Standing on the stone steps of sleeping Meduseld, the east wind whipping her dress against her body, Éowyn thinks of the one she loves.
The rising moon sinks the valleys into deep shadows and sets the summits of the White Mountains in cold fire. But she is blind to that beauty. She can only see him. She sees him as she first saw him amidst the dust and the chaos of the battle. He looked so impressive in his mantle and his suit of armour. A heavy crown stressed the manly shape of his otherwise unseen brow.
Back then she didn’t have a name for the unfamiliar sensation that she felt in the pit of her stomach and set her knees to trembling. By rights it should have been fear, horror, disgust… Yet it was completely unlike any fear she had known before.
“No living man may hinder me!,” he proclaimed in a thundering voice. And then, as if ashamed, he added: “And no living woman likes me.”
That was enough. In that fleeting instant of vulnerability he let her see through all pretence. She knew, there and then, that all that ruthless-general-of-the-conquering-armies-of-Mordor schtick was just an act he put on to protect his sensitive true self.
Poor thing, she thought to herself back then, and she is still thinking it now. He lived like that, alone and loveless, for untold centuries!
I will be there for him. I will heal him.
So she is out of doors tonight, remembering him. She likes to stand on the cold steps of Meduseld and pretend that the east wind brings her tidings about how much he loves her.
“Éomer!” She turns around with a start. “Er, I mean… My Lord.” She offers him a quick curtsy. “I thought you had already retired for the night.”
“You’re thinking of him, aren’t you?”
She doesn’t answer. But there is no need for it. Her eyes betray all the secrets of her heart. Her soul is naked under his glare.
“You are thinking of him,” he spits out. “Here we are, mourning our late king and beloved kinsman. His body is still warm under the blooming simbelmynë. And you dream of embracing the one who brought his demise!”
“You don’t understand! Have you seen his eyes?”
“No, I haven’t. And neither have you. There is naught but a glimmer of death where his eyes should be.”
“But it’s the sweetest glimmer of death I have ever beheld. And there’s so much hurt in it.”
“Yes. It’s all the hurt he has caused to other people. Including us.”
“You don’t know him! You can’t judge him!”
“He is the enemy, Éowyn! He killed our uncle! He is the lieutenant of the Dark Lord, who is even now plotting our ruin!”
“But he can change! No one has ever given him a chance to!”
“And you will?”
She can tell her brother’s patience is growing thin. If he only tried to understand…
“I am the king of the Riddermark,” he says after a tense silence. “And the king forbids you to ever see him again.”
Éowyn wouldn’t feel any different had he physically assaulted her.
“But… You are so unfair!”
“If you ever leave Meduseld without my permission, your being the sister of the king shall not stay the king’s hand.”
And with these stern words, he returns to the open doorway. But before the gloom of the hall engulfs him, he stops and casts a final glance on her, a look of heavy sorrow upon his face. And he whispers:
“It’s for your own good.”
No creature in the night could be more miserable than Éowyn. Her tears glisten in the moonlight as they roll down her cheeks. And the east wind is weeping with her.
The east wind…
The wind is bringing something to her. A smell. A stench.
A stench she has learned to know. And to cherish. Her heart skips a beat the moment she notices it.
She turns her head just in time to watch the beast crawling heavily on its legs and wings around a corner of the Golden Hall. And he is sitting atop its great bulk.
“’Sup, baby,” he greets her nonchalantly.
He is difficult to see in the shadows. Not only is his flesh invisible to human eyes, but he wears a coat made with the black hide of some animal. She can spot, however, the iron spikes protruding from the shoulders and the lapels.
But the most noticeable thing about him is the red burning tip of his smoke, coming and going like a firefly. His weed is of the kind that is grown in the Shire, but, rather than smoking it in a pipe as Halflings use to do, he rolls it in a piece of very thin paper. It is an ancient art, lost to the world. Éowyn finds him so confident whenever he talks through a trembling roll. She also likes it because it tells her where his lips are.
“Hi,” she greets him back, trying to hide her tears. “How long have you been there? Did you hear that?”
