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The Last of the House of Eorl

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The sun was climbing high in a clear blue sky, promising another fine day. A pleasant breeze cooled Éowyn as she strolled along the wall-walk in the garden of the Houses of Healing. Below her, men were labouring to clear away debris from the first circle and make safe fire-damaged buildings. Work was going on beyond the gates, too, while a growing trickle of traffic was making its way into the city from the direction of the southern fiefs and the quays of the Harlond. Further out, towards the north-west, she could make out the distant lines of tents and horse pickets where the host of the Eorlingas under Elfhelm were now encamped.

Leaning on the wall on her sound arm, she wondered if Faramir would join her this morning. He had warned her, when they walked together the day before, that now Sauron was cast down and the King would come again, he must take up his duties as Steward. If he did not come, the day would be long and dreary: Elfhelm required nothing of her — she had sent a messenger to ask — and the Warden of the Houses of Healing had refused her aid, saying her only duty now was to rest and heal. She could think of no other duty for her here in the city.

A disturbance on the road out to the Causeway Forts caught her eye: a small knot of horsemen riding quickly, two in the livery of Gondor, two in the blue and silver of Dol Amroth and one in the garb of her own land. News! News from across the river that would surely tell far more than the brief report the Great Eagle had sung to them two days before. She guessed another Rider had already turned off to carry word to Elfhelm, and that the one that remained with the group would be coming to her with a message from her brother.

She watched as the group passed through the gap in the outer wall where the Gate had stood and disappeared out of sight. Then she turned and made her way down from the wall, her gaze impatiently fixed on the entrance to the garden.

The bells rang for the fourth hour as she waited, but it was not long after that when the Rider emerged from the door. She took an eager pace forwards as he walked towards her slowly.

A half dozen paces from her, he sank to one knee and bowed his head. “My Queen,” he choked out.

She had known. She had known in the second before he knelt. Her blood ran as chill as the Snowbourn in the winter snows, despite the warmth of the day. “My brother is dead.”

“Yes, my lady.” He still had his head bowed.

She took a deep breath and then another. The sunlight  now seemed harsh and the smell of the herbs around her choked her. Now she had a duty indeed! And this man kneeling before her — she recognised him as one of her brother’s household, though at that moment she could not recall his name — was expecting her to do it. All her people would be expecting her to do it.

She took another breath and drew herself up straighter, quelling the trembling in her limbs. “Can you tell me how he died?”

“I cannot, my lady.” Still not looking at her, he fumbled in the pouch at his side and produced a letter. “But I bring word from the Lord Imrahil of Dol Amroth, who fought beside him when he fell.” He stood up and held out the letter to her, and she read his own grief in his face.

“Thank you—.” She hesitated as she reached out her hand, and then shook her head, knowing what was due from her and despairing that she could not manage even this simple thing. “Forgive me, I cannot recall your name.”

“Léofwine, my lady.”

She took the letter. “Thank you, Léofwine.” There was something else she should ask, surely. Ah, yes…. Forcing the words out past the stone that had settled in her breast, she asked, “And what of our other losses?”

“I know only what report makes it, my lady. That some four score were slain and another score grievously wounded, as well as many having lesser hurts. But a full accounting of the battle and our people has been carried to Lord Elfhelm.”

“Of course.” It was right and proper that Elfhelm should receive such news, but it seemed that she had been considered fit only to receive news of her brother. Yet the fault did not lie with Léofwine. She managed to summon up the ghost of a smile for him. “You must have ridden far and fast, and be tired and hungry.” Glancing past him, she waved forwards the boy who had brought Léofwine to the garden, who still hovered by the door. 

As he approached, she recognised Bergil. His name died on her lips as she recognised, too, that it would not be wise to remember it when she had forgotten Léofwine’s. Instead, she simply said, “If it please you, would you take Léofwine here to my Lord Warden and request that he find food and lodging for him. And if my Lord Warden would be so kind, I would have word sent to the Marshal Elfhelm to attend me as soon as might be.”

“Yes, my lady.” 

The boy led Léofwine away, but it took a moment longer for Éowyn to move as well. She had wanted renown and glory, and to be free at last of the cage that had closed in around her — but not like this. Not like this!

Fumbling her way to a bench, she sat down and broke the seal on the letter Léofwine had brought her. The Lord Imrahil’s flowing script swam before her eyes for an instant, even as she saw with relief that it was written in the Common Tongue and she would not have to wrestle with her unpracticed Sindarin.

Blinking hard, she forced the words to steadiness and began to read.

From Imhrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, to the Lady Éowyn of Rohan.

My lady, it is with a heavy heart that I must relate the sad news of your brother’s passing before the Morannon. I write this as soon as I may, and on behalf also of the King Elessar, as one of the few who witnessed your brother’s death and can give you some news as to the manner of it.

We came before the Black Gate yesterday morn and faced a host of foes ten times our number. But it grieves me to report that the Dark Lord had already been cast down ere your brother died. Alas, we had not yet won the field, for some few of the Men of Rhûn and Harad, in their wickedness, fought on. King Éomer was slain as he led the fight to subdue them, setting himself against the greatest of their chieftains and champions.

My lady, forgive the brevity of this letter, but the messengers are waiting to depart with all haste. When time permits, and if you wish it, I will tell you more of your brother’s prowess and bravery. It was my great honour to fight beside him, and it is my deep regret that I shall not do so again, nor share the joy of victory with him.

Yours in sorrow, Imrahil of Dol Amroth

Éowyn let the letter fall onto her lap. She was no stranger to death in battle. Her father, her cousin, her uncle had all died with swords in their hands. She had known many of the Riders who had fallen before the Hornburg or on the Pelennor. No less than she had grieved for Théodred had she mourned Háma, Captain of the King’s Household, who had always been kind to a small, bothersome girl-child: the first to teach her some simple swordplay, when he had found her wildly swinging the wooden practice foil she had borrowed from among her brother’s gear.

But death in battle should be glorious: her uncle leading the charge on the Pelennor with the horns and voices of the Riders lifted in song. Even the deaths of her father and Théodred were glorious in their way: hard handstrokes in the long resistance against the Great Enemy in the East. But it seemed to her that there had been little honour in her brother’s death: the Great Enemy had been cast down and his cause was ended and his armies should have fled the field or yielded. Her brother should have lived to enjoy that peace and the fruits of victory. 

She became aware that someone was walking towards her. Looking up, she saw Faramir approaching. Beyond him, a page was scurrying from one gardener to the next and the gardeners were packing up their tools and hastening away.

Privacy had always been a scarce luxury in Edoras. Now there would be none. Yet Faramir had thought to grant her a last measure when she might need it most. 

She looked back at him and was pierced with the sudden knowledge of how dear to her he had become in these last days, and of the future that could — would — have come to pass if her brother had lived. A future that was now lost to them both, as duty called her back to the Riddermark and duty kept him still in Gondor.

She rose to her feet, drawing herself up straight and proud, as befitting a Queen welcoming an ambassador. 

He stopped a few paces away and bowed. “My lady, there are no words of comfort I can speak at such a time. But if there is any service that lies in the Steward’s power that Gondor may render to the Queen of Rohan, you have but to ask.”

She inclined her head in answer. “Rohan thanks you for your kindness, my Lord Steward.”

He abruptly took a step forwards and said with surprising earnestness, “And if there is any service I may render—.”

She looked back at him, her grief rising in her throat to choke her and traitorous tears springing to her eyes.

And then he was beside her, catching her before she crumpled to the grass. He guided her back to the bench, his arm around her and her face in his shoulder as her grief tore through her at last. “It should have been me,” she forced out. “I should have been the one who died. I wanted to die. Not—.”

He went on holding her, offering her no comfort but the strength of his arms for a brief space, for what other comfort could there be?

At last, her tears ceased and she became aware that the bells for the fifth hour were ringing. She pulled herself upright and he let her draw away from him, though he kept his hands resting lightly on her arms and he looked at her with grave concern.

“I have sent word to Elhelm to attend me. I should prepare. I must meet him in the fashion of his Queen.”

Faramir reached up and brushed a last tear from her cheek. “That I have no doubt you will do.”

She put her hand over his where it still rested lightly against her face. “My lord—.” She stopped. He had always spoken plainly to her, or as plainly as he dare, and he deserved the same from her. She began again. “Faramir. You said to me two days gone that you would not have the world end now, or lose so soon what you have found, and I pretended not to understand you. The world has not ended, but it has changed. I think it will bring you little joy now, but I would have you know that I too found what I would not lose.”

