived. He could not be more than nine or ten years old, with brown hair and chocolate brown eyes, desperately thin, with trousers that were way too short for his quickly growing legs.
He had a letter from Gandalf to the Lady Éowyn.
She took the letter graciously and sent the boy off to the kitchen to have something to eat in reward for the prompt delivery of the message.
She broke the red seal, stamped with the elvish rune of "G" – that is, the single stroke down and the three thin lines pointing diagonally away from that line.
She read the letter. Once, twice.
Then she gave me a piercing look, her golden eyebrows drawn together in a frown.
But she kept her temper perfectly in the company of her scribe and the elderly gentleman present just then. The old man was a councillor at the court, probably a judge or something like that – it seems I can smell it if someone deals in jurisprudentia.
She signalled her scribe to give her a piece of parchment, quill and ink. Then she scribbled down a note and told the scribe to seal it with the royal seal.
"This is a message for the royal equerry," she said, her voice calm and cool. One of several messengers in green livery waiting for errands at the end of the hall scurried forwards. Bowing deeply he accepted the message. He walked backward to the gates of the hall without turning around; apparently the universal sign of respect to royalty, on earth as well as in Middle-earth. The gates were opened for him and he was gone.
Éowyn remained completely still, staring at the gates of the hall for a long moment.
Then she turned to the scribe and the waiting dignitaries.
"I think we need a break right now. The remaining questions and matters will be settled in the afternoon. You can come back at two o' clock."
A dismissal if ever I heard one. And was that a hint of steel in her voice?
Everyone bowed very low and disappeared as quickly as possible.
I tried to unobtrusively follow the councillor.
"Please, stay, Lothíriel," she said, her voice brittle.
I nodded and turned back, sinking back on my chair.
She jumped up from her large, gilded chair at the head of the long table.
Her eyes blazed with fury.
"How can it be," she asked me, her voice dangerously low and calm, "How can it be that you – someone who has never, NEVER sat on a horse in her life, who is not even halfway healed, who is not even a real shield maiden – how can it be that you are chosen for a dangerous task, while I must stay here, minding councillors and babies? How can it be that one of the best horses we ever bred is appointed to your use? How can it be that you get the freedom of travelling all over this world and I get stuck with consultations and audiences and bloody paper work? You fight orcs and win renown and it is actually you who are trained in ways of knowledge and justice! I have been trained as a shield maiden as is the custom of our house, and I get to be a nurse and baby-minder to all and sundry! How can that be? Why are you allowed to shape your life as you see fit and all I may do is obey and obey and obey?"
She beat her clenched fists down on the table.
She had never raised her voice, but her fury was blindingly hot.
Talk about the golden cage…
Listening to her outburst of fury I realized three things.
One, she trusted me.
Two, she was lonely as hell.
Three, if Tolkien thought that this woman would ever mend her ways and become a docile mother and wife, he knew nothing about women.
"Well, travelling with the fellowship was not so much shaping my life as trying to help with… the quest, and trying to stay alive. Renown or glory was the last thing on my mind when I fought those orcs that I can assure you of," I commented.
She looked at me, and her eyes were red rimmed and glittering with furious tears.
"But you are here because you chose to be, aren't you? You could have stayed at home with your studies?"
I stared at her for a moment, carefully considering what to say next. Then I thought, what the hell, I like her and it's not as if she won't go and do her own thing anyway.
"Yes," I said. "I could have stayed with my studies. But in my world, I was not needed at all. My knowledge was not needed at all. My courage – what I have of it – was not needed at all. I was pretty much superfluous in that world. And just like you, I wanted more. I met Gandalf, and he thought that my knowledge and perhaps –" I paused, confused with a sudden realization. Then I went on, a sudden, unexpected feeling of joy spreading inside of me. "And perhaps, that I, as a person, might be needed or at least not be… superfluous here, in this world."
"And do you think that you are needed?" Éowyn asked, watching me intently.
