In the Shadow of Hope

The sky was grey, malevolently infused with smoke from the remnant fires burning below on the battlefield. Even the pale marble bench on which Éowyn sat seemed dull, despite the wretched distance from the clanging of swords and ferocious cries of the Rohirrim, now off fighting ever nearer to Mt. Doom. She angrily picked at a thread on the ragged edge of her sling.



She was caged, yet again, a wounded bird that would prefer death than bound to earth. In frustration, she got up and paced over to the parapet to look down at the plain below. The height was near that of the Firienfeld, and no less daunting. Off in the distance, the demonic black mountain smouldered, its filthy ash adding to the haze, which clung mercilessly to the air.

She decided to test her wing. Easing her left arm from its cradle, she attempted to straighten it but could only reach a hand's span before gasping in pain. Chagrined, she rebound it, wishing that one of the healers from Meduseld were with her. As a way to occupy her mind, Éowyn listed herbs and their uses while she stalked the cobbled paths in the garden. By the time she'd reached Vervain- aids against feeling fire when relieving oneself, she was weary of the tedious exercise, and made her way back to her usual perch.

Back at the stone bench, Éowyn arranged her skirts and sat down. A flicker of movement caught her eye and she glanced over to the edge of the marble. A black ant meandered its way across the flat surface until it reached the fabric of her dress, when it backed away and marched to the corner. Captivated and compelled, she followed the insect's course, leaning backward to watch its progress down the carved leg and return path. Out of curiosity, she put her right hand down to see if it would crawl up, which it did. Bringing her fingers to her face, she rotated her wrist as the ant scuttled the surface of her skin.

"I am too much like you, little one," she said as it crept along her arm, passing a few freckles before she brushed it off and it dropped to the milky stone. "Insignificant. Wandering aimlessly and getting nowhere."

Still tracking the ant's journey, she thought of Meriadoc. In all likelihood he was to be found helping the cook - or helping himself - or assisting in tending the wounded, especially those of Rohan. How monstrous that battle must have been to him, and yet his bravery against the horrific minion of Sauron was beyond compare.

With a wistful smile, Éowyn remembered the incredulous expression of gratitude on the hobbit's face when she, or Dernhelm, rather, offered him his rightful place in the ranks of the Rohirrim. How far he was from his self-described lighthearted fellows. As she mulled that over, her brow furrowed. Merry did have his moments of joviality, but from the long days together astride Windfola, Éowyn knew in her bones that sombre responsibility flowed in his veins. He mourned the loss of King Théoden as dearly as though he were kin; not that Meriadoc had spoken such, but Éowyn had learned at a young age to intuit words unspoken. Merry's clear eyes bespoke worry and sadness, revealing far reaches of complexity in his nature, she decided.

A bee buzzed around her head and with her good arm she swatted it away. It landed in a small patch of nearby clover, quickly busying itself. How strange that despite the battles being fought and hopelessness that pervaded these stone walls, shrubs still stretched out verdant leaves. Flowers continued to bloom. Why? What was the point?

Preoccupied, she leaned down and picked a few of the clover stems and dropped them in her lap. One at a time, she twisted them together, a long-latent activity her mother had taught her early in her childhood. When the chain was completed, she held it up and looked scornfully at it.

"Some shieldmaiden you are now," she said. With a disgusted snort, Éowyn tossed her handiwork to the ground.

She was restless. Admittedly, patience had never been a trait for which she was known, but this endless waiting made her all the more irritable. Perhaps she would return to the stateroom that the young Steward had shown her the day before. Meduseld had many glorious hangings, but they paled in comparison to the procession of portraits that lined the walls in this massive hall. Faramir had taken his time, explaining the background of the men featured in each frame. Éowyn had been taken aback by his depth of description of his forebears, and felt no small amount of pride in revealing to him her knowledge of Eorl when they came to Cirion's portrait.

Faramir had paused to elaborate both on his namesake, but also that of his father. Denethor the First stood regally, his auburn hair lifted in a breeze and an elegant stone city behind him.

"That was Osgiliath before its end," Faramir had explained, his expression rueful. "He was the last Steward to rule there; it was overrun and destroyed by uruks sent to task from Mordor. At that time Minas Tirith became the primary stronghold of Gondor, though others went further and joined those in Dol Amroth. It was there, by the sea, where my mother and her kin lived."

Éowyn was struck by the softening of his tone, already aware that his mother had died when Faramir was young.

"I believe she missed her home, and the gulls' cries, very much."

Éowyn had nodded. "There can be much grief in life."

Faramir had paused, weighing his words.

"And yet there can be beauty amid despair."

Alone now in the garden, Éowyn reconsidered his phrase, looking about her at the unstoppable fecundity. Was this despair that she felt? No, surely that heart spearing rush had crashed on her only as she saw her uncle fall before her. This that she endured was more deadly, a futility that seeped ever more deeply into her marrow. Would that she had her sword, its fine craftsmanship mere detritus on the sea of carnage below. Any piece of arms could suffice now. She clenched and opened her fist in agitation, willing Béma himself to cast down a weapon from the steel skies, a sturdy sword hilt into her open palm.

Béma- immortal horseman and defender of her people. Where was the huntsman in these foul days? Show me you are not lost, she pleaded inwardly. Bring forth a sign of hope.

Éowyn cast her silent lament to flight, her attentions so focused on their journey that she started as the Steward's compassionate voice spoke behind her.

"Lady Éowyn."

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