“Éowyn—.”

She drew his hand from her face and, letting it fall, stood and stooped to kiss him on the brow. “Gondor also loves you, Faramir, and you love her, and she has more need of you than I.”

Then she turned and left him, glad that she had no more tears to cry.

~~~

It was another hour before Elfhelm joined her. She had taken the time to compose herself and to consider what must be done next. She had sent to the Warden to request a chamber where she could meet with her people, along with paper and ink. Evidently already instructed by Faramir to provide her with assistance, the Warden had quickly presented himself to her and granted her needs. He had also provided her with a stern warning that, though he understood she must now take up new duties, she was not yet fully healed. She should not, he implored her, neglect the needs of her body, nor drive herself too hard.

Alongside the writing materials, he had offered her the services of the scribe who brought them, but she had declined. It was not the custom of her people to send written dispatches and orders — few even among the captains could read or write — and she did not wish to involve an outsider in their affairs. A response to Lord Imrahil’s letter she could pen herself.

All this had been arranged by the time Elfhelm was shown into her presence. “My lady.” He bowed low to her. “This is a sorrowful day to set against the joy of victory.”

“That it is, my Lord Elfhelm.” As Elfhelm had done, she used the speech of their own people. Even in the midst of grief, it was good to hear and speak it again.

Elfhelm had brought two of his captains with him, Frumgar and Cuthred. She waved the three of them into the stools that had been set around a low table and indicated they should pour water if they were in need of refreshment. “So, I have received the account of my brother’s death, but little other news. What report can you give me?”

Elfhelm leaned forwards on his stool, setting his elbows on his knees. “Eighty seven of our people dead, at the latest tally. Five and twenty with heavy wounds, and another six and ninety who have taken some lesser injury. Five and forty horses have been lost also. The men of Gondor have suffered likewise, so the report says.

“Éothain it is who now leads our men, giving such assistance as the Lord Aragorn requests. They are mostly hunting the last remnants of the Dark Men and orcs and other foul creatures who have not yet yielded, and helping to guard those who have thrown down their arms and sued for mercy. A great camp is being set up near to the river, where in time all may rest and heal.”

Éowyn kept her eyes fixed on Elfhelm, forcing herself to pay close heed, though her mind felt as if she were wandering in one of the early morning fogs that often lay across the mouths of the Entwash in autumn. When he seemed to have concluded his report, she asked, “And do they lay our people to rest in the lands beyond the river?”

“For the most part, my lady. But they say that, if we wish it, they will bring the body of Éomer King back to the city to lie beside Théoden King.”

“That I would have so done. In time, we shall bear them both home, and lay them to rest besides their forefathers, as is befitting of our Great Kings.”

“Great indeed they were, my lady. Your brother no less than your uncle.”

Éowyn inclined her head in acknowledgment. “And has the Lord Aragorn made any new request of you regarding the Riders on this side of the river, Lord Elfhelm?”

A slight quirk of Elfhelm’s lips told her that he had not missed the gentle rebuke of Aragorn in her question. “He asks only that we continue to guard the city and the northern approaches, as we did before, my lady.”

Again, Éowyn nodded. “And have you sent word to our people yet?”

“No, my lady. I was still pondering the report, and what news to send to you, when your summons arrived.”

“So. You must send to Fréalaf in Edoras and Erkenbrand in the Westfold.” She hesitated and then added, “And I would speak today, also, to such Riders as are in camp.”

Elfhelm lifted his head and met her gaze and held it for a long moment. Then he said carefully, “They will surely be glad to hear from the Lady of the Mark at such a time.”

Éowyn let out the breath she had been holding. “Then I shall ride out this afternoon. You will send horses?”

When that was agreed, and they had also settled that Elfhelm would find two or three of the youngest Riders to come to the city and act as pages and run messages for the Lady, and that Frumgar would meanwhile stay with her, while Cuthred rode back to camp with Elfhelm, she said, “Before you depart, Lord Elfhelm, I would have speech with you alone.”

The other two were dismissed to wait outside. Elfhelm sat silently, regarding her with a troubled look, while she gathered her courage.

“Lord Elfhelm,” she began at last. “I would have you answer me plainly, with no thought of rank or title.”

His expression softened. “If you wish it, my lady.”

She swallowed down her fear. How much easier had it been to ride to battle than to ask this! “In all the years of the Mark, our people have never had a Ruling Queen. Will they accept such now? Will they accept my right to lead?”

Elfhelm looked at her in open astonishment. Then, with a smile, he swiftly knelt before her and offered his hands to her. “You are my Queen and the Lady of the Mark, my lady. And did not your uncle, on the advice of Háma, wisest of captains, set you — last of the House of Eorl — to rule in his place and be as lord to the Eorlingas while he was gone?”

“And did I not choose afterwards to abandon our people and my duty, and follow my uncle and brother to battle?”

Elfhelm lowered his proffered hands but remained kneeling. “And did I not consent, when Dernhelm came to me asking to ride again as one of my éored? And not counsel you against it. Nor, as was my duty, speak of it to your uncle or brother? How then should men speak of me?”

Éowyn choked out a laugh. “As a fool who indulged a foolish girl’s folly?”

Elhelm shook his head. “You are no foolish girl, my lady. You led our people to Dunharrow in a hard time, and it was well done. All spoke of it so. And when you would depart, you took counsel with me and set Fréalaf in your place, with Egil and Aldwin as witnesses. Even when you act boldly, my lady, you are not rash. And you have been wise enough, these past years, to know when to guard your tongue and when to seek counsel from those you trust.”

Éowyn still looked at him uncertainly. “Yet how may I lead our people when I would not be led? When I defied my uncle and my king?”

Elfhelm looked long at her in silence, but there seemed no doubt in his manner, only a desire to speak well. At last, he said slowly, “My lady, great lords are great because they do what they believe is wise, even when others would call it folly. Even as the Lord Aragorn has done. And their wisdom is judged only by the passing of time and the turn of events. How much more grievous, think you, would the fight on the field below have been if you had chosen to remain in Dunharrow? You judged your valour better spent there, to turn the tide, than in hopeless resistance in the hills as the victorious Easterlings enslaved our land if the battle went ill. And judged aright.”

He hesitated for a fraction of a heartbeat and then plunged on, “You bid me to speak plainly to you, with no thought of rank or title. My lady, you are my Queen — but I would not follow you into battle.” When she stiffened, he held up a hand, asking her to let him finish. “My lady, you have learned much over the years of the conduct of war, from listening to the speech of your cousin and brother and their captains. But to make a plan for battle is not the same as to fight it — or to change it in the midst of the fight. None can gainsay that you are a great champion. But you are not fitted to be a Marshal.” He softened the words with a smile. “Not yet.”

He offered his hands to her again. “My Queen, it will be an honour to lay my sword at your feet and serve you all the days of my life.”

“And will my people think it so?”

He laughed. “My lady, you are our Lady of the Shield  Arm. Your deeds are already being sung throughout the camp yonder, and you are no less great and glorious in the eyes of our Riders than Théoden King and Éomer King.”

She took his hands between her own then. “It will be an honour to have your service, Lord Elfhelm.”

~~~

After Elfhelm had gone, taking Cuthred with him, and Éowyn had sent Frumgar to seek out lodging and stabling for her little court here in the city, she turned to writing her reply to Imrahil. Long she sat with pen in hand, debating what courtesy, diplomacy and her own heart demanded she should say. Finally, she wrote a few short words, thanking him for his kindness in writing to her and confirming that she wished her brother’s body to be brought back to the city. 

She read over her words one last time, before she folded the paper and reached for the stick of wax — only for the realisation to strike her that she had no token to use as her seal. She had carried nothing with her from Dunharrow that would mark her out from any other Rider. Perhaps there would be some buckle or boss on her gear that would serve for now. And it was time already — the ringing of the bell for the eighth hour had reminded her — that she must dress herself to ride out to the camp.

Gathering up the letter and the wax, she made her way out of the room and turned her steps in the direction of her chamber. She had not gone far when she was greeted by Merry hurrying towards her.

“Éowyn! There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

Éowyn suppressed a smile and instead asked gravely, “What can I do for you, Master Meriadoc?”