I thought about it for a moment, feeling a wave of sadness sweep through my heart all at once, drowning out the happy feeling of only a moment ago. The warm light of the fire in the great fire places of the hall and the golden rays of sunlight drifting down to us through the high light shafts seemed to fade into shadows of gloom.
"I was, or I think I was," I said softly. "For a time at least. But it was neither my courage nor my knowledge that was needed and least of all my strength as a warrior."
"What was it then that was needed?" Éowyn asked.
I looked away from her. Somehow I had the feeling that Éowyn had never really been in love, that even Aragorn was only the first infatuation of a lonely heart. How could she understand what I wanted to say?
I looked up at the great rafters bearing the ceiling of the hall. The ceiling of the Golden Hall of Meduseld looked like the upturned hull of a great sailing ship. There is a great hall in a castle somewhere in England that looks exactly like that, but I cannot remember where.
Huge, dark beams of wood carved with somehow Celtic designs and gilded with gold held up that ceiling. The smooth wooden planks between those beams were coloured in green and red and blue. Shadows gathered there. But the gold of the great beams gleamed and glittered in that twilight.
"I think it was my compassion that was needed," I said finally.
Éowyn slumped down in her chair again, hiding her face in her hands.
"Is it so very wrong to wish for a life of my own? Where I can choose my path on my own? A life, where I can become who I want to be?"
I thought she was crying, but just as I was, Éowyn was not the kind of woman you can simply embrace and soothe like a child.
"No," I said firmly. "Of course it's not wrong. Where I come from, we believe that everyone, man or woman, should be free to live as he or she wants to, within the laws of the land."
"I wish I could go there!" Éowyn called out. "And not remain here, in this cage!"
"Wait, wait, wait –" I interrupted her. "It's not that simple!"
"Why can't it be that simple?" Éowyn asked rebelliously.
I sighed. What did I know about life?
"Look, Éowyn, even if you have the right to basically do what you want to do, there are always restrictions. You have to earn your keep. Then there's the responsibility for your family, your parents, your siblings, your husband, your children. Or if you live for your career, there's responsibility in that, too. And with every choice you make, the freedom you have grows more narrow, until it is very difficult to change your life at all. And I think many people never really think about what they want in life at all, or if they do, they don't really act on their convictions. Life's never that simple. You know that probably better than I do."
"But I don't want to be imprisoned here for the rest of my life!" she cried. "I know about responsibility, Lothíriel! My life's been nothing but responsibility! My life! It's never been my life at all!"
"I did not say that you should not take your life in your own hands," I told her soothingly. "I was only trying to remind you that, well, when you go out to defend your people and your country and you win all that glory, it will come with strings attached. That's all. This war won't last forever… I hope… and then you will have to make a life as a woman… somewhere… or other…"
She slowly dropped her hands on the table and looked at me. She was very pale; her eyes were red. She had indeed been crying. She looked at me with a desperate need for comfort in her eyes.
"Then you would understand if I were to…"
I held up my hand.
"Don't tell me anything you might or might not want to do. Your life is your responsibility. If you take your fate into your hands, then so be it; but I don't want to be the one to answer certain personages why I didn't prevent you from… certain… deeds…"
My thoughts were reeling, my mind was fairly spinning.
She had to go with the host of the Rohirrim, I must not discourage her…but I did so not want to face Aragorn or her brother trying to explain why I had not told them about her plans… why I had not prevented her from doing something stupid… …and it has to be her decision…
I don't think I could have made it to Rivendell and to Amon Hen, if it had not been my decision, my very own, private, personal decision…
We were quiet for a long moment. Then Éowyn rubbed vigorously at her eyes. "You know, you are the first person I ever met that did not tell me that I should be content to fulfil my duties to my people in the position I was born into," she told me with a weak smile playing around her lips.
"Well," I said grinning back at her somewhat wryly. "That might be because I did not stay in the position or in the world I was born into myself."
Or because there's a streak of insanity running in my family…
"That horse is big," I said, looking at a huge white animal.
"Yes," the equerry told me, his eyes glowing with pride. "Shadowfax is her sire and there are few horses in all of Rohan which have her stature or her strength."