“I didn’t want your brother to see me. I don’t think he likes me.”
“He… He just doesn’t know you as well as I do. Gods! He can be so stubborn sometimes…”
“Was he mean to you? Just say the word, and he’ll be sorry.” He grinds one gauntlet against the other, as if cracking his incorporeal knuckles.
“No!” Her brother and her dwimmerlaik are the two persons she loves the most in all the wide world. She can’t stand the idea of seeing them pitted against each other. Why can’t they just get along? Everything would be so much easier that way.
“He means well. He really cares for me, in his own wrong-headed way. But… What are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighbourhood, and said to myself, ‘perhaps Wynnie will want go for a ride in the moonlight.’ You know, that kind of things women enjoy.”
And you chose this night among all nights for it.
“The king has forbidden it,” she says, downcast.
“I see.” He puffs on his roll of weed. “And you are a good girl who always does as she’s told, are you?”
“It’s okay.” His armour rattles under his coat as he shrugs. “I thought you’d fancy a nice time, you and me together. I see I was wrong. Honouring your king is obviously more important to you. Well, see you, I guess.”
She looks into the doorway where his brother has disappeared a short while ago. She knows she will regret what she’s about to do. But she doesn’t stop herself from doing it.
A moment later she’s straddling the fell beast in front of her love, his arms wrapped around her delicate frame.
“Good girl,” he says. She can hear the grin in his tone.
The beast jumps into the air and flaps its big dark wings. Rather than falling to the ground, as Éowyn instintively thinks it will happen, it rises higher and higher, until the city is lost beneath them.
The experience of flying is nothing like Éowyn had imagined it. The wind is colder and harsher up high. Goosebumps cover her from head to toe, and her eyes start to tear up. Whether from the cruel wind or the emotion, Éowyn can not tell.
She’s so close to her dwimmerlaik she could hear his heartbeat, feel the warmth radiating off his body. If his body radiated any warmth. If he had a hearbeat.
But it’s the intimacy that counts.
It’s a lovely night for flying. There are no clouds overhead, and the stars shine brightly on the clear purple sky. She is marvelled to distinguish against the dark land the silvery outlines of rivers as she has only seen them on maps and books. She recognizes the Snowbourn, and the Entwash… And, far to the west, the Isen.
“The river Isen,” she muses. “That’s… That’s where my cousin Théodred…”
“Aww, c’mon, baby. That’s in the past.” He flicks away the stub of his weed-roll. “Don’t live in the past. It’s bad for your skin. You frown too much and grow old early.”
“I don’t wish to grow old early,” she replies hastily. “I wish to be young and beautiful.”
“You don’t need to wish. You are young and beautiful.”
Éowyn feels on the air. Partly because she is on the air. She should be afraid of plummeting down, yet she isn’t. She is safe in his arms…
No. Not just safe. There’s more than that. So much more. That mere word doesn’t even begin to describe it. His thinking her beautiful is no small part of it.
There’s a pang of guilt about her defying Éomer, but doing something forbidden is so exhilarating. She realizes she’s not a good girl, and she relishes it. She’s so excited about it all she can barely breathe.
Yes, she thinks. This is how I want to feel. This is how I want to feel forever.
Forever. There’s a big word, a word to ponder. Therein lies the rub, and at the same time the key to true happiness.
She might not live in the past, but she still has the future to worry about. One day her hair will grow grey and her visage will be ridded with creases. Will he still find her beautiful when that time comes? And what about when…? No, she can’t bear thinking about it. She had never feared death before, but now that it carries the threat of separating her from her love, nothing could be more dreadful.
“Will I ever…?,” she starts.
“Will I ever be like you?”
His laughter sounds like a series of thunderclaps under the stars.
“Like me? You want to enter into the realm of shadow? You want to be a servant of the Ring?”
She says nothing. His words are hurtful. Many things he says are. So she choses not to push the issue and spoil this magical evening.
Her wishes, however, do involve a ring.
A ring to bind his heart for all eternity.