“Oh!” Merry’s face fell. “Well, first of all, I wanted to say I’m terribly sorry about your brother. First your uncle, and now this.”

She dipped her head in acknowledgment. “Thank you, Master Meriadoc. And you too had kin upon the battlefield. Have you news of how he fared?”

Merry waved a hand. “Oh, Pippin’s fine. Got squashed by a troll, but Gandalf sent word that it’s just a lot of bruises. But didn’t you hear?” His face lit up. “Frodo and Sam are alive! Gandalf took the Eagles and rescued them after they destroyed the Ring. Gandalf said they were in a bad way, but Strider’s taking care of them, so I’m sure they’ll be fine soon.”

Éowyn took a moment to work her way through that. Faramir had explained the bare bones of the Ringbearer’s errand to her the previous day and she recalled that Strider was the odd nickname that the halflings used for Lord Aragorn. But she was quickly smiling back at Merry. “That is good news indeed, Master Meriadoc. I am glad for you.”

Merry sobered again. “We’ve been lucky, I guess. I suppose a lot of people haven’t been so lucky.” He fixed her with a stern stare. “And I also came to ask you if you’d eaten today.”

Éowyn cast her mind back over the past few hours. “Not since I broke my fast at the start of the first hour.” She noticed for the first time that her stomach was a tight knot and that she felt as if she could not swallow a bite, though she also recalled the Warden’s words of a little earlier.

“Well, that won’t do at all.” Merry took her hand and began towing her back towards her chamber. “Lunchtime was hours ago. I’ll run along to the kitchens and get them to find you something.”

When Merry had escorted her to her chamber and gone again, she knelt before the chest that held her battle gear. She had asked for it when she first rose from her sickbed. At first they had feigned no knowledge of it, but after she had mentioned the matter to Faramir, it seemed it had been found after all and cleaned and mended.

She was just finishing laying it out on the bed when Merry returned. 

“Oh, are you going to wear your armour again?” he exclaimed as he set down the tray he was carrying on a low table before the fireplace.

“I’m riding out to speak to my people in a little while.” She straightened a strap and then turned to where Merry was setting out food for two people. She suppressed a smile: she knew him well enough by now to know he would have already eaten his noon-meal at the proper hour but would never pass up an opportunity to secure another meal.

“You’ll need my help to put some of it on.” He grinned up at her. “I was your uncle’s sword-thain, after all, and he told me I should serve you when he left us at Dunharrow. Doesn’t that make me yours?”

Éowyn laughed, softly. “And if it does not, Master Meriadoc, then I will gladly accept your service myself, if you offer it.”

Merry’s expression sobered. “I don’t have a sword. Not since....”

“Nor I. I must borrow one. But I shall find another sword for you, Meriadoc. It is the least gift I can give you after you sacrificed yours to aid me.”

“But after we’ve eaten!” Merry pulled out a seat for her and sat down on his own stool.

Merry’s cheerful chatter helped lighten her mood and made it a little easier to swallow some of the hearty soup and crusty bread and honey he had brought. Afterwards, while he returned the dishes to the kitchen, she dressed herself in her tunic, trousers and gambeson. Then, when he returned, she let him help her into her mail and set her arm in its sling again. He brought her a taper, too, so that she could seal the letter to Imhrahil with a horse’s head patterned on the buckle of her sword belt. And just as all that was done, Cuthred returned to escort her out to the camp.

The escort was waiting in the open space before the gate to the citadel: a dozen riders and, in their midst, Windfola. Elfhelm had sent word a few days before that, together with several other riderless horses who had run wild on the plain, she had found her way to his camp in the evening after the battle.

Éowyn took a moment to greet her, and then turned to Cuthred and Frumgar. He had also come out, to take charge of the three young riders — so very young they looked! — who were to serve her in the City. “Here is another old friend I am very glad to see,” she said lightly with her hand on Windfola’s neck. “But I have need of one more thing before I ride out. My sword was broken in the battle. Will one of you lend me yours?”

Without hesitation, Frumgar drew his sword and offered the hilt to her. “May it be only the first of many at your service, my lady.”

Éowyn, accepting it with a smile, briefly tested its weight and balance before — with her sling the cause of some awkwardness— she sheathed it. She then allowed Frumgar to help her mount.

They made their way down the winding road to the Great Gate. Along the way, they passed many men busy with making the city ready for the return of those who had sought refuge in the vales and villages to the South. Some stopped and called out greetings and good wishes to her, while ahead and behind she heard calls for others to come and see the Lady Wraithbane ride by.

She leaned a little closer to Frumgar, who rode at her side, and asked so that only he could hear, “Did you know they had given me such a name?”

Frumgar laughed quietly. “I have heard it before, my lady, yes. I think they do not understand you, but they admire you.”

Éowyn supposed she could not fault them for giving her the renown and glory she had sought, but it was still a relief to leave such scrutiny behind once they were past the fields close to the walls that had been scarred by the battle and to ride more freely through open pastures and croplands.

As they neared the camp, Elfhelm rode out to greet them. He led her in, past the long lines of picketed horses, to where the Riders were gathered to await her. It seemed a vast throng as she looked out over the heads of the men standing there. Their quiet shifting and murmuring died away as Elfhelm brought her to a place where all could see her.

She wheeled Windfola to face them and, transferring the reins to her left hand, edged the horse forwards a few paces, setting herself apart from the escort behind her. The crowd was silent now, waiting, and she breathed in deeply, before she called out to them, willing her voice to carry clearly to the furthest man.

“Riders of the Mark! You know me! I am Éowyn, daughter of Éomund. Come among you as we mourn the loss of our king, Éomer, Éomund’s son, in the battle before the Black Gate.”

Steadying Windfola with her knees, she drew the sword Frumgar had given her and raised it high.

In valiant victory, doth grief now greet us.
Lament must we all, for lost lord and liege.
In foreign fields found he fame ever-lasting,
Bravest of brothers, doughty and daring.”

She saw heads nodding in approval as she chanted the staves and it gave her the courage to go on with a speech there had been all too little time to prepare for.

Lowering the sword and laying it across her pommel — she dared not try to sheathe it — she spoke again. “Too soon was he taken from us. My beloved brother. Our beloved king. Never now will he sit in the high seat at Meduseld, in years of peace and plenty, as should have been his right and his reward.

“Our people must now choose a new leader to guide us through the times to come. I, Éowyn, Éomund’s daughter, am the last of the House of Eorl. I have ridden and fought beside you in this Great Muster, and before that, I led your women and children, your fathers and mothers, those too old or too young to fight, to safety in our refuges in mountains to await your return.”

She took another deep breath. “I cannot be your King  — but will you have me as your Queen? To follow in the footsteps of my uncle and my brother, and to cherish our people and our land as they did?”

None moved or spoke for a dozen heartbeats, and then a man stepped out from the front of the crowd and drew his sword. Kneeling, he offered it up to her. “I would have you as my Queen, a shield for all our people, my Lady of the Shield-Arm, and gladly.”

And then other men were drawing their swords and kneeling all around him and crying out, “And I! And I!” Somewhere, someone began a chant of “Shield-Arm! Shield-Arm!” and soon it was joyously taken up by the whole host.

~~O~~

Éowyn stood with her hand resting on Windfola’s neck as the barge moved slowly across the Great River. Both of them stood unmoving as statues, but she could feel Windfola’s unease at the barge rocked slightly. She did her best not to transmit her own unease at the sight of the reception party on the further shore drawing closer. The late afternoon sun glinted off mail and spear-point, and drew bright sparks from the tree and stars and high crown of the King’s standard in the midst of the crowd.

A week had passed since the news of her brother’s death had reached her. Many had already made the journey here to Cormallen, Merry among them, but she had delayed until her brother’s body could be brought to the city and laid beside their uncle’s in the Silent Street. They had dressed him to hide his wounds, and laid him with his sword clasped in his hands, and placed the helm with the white horsetail at his feet, and he had looked so very much as if he was just sleeping, and would rouse at a word or a touch, that she had to hold herself back from reaching out to shake him awake.

The barge gently bumping gently against the hastily constructed pier drew her from her memories and forced her attention back to the present moment. Ropes were thrown out to secure the bow and stern, and the wide gangplank was run out. She led Windfola off the ship herself, trusting the task to no-one else, not even Éothain, who had hurried onto the ship to greet her. And even when they reached firm ground, she took a moment more to check that all was well with the horse before she allowed her to be led away, and a moment more after that to be certain all her escort had disembarked safely. Only then did she turn towards the men waiting for her.