I gulped nervously. "It is very beautiful," I ventured.
"SHE," the equerry said, giving me a look of absolute disgust, "is the pride and joy of our stables. Her name is Mithril."
I stared at the horse, and swallowed dryly.
I believed his every word. That horse was not only big, she was huge! She was a mountain on hooves! And she certainly seemed to be every bit as tough as Frodo's mail shirt. Muscles of steel rippled across her sides and legs, making her fur gleam in silvery waves.
"She is indeed very beautiful," I repeated, glancing at the equerry apprehensively.
The tall man of the Rohirrim looked slightly mollified.
"To allow her to get to know you, you have to introduce yourself. Talk to her and hold out your hand to her, your palm turned upwards, open and relaxed. She will blow her breath at you. You should exhale, too. She wants to smell your breath, she wants to get to know what kind of person you are," he ordered.
Smell my breath? What kind of person I am?
I blinked. A horrible person with no experience with horses and probably bad breath to boot. My tooth paste had been used up quite some time ago.
And to put my face right in front of that big horse head… I knew that horses ate grass normally, and not Lothíriel, but Mithril had probably quite big teeth nevertheless and if she decided that she did not like me…
If Gandalf had talked to Mithril, he had certainly asked her not to bite me.
He would not have forgotten to ask her not to bite me.
He had forgotten to tell Éowyn.
Perhaps not exactly forgotten.
He had, after all, sent a letter asking her to give me not just any horse, but to give me this one… Mithril…
It was a miracle that I was still alive to greet the horse.
How could one and the same person be so cold and so hot-tempered?
It was not that I did not like her.
I did. After this morning's conversation I rather liked her a lot.
But I would really like to meet a single woman in Middle-earth that was not an immortal elf, beautiful and wise, or a dangerous warrior, beautiful and smart.
Was there no one around here like me?
Stumbling, bumbling, and feeling pretty stupid most of the time?
I sighed. Perhaps I would make friends with the Princess Lothíriel.
But to do so I had first to make friends with that horse. I sighed again.
I stepped forward; my arm stretched out, my palm turned up.
My hand trembled slightly from the effort.
I tried to ignore the new white bandages around my wrists.
I looked like a failed suicide.
I looked at the horse and forgot the world around me.
She had large, liquid eyes. Beautiful, dark eyes, the colour of autumn twilight. A smoky umbra.
Did you know that horses have lashes?
She had beautiful lashes, dark, curling softly, the perfect frame for her deep, gentle eyes.
Her mane was like a cloak of finest silk. Not even the handmaidens of the Lady Galadriel had ever spun such thread. When Mithril moved, her mane flowed around with a faint rustling sound, creating a halo of pure silver.
She was a tall horse, a strong horse, but perfectly proportioned, slender as a willow tree, clearer than water. A dancer, a sprite, a nymph!
She snorted softly as if she laughed at me.
"Mithril," I whispered. "I am Lothíriel."
She whickered in a low voice. Then she moved towards me, flicking her silvery tail from side to side but moving very slowly as if she was afraid that I would be frightened.
She lowered her head and touched my palm with her nose, her muzzle.
Her nose was covered with the softest fur, in a colour that was slightly darker than the rest of her face, a deepening of twilight across a silver sea.
She snorted again, very softly, blowing her hot, sweet breath in my face.
"Mithril," I whispered again, exhaling softly, involuntarily into the horse's face, enjoying the sound of the name and the closeness to such strength and such beauty. "Will you carry me in a few days? I have to go far away, and I have to hurry. I have to take a message to the Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, who dwells in Tarnost. Much depends on him getting that message as soon as may be. Will you carry me, even though I don't know anything about horses and riding?"
I realized that I had been talking to her as if she was not a horse, but a person. But it had felt just right to talk to her like that. She looked at me as if she was considering what I had told her. Then she tossed her head and neighed loudly. A clarion sound! Bright! Clear! Challenging!
"Is that an answer?" I asked her, confusion mingling with joy.
