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The Days Come Down in the West

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The wind that whipped down the valley and around Edoras had been a part of the landscape of Éowyn’s life forever. Its constant presence was as ingrained in the Rohirrim consciousness as the musky smell of horses and the golden sheen of hay.

As a child, she had loved the breeze whipping her hair around her face as she galloped across the plains and rolling hills of Rohan. She had chased Éomer and Théodred through the endless green ocean of grass as the wind whispered her name. The breeze had been as playful as she had been, blowing her skirts to tangle around her knees, challenging her with its endless movement to ride to the edge of the horizon.

The constant wind ingrained restlessness deep into the souls of the Rohirrim. It inspired the interlocking, waving pattern of their art and the rambling style of their story telling. The rolling plains, the steep mountains, the open sky and the eternal breeze were Rohan, as linked to the Rohirrim concept of life as good horseflesh and difficult farmland.

When the orcs began their attacks on the Rohirrim borders, the Riders fought to save their homes and their families, but also to keep their sense of unlimited horizons. They galloped out with the same recklessness and ferocity of their forebears, but as the years moved on and the tide of the battles turned against them, the people of Rohan began to feel their zest for life bleed out of them. As wind eroded rock, exposing new facets to the light, a dark, melancholy note began to be seen in the spirit of the Rohirrim. As an inner core of steel became evident, smiles became more rare, the future darker, the horizon more a threat than a promise.

After the death of her father and mother, Éowyn picked up a habit of pacing the balconies of Meduseld to scan the surrounding area. She watched as dozens of Riders galloped off into death, waved to Théodred and Éomer as her cousin took her brother on his first patrol of the shrinking borders, on their tenth together, on their fiftieth. As their enemies closed in around them, sometimes Éowyn felt that if she squinted hard enough from her perch, she would almost be able to watch the horizon creeping in on her.

The orcs seemed unstoppable now, the sky foreboding, full of spies for the enemy. The endless plains were sites for battles and ambushes instead of children’s playgrounds; the mountains that had helped Rohan foster its sense of independence now increased its isolation. Even the wind changed as it wailed through emptied halls and abandoned settlements, mourning the loss of generations.

The illness of the king brought another enemy into their midst. When the Rohirrim most needed the strength of their leaders, Théoden began to waste away, withdrawing from his kinsmen and relying on the counsel of Grima, his new advisor. The hall of Meduseld seemed steeped in stale air and despairing thoughts. As the king’s health faded, Éowyn had been pulled from the swordplay she loved to tend her ailing uncle’s needs and she had chafed in her new duty. She could rarely leave Edoras now: her ministrations toward her uncle, Wormtongue had assured her, were all that was preventing his illness from becoming even more severe. So the call of the wind, the temptation to take a horse out of the city and just ride for the joy of the movement, Éowyn firmly set aside to fulfill her new task.

She watched from the side as Théodred and Éomer tried to rally Théoden’s spirits, as they discussed how the tactics of the orc attacks had changed. She had nodded her head in agreement, noticed by no one, as her brother and cousin argued that a new intelligence was now working behind the scenes to destroy the Rohirrim. Grima rebuffed them on behalf of the king, spreading rumors of their hot-headnessness, their warmongering.

A court of warriors that in happier times had laughed and toasted each other with beer and exchanged exaggerated stories of their prowess in bed and battle began muttering about the fitness of the latest generation of Eorlingas to take the throne. Court intrigue blossomed and rumors spread on the wind of drunken nights, illicit liaisons, and poor judgment shown in battle. Wormtongue’s promises to Éowyn to slow the rumors only added a sense of legitimacy to the stories, and in a matter of weeks the reputations of Éomer and Théodred were in tatters.

Three days ago Théodred had gone with a patrol of Riders to investigate a rumor of orcs crossing the Westfold and had not returned. Against the orders of Grima, Éomer had ordered the stables to be emptied, the barracks cleared, and Éowyn had watched from her balcony, her hair whipping around her, as her brother galloped away on a rescue mission. As she saw him go, blond and fearless against the setting sun, she tried to remember the last time a patrol had returned unscathed from a battle against orcs. She swallowed around a lump in her throat as she tried to remember a time where a patrol had returned with more than half of its Riders.

Retiring to her chamber, listening as the sheer fury of the gale winds outside seemed to grow strong enough to rip apart the stone walls of Meduseld, Éowyn wondered if anyone would even notice if the entire nation of Rohan blew away or disappeared under the weight of endless orc attacks.

Crouched behind the curtains of her bed clasping her knees with her arms, Éowyn felt less like a swordmaiden of Rohan and more like a scared girl. In the absolute darkness with only the wailing outside for comfort it was easy to dwell on murky, unhappy thoughts. In the middle of the night, awake and alone, it seemed entirely possible that the sun would never shine again. Facing internal demons, surrounded by blackness, hope truly seemed lost.

Éowyn hated waking up in the middle of the night. The curtains that hung around her bed seemed to move closer, the walls of her bower closed in. It felt like she was the only one alive in the entire world, surrounded by endless night. In such an environment, pleasant thoughts were impossible, and the last few days had driven anything positive straight out of her head.

She remembered the poem that Théoden had taught her in happier times, the epic that had been written to commemorate the life of Eorl the Young, the founder of her line. She had wept with the beauty of it as a child, but the melancholy phrases seemed to echo all too closely life in the present rather than the glories of the past.

“Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?” she whispered, seeing in her mind her brother galloping off to find Théodred; remembering him as a child, hair blowing in the breeze, toy sword brandished with little boy glee; seeing her father’s smile as he swung her in front of him for her first horse ride as a toddler.

“Where is the hand on the harp string, and the red fire glowing? Where is the spring and the harvest and the corn growing?” she continued. Memories of storytelling in the hall, tall tales of valiant deeds, fair maidens, beautiful elves, and heroic men flooded over her. Éowyn thought of the summer trips to Helm’s Deep as the family traveled past fields full of summer hay and winter wheat to feed horse and man through the winter. Fields had lain fallow for years in some parts of Rohan now, families buried or fled from the invading hordes, and Éowyn felt tears, though she fought against them, brimming in her light eyes.

She choked out, “They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow.” Swallowing hard, she continued, “The days come down in the West, behind the hills into shadow.” Her imagination, aided by the screaming gale whipping around Edoras, showed her an entire nation burned, its people scattered or dead. It brought the sights of Meduseld, banners ripped away through the force of the wind in the valley, wood splintered, houses overturned. The wind, a friend through her childhood, now seemed to be whispering vile thoughts, bleak visions of a future of endless darkness.

Shivering, she finished, “Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning, or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”

Éowyn sighed. “Who will possibly be left?”