She saw several of the lords standing to either side of the King look askance at each other as she approached. She guessed few had expected to see a Queen dressed in the guise of a Rider. But the King himself looked at her steadily enough as she stopped and made her bow. “My lord.”

“My lady.” He returned the bow. “You are welcome. It is good to see you again, and returned to health, or nearly so.” He nodded towards her arm, which she still bore in a sling. “I will not say to happiness, for your griefs are deeper than mine, though I mourn your uncle and brother both.”

“I thank you, my lord.” She bowed again. “It is a comfort to me that I may at least carry them home to their own lands.” Her gaze went past Aragorn briefly and found the tall, dark-haired lord with a swan-ship on his breast who stood just behind Aragorn on his right.

Her attention came back to Aragorn as he held out his hand to her, “My lady, you must be weary after your journey here. We have prepared meat and drink, and invite you to eat with us if you will.”

She ignored the proffered hand but again made a slight bow. “My lord, you are generous, but the sun will soon be setting and I would see that all is well with my people here before dark falls. I will join you in an hour, if that pleases you.”

Aragorn’s eyes narrowed a little and he regarded her with a stern expression. For a few heartbeats she thought she had made a mis-step. Then he smiled. “Of course, my lady. I should have remembered that you are newly arrived here and would wish to take thought for your people before all else. But I look forwards to having much speech with you as soon as may be.”

Éowyn bowed once more and then turned and strode away to where her escort waited for her, with Éothain holding Windfola ready. Aware that every eye in the welcoming party would be on her, she took extra care to be sure her foot was secure in the stirrup before she swung herself up into the saddle using her one good arm. Taking the reins from Éothain, she nodded for him to lead the way.

All was well when she reached the camp. Éothain had selected a fair spot, close enough to the river to make it easy to water the horses but far enough away for the ground to be dry. A wide expanse of grass, reaching to the tree line, had allowed the horse pickets to be moved every day. 

Éothain had sent a rider ahead of them so that the men currently in camp could line the track leading to the Queen’s Tent. They clashed their spears against their shields as she rode through them, calling out “Shield-Arm! Shield-Arm!” It seemed the name had spread before her.

When she had inspected all, and found all good, Éothain gave her an account of the men and the tasks they had been assigned to at the request of the King in the days since his last report. Mostly hunting out the last remnants of the orcs who had holed up here and there between the river and the road. A few — hardy volunteers — had joined with a company led by the Sons of Elrond, which had entered into Mordor itself to destroy what remained of the fortresses in the north of the land.

The sun was almost set, casting a golden light over the rippling waters of the river, when she set out again for the King’s Tent, with Éothain at her side and a young rider — the same Léofwine who had brought her the first news of her brother — behind them as her squire. One of the King’s guardsmen disappeared inside the tent as they dismounted to report their arrival. To Éowyn’s surprise, it was not the guardsman who drew back the flap and emerged from the tent, but the tall lord in the blue and silver of Dol Amroth.

He bowed to her. “My lady, I am Imrahil of Dol Amroth. The King has business for a few minutes more with some of the captains, but he bids me welcome you in to take some refreshment while you wait.”

It was undoubtedly true the King was consulting with his captains, but Éowyn could not help think it was probably no more than she deserved after snubbing him earlier. She was so distracted by this idea that it was only when she was already rising again that she realised she had reflexively returned Imrahil’s bow with a curtsey — forgetting entirely that she was still dressed as a rider and must look quite foolish. But there was no sign of amusement on Imrahil’s face as she straightened and answered as calmly as she could, “It is good to meet you, my Lord. I trust that we may speak together about my brother when there is time. But for now, I shall gladly enter in and await the King.”

Imhrahil held out his hand and led her inside. They passed through a small ante-chamber, where several pages and serving-men were busy, and on into the main part of the tent. Most of the space was taken up with a large table, over which a huge map had been spread that showed all the land on either side of the river, from Rauros down to the delta. More detailed maps were dotted about the edges of the main map, weighted open with brass discs. Most of these smaller charts were clustered on the far side of the table, where Aragorn was speaking to three men dressed in the motley of the Rangers of Ithilien.

“Did you know that we are cousins of a kind?” Imhrahil was saying to her. “Your grandmother was a kinswoman of mine, if a distant one. I met her only once, for she removed to your land before I was born, but I think you have a look of her.”

Éowyn returned his smile, recognising that he was trying to put her at her ease. She was sharply reminded of Faramir — they were uncle and nephew, were they not? — and she had to swallow down the pain of that memory before she could answer. “So some have told me, my lord. It gladdens me to meet a new kinsman at such a time. I trust that, though it may be the first time we meet, it will not be the last.”

Imrahil left her by the map table and went to fetch wine for them. She took a step closer to the table and rested her fingertips on the north-west corner of the map, where some scribe had carefully printed the word Rohan and, in smaller letters — she bent closer to confirm — Glanhír along the course of the Mering Stream.

“It is a fine map, is it not?” Imrahil had returned with two goblets of wine and offered one to her. “Do you have such maps in Rohan?”

Éowyn accepted the goblet and took a sip of wine. “We do not.” She was a little stung by the thought that the Men of Gondor likely considered her people unlettered and ignorant, and found herself blurting out, “But we have no need. I can name you every vale and peak and hamlet from the Mering Stream to the Gap of Isen, and tell you of the landmarks that will let you find the fastest way to each. The far north of my land I do not know so well, for I have ridden there only three times. That is a lack I hope to mend in the coming year.”

Imrahil laughed, but it was a kindly laugh. “I wish my sons were half so studious!”

She was saved from having to make a reply by another voice close at hand. “Éowyn! I’m so sorry!” She turned and saw Merry hurrying towards her from the entrance to the tent. “I meant to meet you when you arrived, but I was with Pippin and quite forgot the time.”

Éowyn knelt down and embraced him. “There’s nothing to forgive, Merry. I’m sure I would have done the same.” She drew back and peered at him earnestly, “But Pippin is well?”

“Oh yes, he’s fine. Just complaining much too much about not being allowed out of bed yet, and sending me to fetch more food.”

“Really?” Éowyn arched an eyebrow. “I can’t possibly imagine.”

Another, deeper voice broke into the conversation. “I see you are now well acquainted with Hobbits, my lady!”

“Strider!” Merry let go of Éowyn and turned and then, after a moment, checked himself and bowed. “I mean, my lord.” 

Looking up, Éowyn saw Aragorn looming over them. She hastily rose to her feet and bowed as well. “My lord.”

“Come.” Aragorn gestured towards the back of the tent, where there was a further screened area. “We have much to speak of. My Lord Imrahil, I would have your counsel also. But not you, Merry.” He rested his hand briefly on Merry’s head. “Your further reunion with the Queen will have to wait a while longer.”

Éowyn followed Aragorn to the back of the tent as the rest of the crowd, at a sign from Imrahil, made their way outside. Aragorn held back the door-curtain for her to pass through and then waited for Imrahil to join them before he dropped it behind them. Low camp stools were ranged around a brazier throwing out applewood-scented warmth.

Aragorn waved Éowyn into one of the seats. Crossing over to a side-table, he poured himself a goblet of wine, before gesturing to ask whether he should refill their goblets. Was he not used to being waited upon, Éowyn wondered, or did he prefer it so?

She shook her head to refuse the proffered wine. She had barely touched her drink — and she wanted to keep a clear mind as she faced the two most powerful men in Gondor. 

When Imhrahil also refused, Aragorn put the wine down and joined them. He sat looking at her for a while in silence, while he turned his goblet between his fingers. She returned his scrutiny with a frank gaze of her own, waiting for him to speak. At last, he said, “My lady, I think your mood now is not the same as when I left you in Dunharrow.”

She inclined her head but did not lower her eyes. The shame of how she had behaved would likely catch at her from time to time for many years to come, but she would not reveal that to him. “Much has changed since then,” she offered.

“Indeed.” He sipped at his wine, still regarding her over the rim. “And have your desires and wishes changed also?”

Éowyn had to admire the skill with which he spoke. If Imrahil did not know what had passed between them in Dunharrow, he could scarcely guess at it from Aragorn’s words. She did not hurry herself to find a suitable reply, reckoning he would respect her more if she took equal care with her answer. “Some of my desires I have achieved — though at perhaps too great a cost. Others I no longer wish for.” She watched him closely as she added, “They were but a shadow and a thought.” He smiled at that, suddenly looking less stern. “But I have new needs and desires now.”