She snorted again and lowered her large head. She nuzzled my palm with gentle lips. Then she butted her head against my chest, and I stumbled backwards. I was still weak and tired easily. Mithril raised her head again and gave me a piercing look as if she wanted to say, "And what's with your strength?"
I blushed and nodded. Then I gingerly touched the back of her nose.
"I promise that I will be strong enough not to embarrass you. I get stronger every day. Soon I will be good as new. I promise."
Mithril was apparently content with that answer because she turned around and began to eat some hay from the feeder.
The audience was over.
"She will carry you, my lady," the equerry told me grudgingly. But his look was not quite as disdainful as it had been when I had entered the stable.
I thanked the royal equerry and slowly made my way up to the Hall of Meduseld again.
I was still weak and even walking up the soft slope from the stables to the Hall of Meduseld left me sweaty and winded.
The royal stables were situated at the foot of the hill that made up most of the city of Edoras and was crowned by the Golden Hall. There was a special gate in the north of the city's walls for the horses, called the Horse Gate. This Gate led out of Edoras next to the stables, so that the Mearas could in fact come and go as they pleased; or that was at least the legend that went with the Gate and the location of the stables. In these dark and dangerous times the horses were never left alone anywhere, least of all the precious Mearas.
I decided that I liked Edoras. And I enjoyed being out of my bed. I walked very slowly, looking around at the streets and the houses with keen interest.
The city reminded me of York.
The roofs of the houses were thatched with great bundles of reed and grass. The houses were half-timbered, built from clay-bricks and dark beams of wood. The brickwork was covered with plaster in earthy colours, dun, a soft yellow, a drab green… The front beams of the roofs were carved in Celtic designs, most of the time just abstract ribbons of red and green, but sometimes horses and dragons were shown. And each house had carved the cross-beams at the gable of the roof into the head of a horse.
The main streets were cobbled with stones; the lanes between the houses were muddy paths.
The river that had its spring just below the Great Golden Hall flowed down the hill in three carefully constructed stone channels. The city did not stink as I had expected a more or less medieval city to stink from open sewage and untended wastes of human and animal nature. Apparently the sewage system Théodred had constructed worked very well.
The city had three rings of fortifications. The outermost defense was a deep dike all around the city with draw bridges up to the city's gates. In the dike and on the raised ground behind it there was an abatis, a fence of thorns to make it more difficult to get at the city walls with siege engines. And then there were the city walls, made of huge beams of wood sharpened into pikes and a fortified wall made of stone set behind the pikes.
Edoras had survived more than one attack during its long history.
Finally I reached the green lawns on the terrace below the Great Hall again. On a platform above the grassy terrace rose the Golden Hall of Meduseld, a huge building thatched with golden reed, the cross beams of the roof and the walls carved with the vaguely Celtic designs favoured by the Rohirrim. But where the common people had used red and green and blue, the hall of Meduseld was decked out in gold leaves, gleaming in the sunshine. The buildings of the royal palace formed a horseshoe around the back of the hall with a thatched corridor leading to the rear of the hall.
At the spring I halted. I was trembling with exhaustion.
I slumped down on a bench of white marble that was set next to the basin of the spring. The sacred spring of Meduseld was a strong spring which rushed in a mighty burst of cold, white water out of a white stone that was carved into the likeness of a horse. From the horse stone the water fell into a basin made of white marble, and from that basin three narrow channels made of white stone ran down the hill and into the city, gradually broadening into small stone enclosed rivers.
It was a clear day, and looking down over the city and across the green plains of Rohan, I could see very far away. But not far enough. The Gap of Rohan and the Battle of Helm's Deep was too far away to be noticed from here. I could only wait, wait and hope that everything turned out alright as it had turned out in the stories.
I had to yawn suddenly. I realized that I had been up on my feet all day. I felt weary to my bones, and my ankle hurt horribly from walking so much. It was time to turn in for the day.
Aragorn and the Grey Company could be here any day now. I had to recover as much of my strength as possible until they arrived.
Slowly I rose to my feet and made my way back to my room.
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.