Stories were told by the fires of Rohan, tales of shieldmaidens and the fur they grew when the moon was high or the need was great. There had been many battles won by the teeth of the shieldmaidens, and there had been more than one victory celebrated with echoing wolf song in the walls of Helm's Deep.
But even though they had lived together in peace for centuries, the men who ruled Rohan said that wolves and horses were ill-suited to one another. Men rode horses, of course, and they put them on their banners, and they slaughtered the wild wolves that roamed the plains and stuck their furs to the city walls in warning.
And so the stories disappeared, and shieldmaidens withdrew from the wars of men. Their great power, they decided, was only for themselves and whomever they deemed worthy.
Hobbits did not often sing of deeds of their own. But songs were precious as gold in the Shire, and so tales of distant lands made their way into the taverns of the halflings.
Rosie Cotton knew all the favourites by heart. She couldn't sing them well on her own, but she hardly needed to; her voice was fine enough to raise in the company of all the patrons of the Green Dragon, or while she cleaned after they closed for the night.
But in the time after Frodo Baggins and his companions left the Shire, news of war came from those who ventured to the borders. Most hobbits grumbled about the lands outside not being their affair, but Rosie couldn't help but think of the dark riders she'd seen around Frodo's disappearance, or war sweeping in when least expected in songs she'd heard.
Her favourite song was the one of the few sung of women: the Shieldmaidens of Rohan and their mighty beast forms. Men were so much taller in stature than hobbits, and elves weren't likely to intercede, but shieldmaidens were said to take on any cause that was just. Surely they would understand the need for defence, even if no one in the Shire would.
And so, Rosie stole out of her family's home one night, money earned from years of wages tucked carefully in her pockets, and made her way to Bree, where she could find maps and decide the best route to Rohan.
Aragorn forever earned Éowyn's respect when he stood before her and said "You are a shieldmaiden" in tones of awe. Even her uncle, returned to the full flush of health after Saruman's touch, had not revered her so greatly.
Still, because Aragorn was a man, she did not share the secrets of her heart. She did not tell him of the nights she circled Edoras, her fur as thick and golden as her braided hair. She did not tell of the mournful howl she gave when Théodred returned to Edoras in the grip of death. And she certainly did not tell that she had also been mourning herself when she had guarded his tomb the night after burial, and all of her sisters who been forced to stay behind instead of protecting their loved ones.
But Éowyn's regard for Aragorn was such that she did join him during the exodus to Helm's Deep, and so she was there when he broke from the group and told her in low tones that they were being followed. He asked what she could smell - even on two legs, her ability to scent was far greater than that of any man - and she said, "Not any creature of Sauron or Saruman. But I do not know exactly."
When they found the rider on the pony, Aragorn's relaxed shoulders set Éowyn at ease, especially as he dismounted with his sword still sheathed.
"I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn," he greeted the woman, who regarded him with a polite smile. "Are you searching for your kin, my lady Hobbit? They are not here, but they are well."
"I am here to speak for my kin." The hobbit pulled back her cloak, revealing ringlets to her shoulders, and set her shoulders back, appearing five times her height. She looked directly at Éowyn. "Are you a Shieldmaiden of Rohan?"
"I am," Éowyn said. "What is your name?"
"I am Rosie Cotton of Bywater, and I am here to entreat your help."
Of course, it was too much to hope that a war that would threaten the Shire would not have also come through Rohan. Rosie felt despair as she joined the company heading in numbers to Helm's Deep. If anyone with Rohan's amounts of weapons and skill couldn't hope to fight the coming evil, what chance did hobbits have?
And yet Lady Éowyn was no disappointment. Many of the Men of Rohan made light of Rosie's height and beautiful appearance, but Lady Éowyn bared her teeth in threat and made sure at camp to hear all of Rosie's concerns.
When Lady Éowyn spoke after Rosie explained, it was with all seriousness. "You came here by yourself with courage and skill. If your fellows are even half the same, all is not lost."
Rosie felt the stirring of her heart that she felt whenever she heard the songs of the shieldmaidens. And she knew then what she must do.
She bowed on one knee before Éowyn and said, "I pledge myself to your cause. I believe the Shire's best chance rests in aiding you."
Lady Éowyn rested a hand on Rosie's shoulder and said warmly, "Rohan is fortunate to have you on our side."
Éowyn was the only shieldmaiden in Helm's Deep, but she felt she'd found someone with the same spirit in Rosie Cotton.
They spent the time before battle in preparation; Rosie understood the need to support those who could not care for themselves, and so Éowyn left her in charge of those not fighting, and she gave Rosie the knowledge she would need to lead them to safety should Helm's Deep fall.
"A shieldmaiden has not fought with the banners of Rohan for centuries," she told Rosie before she goes out to join Aragorn. "The need has never been greater. But think also that I fight for you and yours while you do your part. None of this is in vain."
Rosie, beautiful even as she trembled with barely suppressed nerves, took Éowyn's hand and laid a kiss upon her knuckles.
"For Rohan," she said, blushing.
It was Rosie Éowyn kept in her heart as she shed her human form and faced the hosts of Saruman. Rosie, and hope for a future for all the beings of Middle-Earth.
Lady Éowyn returned from battle blood streaked and exhausted, but well. Rosie served as her companion back to Edoras while the others diverted to Orthanc to see the destruction wrought there.
"They speak of riding to Gondor," Lady Éowyn said as they ride into the gates of Edoras. "Uncle says he will bring Éomer, but that a Shieldmaiden of Rohan belongs in Rohan."
"He does not seek your council?"
"He does." Lady Éowyn paused to consider her words. "He believes that home defence will matter when our numbers are already too few."
"But you're worth ten of the men! Everyone who saw you fight said as much!"
Lady Éowyn showed her teeth in a smile, and even though she appeared as she always had to Rosie, the wolf seemed right beneath the surface.
"Would you like to see the wolf? Tonight?"
"Yes," Rosie said in an eager burst of breath. A blush heated her cheeks, but she paid it no mind. "It would be an honour."
And so they met outside Edoras that night. Lady Éowyn shed her robe, every part of her skin glowing in the moonlight, before she hunched, and a golden wolf replaced her. Rosie's head would fit easily between Lady Éowyn's jaws, but Rosie was not scared. If anything, she had never felt more certain of victory in her life.
They formulated the plan together.
"I am not too small to fight," Rosie said in Éowyn's bedchamber. "But neither am I so large that I will slow down your horse."
Éowyn smiled. "I have some armour that should fit. You can be my shield fellow on the field of battle."
Rosie's eyes were alight as she nodded. She raised her head to kiss Éowyn, this time on the mouth as true shieldmaidens would. Even before the betrayal of the Men of Rohan, it was said that shieldmaidens didn't seek men's beds, and Éowyn had never looked to men for that company. That she wanted such company from Rosie gave Éowyn the exhilaration she had only felt in battle.
Judging by Rosie's eyes as Éowyn shed her clothes, she felt much the same.
They faced the Witch-king of Angmar on Pelennor Fields, a foe worthy of two shieldmaidens bound by oath and love.
"No living man may hinder me!" he cried as Lady Éowyn's skin began to ripple.
Rosie grinned from her position behind the Rider's beast as Lady Éowyn threw away her helm.
"I am no man," Lady Éowyn said with the last of her human words, and a wolf lunged for his throat.