That seemed to set him back a little. Then, abruptly he leaned forwards with an intent expression on his face. “My lady, I cannot say I was wrong to forbid you from joining my company.” When she tensed, he raised his hand and added, “But I was wrong to say that you had no errand to the South.”

Éowyn relaxed a little and dipped her head again in acknowledgment.

Aragon sat back. “And these new needs and desires?”

“To lead my people well. To do what I can to help them live long and happy lives of peace and plenty. To give them a future that is sure and free of fear.” She hesitated and then added, “In the land they have long made their own.”

Aragorn raised his eyebrows at that and she plunged on. “My lord, my people live in lands that were Gondor’s once, until Cirion the Steward ceded them to my forefathers — until, as with all things then, the King should come again.” She tilted her goblet in his direction. “Now there is a King again. My lord, I can do little for my people until you answer me this: do you rescind the gift of Cirion, or do you renew it?”

Aragorn stared at her in astonishment. “My lady, could you ever doubt my answer? I would confirm the gift now and take the Oath again this instant, if there were not a more fitting time and place for such a thing. But yes,” he softened his tone, “your land is still your land, and your people may live there freely, choosing their own lord — or lady. Let the Prince,” he gestured towards Imrahil, “stand witness.” He shook his head and murmured, “I had not yet even thought of this.”

Éowyn, some of the tension going out of her, smiled at last. “My lord, it is a matter that touches me nearer than you and my place to think of it. But I thank you that we may rebuild and renew with surety.” She lifted her cup in salute and drank.

Aragorn returned the salute and then turned to Imrahil. “My Lord Imrahil, you have been silent all this time. As my chief counsellor, do you have aught to say on these matters or question that I will give away yet more of my Kingdom when I have only just taken possession?”

“No, my lord.” Imrahil turned towards Éowyn. “Save this. I grieved for your brother, my lady, and for what Rohan would have become under so great a King. I grieve for the man still, but have no fear now that Rohan will not be equally glorious under her Queen.”

Éowyn bowed her head in thanks. It was a pretty compliment, whether he truly meant it or not.  “I trust that it will be so, my lord. I too grieve for my brother, and what has been lost and for what might have been. For my cousin also, whom I think you never knew.” She turned back to Aragorn. “But if I may be so bold as to question you, my lord, to whom else do you gift a part of your kingdom to?”

Aragorn smiled. “Lord Faramir. I would give him Ithilien to be his Princedom.”

Éowyn smiled back. “I think that will please him greatly, my lord. He spoke a little to me at times of his love for the land and his hopes that it will be restored.”

“I had heard—hoped—.” Aragorn murmured absently and then stopped and peered down at his wine as if he suddenly found it fascinating.

Éowyn sighed inside, but knew it was her place to rescue him from the awkwardness he had created. This, too, must be spoken of, sooner rather than later. “Some futures are lost, my lord, and never meant to be,” she said softly. “But I think it would be wise, would it not, to strengthen the alliance between our peoples through marriage in some other way? One or other of your lords must have a younger son. And you have kin in the north, also, I think. And I must take thought for who will lead my people when I am gone.”

“That would be wise,” Aragorn agreed, looking up at her and smiling again.

“One other favour I would ask, if you will grant it.” When he gestured for her to speak, she said, “I wish to honour Master Meriadoc, for he is valiant and has served the House of Eorl faithfully and well. I would make him a Knight of the Riddermark, and do so before all who can be gathered here to witness it, if it please you.”

Aragorn laughed. “It would please me very much. I had thought to do likewise and knight young Pippin for proving he is no fool of a Took. He is still confined to bed, but is so recovered I doubt I can hold him there much longer, even if I forbid it by royal edict! So when he is well enough to rise, we shall honour them together. My Lord Imrahil, will you arrange matters with the Queen?”

To that, Imhrahil assented. Outside the tent, a trumpet sounded the sunset hour. Aragorn set down his goblet. “And it is time I visited my charges. Or risk Gandalf turning me into a spotted toad!”

Éowyn and Imrahil rose and made their bows and left him. When they were in the main part of the tent again, Éowyn said, “Lord Imrahil, if you are not otherwise occupied, will you dine with me this evening and speak to me of my brother. Also of this matter of honouring the Hobbits, and of many other matters.”

“Gladly.” He offered her his hand and led her from the tent.

~~~

Éowyn learned much over dinner, not only of her brother’s brave end but also of the disposition of the troops in Ithilien and the work still to do to rid the land of the last of the servants of Sauron.

She was thinking over what Imrahil had told her as, early the next morning, she followed Éothain into the King’s Tent for the Council of the Captains. The summons had been addressed for Éothain alone, but he had hurried at once to where Éowyn was inspecting the last of the arrangements she had not viewed the night before. She had been awake for some time already, since just before dawn, tending to Windfola and then walking the picket lines for an hour after to speak to as many of the Riders as she could. 

Sending a Rider to fetch her something from the cook-tent to break her fast on the way, she hastily saddled Windfola, and they were soon on their way. 

That the nature of the summons had not been an oversight was evident in the startled faces turned towards her as she entered the tent. After a moment’s hesitation, several of the lords gathered there gave her a stiff bow. 

She returned the greeting and then stepped to one side to survey the room more fully. By the table, two separate knots of men stood talking together; she recognised the faces of many of the lords who had accompanied Aragorn to the river-bank the day before. She also saw a scattering of men with the unmistakable bearing of regular soldiers, some in the livery of Gondor or Dol Amroth and one in the green and brown of the Rangers, who stood a little apart from the others. Of Imrahil and Aragorn, there was no sign.

Leaning towards Éothain, who had positioned himself at her shoulder, she murmured, “Do you know the name of the Ranger yonder?”

“Captain Mablung, ma’am.”

“Very good.” With a gesture, she indicated Éothain should follow her and then, steeling herself, she swept across the room towards Mablung.

He bowed as she approached and she returned the bow. “Captain Mablung? It is good to meet you. Lord Faramir has spoken highly of you in our speech together.” She had pitched her voice to be heard and was aware that half the men in the tent had turned to watch her, but she kept her gaze on Mablung.

Mablung bowed a second time. “The Captain honours me, my lady.”

Stepping a little closer, she continued in a more conversational tone that could not be heard by any except Mablung, and Éothain at her shoulder. “He tells me your knowledge of this land is quite exceptional and that you have served here many years and seen much action.”

“I have, my lady.” Mablung’s face broke into a smile. “Thirty years and I must have walked it end to end a score of times, though we rarely travelled far south in the last years. There was enough to do here in the north.”

Éowyn was about to draw him into further conversation when the curtain across the entrance to the tent was flung back and Imrahil strode in. “My lords.” He swept his gaze over the crowd and added, “My lady. The King is delayed a while, but asks us to begin.” 

He moved towards the great table, positioning himself on the southern side of the great map. The other lords gathered around the table. Éowyn, this time indicating Éothain should stay where he was, joined them, once more taking up station besides the sliver of Rohan drawn in the north-west corner of the map.

“Lord Forbeleg?” Imrahil prompted.

One of the younger lords standing on the far side of the table — Éowyn recalled from her conversation with Imrahil the night before that he had inherited his place after his father was slain on the Pelennor — reached out and pointed to the line of the great road running south to north through Ithilien.

“We have finished sweeping all the land as far as the road down from where it turns towards the Morannon to ten leagues south of here, and are as certain as may be that no foe remains. But some may have crossed the road and taken refuge in the foothills of the Mountains of Shadow. There are many thickets and ghylls and crags there where men or orcs could lie hid as they attempt a road south — or wait to ambush unwary travellers on the road.”

“Do you advise we should sweep the foothills next?” Imrahil asked.

One of the older lords moved to stand beside Forbeleg. “Surely we should continue down to the Cross-Roads and beyond, and be sure of all the land between the river and the road?”

Forbeleg shook his head. “And risk that foes who remain this far north creep back across the road, close enough to strike us at our camp here, my Lord Duinhir?”

“But you have said yourself that the land beyond the road holds many hiding places.” Duinhir pulled one of the smaller maps towards them. “If these ghylls are anything like the smaller valleys in my own land, the risk to our men would be very great — unless we send in whole companies. Are you talking of a second camp beside the road to supply them? But how would we provision so large a force at such a distance?”

Forbeleg huffed impatiently. “Do we not have horses now, that can carry all the stores we need thus far? The Rohirrim.” He waved a hand in the general direction of where the Riders were picketed. “Some can lead the pack-trains and, since not all of them will be needed for that, the rest can guard the camp, while we send full companies of our men to search each valley.”

Duinhir nodded. “That could work, I think. And we could also press on more slowly to the south, perhaps. Where do you suggest, then, that we place the camp?”

“Perhaps here at first.” Forbeleg indicated a spot on the map towards the north, before pointing to a spot further south. “And then, later, here.“

Éowyn had begun moving as soon as Forbeleg had named her people. A glance across the table showed her Imrahil’s attention was on her, but he did not speak or make any sign to stop her.

Reaching Duinhir’s side, she leant past him and laid her hand flat over the map. “My lords,” she said, not troubling to keep her disdain from her voice, “I knew that Gondor lacked horsemen. I did not think its lords to be entirely lacking in the knowledge of how to use them best.” She fixed Forbeleg with a steely glare. “And if you wish to make use of my people and send them into danger, it would surely be courteous to first gain my permission.”

Forbeleg had taken half a pace back with a bewildered look. Before he could find an answer, another voice —  Imrahil — quietly interjected, “And what do you propose, my lady?” There was no hint of mockery in his voice, only curiosity, and when she looked over at him, she saw only curiosity in his expression.

She lifted her hand from the map and straightened. Duinhir, who had seemed frozen until then, also took a pace back. She ignored him and kept her attention on Imrahil.

“A strong force of riders on the road, ready to bring aid quickly to small search parties if they sound the call for it. I know that my brother chose Riders to bring across the river with him whose mounts would be well-suited to rough ground. The search parties themselves to consist of men who are familiar with such lands as these — and familiar with this land, if possible.” She turned her gaze from Imrahil and sought out Mablung on the far side of the tent. “I believe Captain Mablung would be best placed to advise on such matters.”

Mablung stepped forwards and bowed. “I stand ready, my lady.”

From somewhere to Éowyn’s right came an audible mutter of, “I did not expect—.“ that abruptly hushed. 

“That I would have spent many hours listening to my brother and cousin discussing how to secure our border where the East Wall of the Emyn Muil meets the plain?” Éowyn suggested. She looked back at Imrahil. “Does my proposal have merit, my lord?”

“It does indeed.” It was not Imrahil who answered. Aragorn, striding in through the main entrance — how long had he been listening, Éowyn wondered — added, with a smile in her direction, “So was it done when I rode with your grandfather Thengel.”

He paused, surveying the tent, and then turned his attention back to Éowyn, Duinhir and Forbeleg. “I would not have my lords and my allies at odds.” 

There was silence for a handful of heartbeats, and then Éowyn stepped to the side a little and turned and bowed to Duinhir and Forbeleg. Aragorn had spoken quietly, but she had not missed the steel in his voice. “My lords, forgive me. I spoke in haste, thinking only of my own people, taking no account of the valour of yours over the long years that brought us to this victory.”

Duinhir returned the bow stiffly. “My lady, I too was unmindful in my speech and beg your forgiveness for it.”

Éowyn inclined her head in acknowledgment, before turning her attention to Forbeleg. He went on staring at her wordlessly, the silence growing thick in the tent, until he gave a start. Éowyn could not help but think that Duinhir had trodden on his foot.

Then Forbeleg, too, made a stiff bow. “The fault was first mine, my lady. I should not have spoken so. Forgive me, if you will.”

Éowyn smiled at him. “It is quite forgot, my lord.”

Aragorn moved forwards to stand on the far side of the table, drawing every eye. “I believe the Queen suggested we should seek Captain Mablung’s advice.” He waved Mablung forwards to the table to continue the discussion.

When all was decided — the camps and rally points chosen; the men and horses assigned — Aragorn dismissed the Council, but signalled for Éowyn and Imrahil to remain.

“I do not need to ask where you learned your diplomacy, my lady,” he said, when the tent had emptied. “The latter years of your uncle’s court must have been a sore trial.”

“I think I did not learn it well enough my lord.” She smiled ruefully. “Or I would not have spoken as I did at first.”

Aragorn laughed. “Nay it was well done. Forbeleg provoked it and deserved the rebuke. And it did not come to blows, as perhaps it might have done if he had spoken so before your brother.”

Éowyn sighed. “If my brother had been here, I do not think Lord Forbeleg would have forgotten who leads the Rohirrim.”

“Perhaps. But I think none of them will forget it now. But come, there is much still for us to do before we may take our rest this evening.”

~~O~~

A month and more had passed since then, filled with busy days of both labour and rejoicing. As Éowyn and Aragorn had agreed, Merry and Pippin were knighted before a great assembly. The following day, the Ringbearers were honoured, with even more ceremony. Éowyn sat often at Aragorn’s left hand upon the high-seat of green turves, was invited to all his councils, and dined with each of the Lords of Gondor in turn. She even — with some effort — made peace with Lord Forbeleg. 

As the month of May approached, they set out for the City. Before its gates, and before all the peoples of Gondor who could be gathered there, and all the Riders of the Riddermark, and all the companions of the King, Aragorn was crowned, and the banner of the Kings once more unfurled upon the topmost tower. From his high seat in the Hall of Kings in the days afterwards, Aragorn received many embassies, pronounced judgment on many and rewarded many. 

Éowyn rejoiced most of all to see the joy in Faramir as he accepted his princedom. At the end of the feast that night, she sought him out, and they took themselves into the garden of the House of Healing. There, they talked long into the night of his hopes and plans. If, from time to time, one looked at the other and sighed a little for what might have been, it healed both their hearts to know that each would find happiness in mending the hurts of the lands they loved.

Last of all, Aragorn greeted Éowyn before the throne, clasping hands with her and declaring that between them there could be no word of giving or taking, nor of reward, for they were as brother and sister. Before all gathered there, Aragorn renewed to Éowyn the gift of Cirion, and Éowyn took again the Oath of Eorl. It was also agreed that Éowyn would depart for her own land, to begin to set all in order, but when all was made ready, she would return to bear her uncle and brother to their last home.

Now Éowyn’s heart lifted as she saw from afar the sun glinting on the golden thatch of Meduseld. Too long had she been away and though many messages had gone back and forth, the news had been slow to travel. It would be good to see with her own eyes all that had been done in her absence. 

The company that rode behind her, great though it still was, had diminished somewhat over the past two days. Many of those who lived in the Eastfold or in the vales to the south of Edoras had already turned off, to make their way as quickly as they might to their own homes and see how all fared there. Yet it was still a large host that reached the gates of Edoras to camp before the walls for a night.

Having seen that all was ready to receive the Riders, Éowyn left Elfhelm to manage the pitching of tents and picketing of horses and, with those who dwelt in Edoras itself, rode on to the gates.

Fréalaf and Erkenbrand awaited her there. Both went down on one knee as she dismounted and approached. 

“My lady,” Erkenbrand said, rising. “We welcome you home, and all who come with you. We mourn those that will not return, but rejoice that the last — but not the least! — of the House of Eorl has come back to us.”

“I rejoice at my return also, my lords.” She reached out and clasped hands with first Erkenbrand and then Fréalaf. “Is all well here?”

“All is well,” Fréalaf answered, as she had expected. Messages had passed ever more quickly between them as she neared home and the latest news had reached her camp only the night before.

She turned to the riders behind her and, lifting her hands, cried, “Go! Go to you kin! I would not make you wait a heartbeat longer than needed with needless ceremony!”

There was a moment of uncertainty, and then the Riders were dismounting and streaming past her on either side, calling out their thanks. 

When all were inside, she turned back to Fréalaf and Erkenbrand. “And I, too, am weary and would rather have meat and rest and hear from my counsellors than listen to fine speeches. Let us also go in now.” Indeed, no speech or cheering crowd could have gladdened her heart more than to walk unheeded past husbands holding close wives, or mothers embracing sons, or children laughing as they were hoisted on the shoulders of their fathers.

In the next days, Éowyn spent much time setting in hand all that still needed to be done now that there was to be peace. She rode out to the vales and villages and farmsteads, to grieve with those who had also lost kin, and to learn what needs they had that she could supply: labour or seed or timber to rebuild. 

At first, she visited only places close to Edoras, for she expected a great company to arrive soon. The Sons of Elrond had ridden north with her, but had rested only a short while at Edoras. They had soon gone on alone, to meet with Aragorn’s bride. According to the little Elladan and Elrohir would say of her, she was a lady of high birth from the North that Aragorn had bound himself to many years before — long ere he met Éowyn of Rohan. The lady and her escort had set off as soon as the news of victory reached her home, and Elladan and Elrohir intended to meet her and bring her on south by the same road, passing Edoras again. 

“You do not need to give them aught but a place to pitch their tents and water their horses for a day or two,” Aragorn had explained to Éowyn when he had informed her of this plan, but she had replied, “I would be a poor lord, would I not, if I did not host such guests for a feast as they passed my door?” and so it was agreed.

It was three weeks before a scout returned with a report of a large company a day or so’s ride away, coming down across the Eastemnet from the north-east. Not many hours later, Elladan and Elrohir themselves rode in, to give her an accounting of the wedding party, so she might prepare the feast.

“They number sixty,” Elladan explained. “Chief among them are our grandparents, the Lady Galadriel of the Golden Wood and the Lord Celeborn—.”

Helm’s Beard! When Aragorn had spoken of a company of fine folk, Éowyn had scarcely expected this!

“—together with, of course, our father, Master Elrond, who brings our sister, the Lady Arwen, to marry our foster-brother, Estel.”

Éowyn almost laughed. Her foolish hopes for Aragorn had indeed been but a shadow and a thought, if such was the rival who had held his heart in keeping in the north.

“The rest are chosen from among the chief of their counsellors and households,” Elladan concluded.
 
Éowyn composed herself enough to thank the two of them for the news. When they had departed, she called her steward and gave direction as to the food that should be prepared and the seats to be set at the high table. Then she went in search of the minstrel Gléowine. She always thought of him as her uncle’s minstrel, but she supposed he was her minstrel now.

She found him sitting on a bench before the doors of Meduseld, his harp in his hands, running through fingering she recognised as part of the song-saga of Eorl the Young that he was to play at the feast. He made to rise, but she bid him stay where he was, and seated herself beside him.

When she told him who he would play for, he paled. “For Master Elrond, who was foster-son to Maglor, the Mighty Singer? Lady, I am not equal to this task!”

Éowyn smiled at him, though she could hardly fault him when her own heart quailed at the thought of what was to come. “Are you not the greatest of our minstrels? My uncle often praised you so,” she pointed out gently. “Master Elrond, I think, may have heard your song before, for the Lord Aragorn must surely know it. But I do not think — though the Lord Aragorn has many talents — Master Elrond can ever have heard it sung as you will sing it.” She reached out and touched Gléowine’s shoulder. “You are quite equal to the task in my eyes, Master Gléowine — and you are my minstrel. So if Master Elrond, or any other, were to find fault, the shame would be mine, not yours. But I do not fear that you will shame me.”

She had to remind herself often over the next day that she, too, was equal to the task — never more so than as she stood by the great hearth in Meduseld and greeted her guests. 

The Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn were the first to be brought forwards. Éowyn bowed deeply to them. “Good health to you, my lady. Good health to you, my lord. Come you in now and be welcome!”

The Lord and the Lady returned the bow. Galadriel it was who answered, her voice low and musical. “We thank you for your welcome, Éowyn Queen, and for the honour you do us. We wish you health, happiness and long life, and for your people also.” 

Éowyn bowed again. “Lord Elfhem, my First Marshal, will lead you to your places.”

Master Elrond and the Lady Arwen were the next to be brought before her. Arwen was, indeed, as beautiful as legend had made her, but it was Master Elrond who captured Éowyn’s attention. For after she had greeted him in likewise fashion to the Lord and Lady of Lorien, he answered her not in the Common Tongue but in the speech of her own people.

Éowyn shook her head in wonder. “My lord, you do us much honour. There are few beyond our borders know our tongue and I had not thought to hear it spoken by our guests tonight.”

“Alas, a few words are all the speech I have,” he replied. “I learned what I could of the Lord Aragorn when he had the time to teach me, which was not often, but I am glad to be able to greet so great a people and so great a queen after their own fashion,”

“And I hope that I may learn all that my father has not,” Arwen said softly, “so that the friendship between our peoples — and between us two — may grow ever stronger.” She held out her hands to Éowyn and Éowyn took them, realizing as she did so that this poised lady, who had been born when this Age of the World was still young, was perhaps as nervous of the new life she was about to embark upon as Éowyn had been of hers.

Gléowine it was who led these two to their places. Éowyn had thought it might ease him to speak a little with Elrond before he sang. Also, there had been no time to call Erkenbrand from his duties in the Westfold to help her host such fine guests, and she had no other of high enough rank for such a duty. Never had she felt so keenly the lack of lords and captains — so many had fallen on the Pelennor or before the Black Gate — as she did this evening, though how to remedy it had often troubled her thoughts since she had returned home. Yet tonight was for merry-making. 

Elladan and Elrohir presented the remainder of the guests; far too many for her to recall them all from one brief meeting. One name she would not forget, however: that of a tall, golden-haired elf-lord, who bowed deeply to her when he was named. “My lady, it is an honour to speak at last with the one who fulfilled a prophecy I made a thousand years before she was born.”

Éowyn flushed. If meeting the Sorceress of the Golden Wood had seemed improbable, meeting the Elf-Lord who had fought beside the last king of Gondor and foretold her own fate — for Faramir, on a time, had relayed the tale to her — was beyond anything she could have imagined. “My lord, the honour is mine,” she managed to reply, though she knew not how she found the words, nor how for a while she greeted the guests that followed him. 

But when all had been welcomed, she took her own place at the high table and signalled for the food and drink to be served. 

In after years, that evening always seemed to her like a dream. With the Lady Galadriel, seated at her right hand, and Master Elrond, on her left, she spoke of the hurts that had been suffered in many lands and the work to make all well again. Beyond the Lady Galadriel, Lord Celeborn and Elfhelm seemed to be deep in a discussion of horsemanship and the training of cavalry. On Elrond’s other side, Arwen had engaged Gléowine in telling her of the histories shown in the tapestries that hung around the walls and the songs that might be sung of them. Éowyn was glad to see that Gléowine’s mood had eased as he talked of his craft.

She took note, too, of the assembly gathered at the tables below, where men and elves sat side by side. The mood was stiff and sombre at first, for the Eorlingas had always distrusted and feared the folk of Dwimordene, and many of the elven-folk seemed equally reserved. Yet slowly, as the wine and ale flowed, each unbent. In time the hall was filled with much talk and laughter.

At last, when the feast was ended and the trestles had been cleared away, Gléowine stood forth with his harp and said, “Now I will sing to you of Eorl the Young, as he rode down out of the North to this, our land, that we call home.”

Éowyn thought she had never heard the old song-saga sung better. Maybe it was some magic wrought by their guests, but she almost felt as if she could hear the thunder of hooves and the clash of swords and Eorl’s horn sounding, as Gléowine struck the strings.

The song finished and there was a long silence. Then Master Elrond rose and, bowing to Gléowine, called out, “Ah, Master Gléowine! If I did not fear the wrath of your Queen, I would steal you away on my return north to play for us in my hall in Rivendell.” The Lady Galadriel also rose and bowed, and then all were on their feet, clapping and stomping and calling out their approval.

The hall harp came out after that, passing from hand to hand as the men tested each other with riddles and kennings. Soon, their elven guests were trying their hand at it also. Master Elrond had brought his own harp, small and silver, and he and Gléowine sat together for a while, talking of music and each playing a little now and then.

But feasting and merriment must pass, as all things, good or ill, must pass. Their guests departed and Éowyn was free now to ride to the Westfold and see there the damage that had been wrought: the burned homesteads and crops, and the great gaping hole in the wall of the Hornburg, and the hasty mound for Théodred at the Fords. See, too, that Erkenbrand had all well in hand, though there was much still to do and much need of material as well as men. The trade talks she had tentatively begun with the Steward of Gondor before she left Mundburg would have plenty to discuss! It was in that month that she wrote the first of the many letters to Faramir that would pass between them over the course of her reign.

It was in those days of riding between the far flung settlements of the Westfold that she began, also, to truly mourn for those she had lost. At times, lulled by Windfola’s steady pace, she would be caught unawares by memories. Théodred patiently teaching her during her ninth summer how to command a horse with only her knees and legs. Théoden on the Pelennor, driving against the Southrons and throwing down their chief and standard, his shield shining golden like the sun. Éomer at her side as they worked together to help a mare birth a foal, his face filled with love and pride as he watched the newborn rise and take its first uncertain steps.

She knew that she would never be done with mourning, but that the grief would grow less sharp, the memories less bittersweet, once they had held the Funeral Ale. That came to pass when summer was at its height, and the spring-sown wheat and barley were tall and beginning to ripen.

She had ridden back down to Mundburg with an éored of Riders who had either served long with her uncle or brother or done great service in the War. They had brought out the bodies of Théoden and Éomer from the Silent Street on golden biers and laid them on great wains for the journey home. Merry had taken his place upon Théoden’s wain, as his esquire, to keep the arms of the king, and Éothain had served likewise for Éomer.

Never had any kings of the Mark such company upon the road. With them went Aragorn and Arwen, and Aragorn’s companions on the Quest of the Ring, and all the fair folk of Rivendell and the Golden Wood. The Princes of Dol Amroth and Ithilien and many other captains and knights of Gondor also rode with them. 

Slowly they made their way north until they reached Edoras. Then most rested, but Éowyn went on to the Fords with a small company — Aragorn, Imrahil and Faramir were among them — to bear back her cousin Théodred. And on a day of high summer, the Eorlingas laid to rest their three lords: Théoden with Théodred beside him, so that there were eight mounds on the east-side of the Barrowfield, and Éomer in a mound set apart, the first of the the third line, raised untimely.

Then the riders of the three households rode around the barrows, singing together a song that Gléowine made for them: Bravest and Brightest and Best-Beloved, all three. The hearts of those who listened were stirred as they heard in Gléowine’s lament of how together these three drove back the Darkness, to keep oath and honour, and earn ever-lasting glory.

When the burial was over, all gathered in the Golden Hall and in the courts outside — for so great a company could not be contained within Meduseld’s walls — for the great feast. And when the time came  in the custom of the Mark to drink to the memory of the kings, Erkenbrand brought a filled cup to Éowyn, and Gléowine stood forth and named all the Lords of the Mark in order, down to Éomer the latest. And when Éomer was named, Éowyn drained the cup. 

Then all there rose and drank to the new queen, crying “Hail, Éowyn, Queen of the Mark!”

~~~

Their guests departed. The harvest was gathered in. And a day came when autumn was just beginning to turn to winter and Éowyn called all the marshals and captains and under-captains of the Muster before her.

She stood before them — somehow, it was always easiest to face these things on her feet — and regarded the assembled company.

“My lords and captains,” she began. “Now that the Great Enemy of our times has been defeated, I have given much thought to how our land should be governed and defended. Some of you I have already talked long with regarding these matters.” Elfhelm and Éothain, mostly, but she had also consulted Erkenbrand several times, piecing together what had happened in the final days of Théodred’s life at the Fords and how confused the chain of command had become, as well as what need they had now for standing companies of Riders.

Taking another deep breath, she began to lay out the plan the four of them had devised. There were to be two Marshals, not three, one for the East-mark and one for the West-mark. They were to be of equal standing and each would have four éored always at his command. Another four éored would be quartered at Edoras, which the two Marshals could call upon at need, but which would otherwise be chiefly occupied with training new Riders.

She then called Elfhelm, Erkenbrand and Éothain forwards and they knelt before her. 

Addressing Elfhelm, she said, “I, Éowyn Queen, do now appoint Lord Elfhelm as Marshal of the East-Mark. With the title of the East-Mark, I give the use of the house and land at Aldburg in the Folde that was formerly held by my father and brother, to be his base and to provide all that is needed to provision the four companies of the East-Mark. Let all here bear witness to this!” She touched Elfhelm lightly on the shoulder to confirm the gift, and held out the hand on which she wore her royal signet ring — fashioned somewhat after the pattern of the buckle she had used to sign her first royal letter — for him to kiss.

Elfhelm bent his head and kissed the ring. “This do I take, to have and to hold, faithfully to serve my Queen and all her heirs, until death take me or she release me.”

Éowyn moved on to Erkenbrand. “I, Éowyn Queen, do now appoint Lord Erkenbrand as Marshal West-Mark. With the title of the West-Mark, I give the use of the Hornburg and farmlands in the Deeping-coomb that were part of the King’s Lands held by my uncle, to be his base and to provide all that is needed to provision the four companies of the West-Mark.”

When Erkenbrand had sworn his oath and kissed the ring, she stood before Éothain. “The command of Edoras I reserve to myself, Éowyn Queen, but I do now hereby appoint Éothain to the rank of Under-Marshal, to handle all such matters as require daily attention. In recognition of his service to my family, I also grant to Éothain, and to his heirs, the house and lands at Grimslade, which now have no heir, and appoint him Lord of Grimslade.”

Éothain looked up at her in surprise, for the lordship had not been revealed to him before, though both Elfhelm and Erkenbrand had heartily approved of it. She smiled at him and touched his shoulder and held out her hand.

He bowed his head over her hand and kissed the ring. “Gladly, my lady, this do I take! To have and to hold, faithfully to serve my Queen and all her heirs, until death take me or she release me.”

Éowyn stepped back and the three lords rose and took their places again among the captains.

Éowyn took a few deep breaths and spoke again, fully aware that none of her new marshals knew all that she had planned next to say. “I have given much thought also,” she began, "to the request from the King Elessar for us to send as many Riders as can be spared next spring to support his campaign to secure his borders. There is no need for me to remind you that, though our ranks are sorely thinned, even the humblest homestead may be in too much need of a returning Rider’s guiding hand to spare him for another summer. I will therefore not require any to serve in the standing companies or on an alien field who does not wish it. Yet Riders there must be!

“I therefore bid you carry the call back to your homes, that any of right age who now wish to serve should come to Edoras before the full moon after next. Here, we will oversee the training of those who have not served before. Horses and gear we can provide, if they have none.”

Erkenbrand stepped forwards and bowed. “We hear you, Éowyn Queen. Word to be carried throughout the Riddermark that any man of right age who now wishes to serve should come to Edoras before the full moon after next.”

“No, my lord.” She softened the word with a smile, but added with a hint of steel. “I said any and I meant any. Or did you think I was the only woman among our people ever to ride to war? Or even the only woman to ride in the Great Muster behind Théoden King?”

There was a stirring among the captains. Éowyn raised her hand to still it. “Our men are many fewer in number than they were, and there will be many girls who will find no husband nor home of their own in the coming years. But some at least, I think, may find glory and honour as I have done, and serve their kin and land the better by doing so. My lords and captains, you know as well as I do that victory in battle takes skill as much as strength. I think many women can learn to ride and wield blade and spear as well as any man could.”

Erkenbrand still stood silent, until Elfhelm stepped forwards and put a hand on his shoulder. “It shall be as the Queen wills it. Any who wish to serve, man or woman, girl or boy, may come.” He bowed and, after a moment, Erkenbrand followed him, and all the captains afterwards did likewise.

Éowyn drew in a deep breath. “One final word I would speak. I said but a short while ago that I do not think I have been the only woman among our Riders. If there are any such who now serve, I bid them make it known, if it is their will. Thus may all know that I am in earnest in this call I make to the women of the Riddermark.”

She put her hands on the pommel of her sword. “Those who speak shall have honour and favour no less than if they had not spoken from their captains and their fellows. And if they do not wish to speak now — or ever! — still shall they have equal honour and favour.”

She half drew her sword and let her glance sweep slowly over the captains before her. “This I swear by the graves of my uncle and cousin and brother. And my vengeance shall swiftly find any who cross my will in this. For the world is changing and we must change with it.”

The captains again were silent. And then one pushed forwards and knelt before her.

“Éowyn Queen, as Herebrand, son of Herewald, I served your uncle for these past twelve years. But that is not the name my mother gave to me on the day she birthed a girl-child.”

Éowyn smiled to herself as she caught the looks of consternation on the faces of many of the other captains. She had been very nearly sure that there was at least one woman among their ranks, but that most of them had not known it. Now no-one could deny that a woman might fight and command as well as any man.

She turned her attention back to the woman who knelt before her, looking up at her with complete trust on her face. No, the world was not changing. It was already changed. And they would go on changing it, together.