The Dawnless Day has fallen and the Rohirrim ride to Gondor's aid. But for each who marches to battle there are those who wait behind ...
The woman waited as they all did, in tents, shelters and huddled groups amidst Dunharrow's brooding walls, waited beneath a shadowed sky into which no dawn ever came. And it might never come. The Shadow that leeched the light from the world leeched also the last clinging hopes of Rohan. The children did not laugh or play. The old men told no tales. The women did not sing. They only waited.
The host had gone forth lo, many days before, king and kinsmen together in one last brave moment, riding to heed a near-forgotten call. Gondor needed them and to Gondor they would go, where all that was good and true in the world would stand … as long as they could. Not even rumors came back now, after word that he who bore The-Sword-That-Was-Broken had ridden into the black depths of the Paths of the Dead. Some whispered that he could prevail, that ancient oaths and ancient wrongs waited only his command to be made aright. But she could only wait.
Her lips still remembered the kiss last placed there, the sweet burn of whiskers in an embrace fierce and trembling and alight with everything that had fired their wedding bliss those many years ago. In a world where even the Sun was banished, his love remained the one light she knew. But now he was gone with that great host, and no other light came, and she waited.
Even the White Lady had abandoned faith, slipping away to meet her doom beside her brother and king. Ever and anon she envied the girl's desperate courage, even as she bitterly rued their regent's abandonment of them. If even the Lady Éowyn forsook hope and sought death, what chance remained? Aye, but this unnatural gloom was a killer of hopes, a storm from which no rain ever fell, a darkness in which no rest could be found, a night from which the world might never waken. For she now realized it was not the Mark alone that faced its doom, but all people. From fey, beautiful elves such as he who rode with the man Aragorn, to the dwarves who labored in lands of stone, to the sturdy little halflings who had sprung from legend to befriend wizards and charm kings, all of them in their separate places in the world … waited.
She rarely stepped outside these days. To fetch wood or water, but that was all. Perhaps she should seek the company of others, but her heart shriveled to look upon them, her people. Once they had strode boldly across their wide lands, rode unchallenged with every wind that blew, and sang fiercely in the face of every peril. But now they hunched silent and soft-footed and none so much as raised a voice to call an errant child. Were they afraid? Aye, they were afraid. They had defeated the legions who thundered against the Hornburg like a ravening tide, and found strength in Théoden King restored and Éomer bold as a lion beside him. But that victory, that strength slowly withered in the bleak silence of the passing days. They had won, they had prevailed, and yet they stood to lose all to an enemy they could neither see nor fight, who banished the very Sun from the heavens. And still they waited.
Sometimes she wondered if their holding still stood, if the hearth still waited, clean-swept with kindling ready and a pot wanting only to bubble the rich, welcoming aromas of a good supper. She wondered if the new grass grew and the seeds of her garden took root, and if his scent still clung to their blankets on the bed, his cloak hanging behind the door. The refugees had been able to bring so little; no more than would fit in a cart or on a horse's back. Oft times she missed her weaving, the steady clack of her loom and the smooth panel of color and texture that grew slowly beneath her hand. A basket in one corner held tufts of wool, the one frivolity she had allowed herself. When the stillness became too much she could at least busy her hands carding the fibers smooth and twisting them to yarn, although no one might live to see another rug or cloak or blanket. Well she knew that if Gondor fell and the sons of Rohan with it, that would be the end. Mordor would sweep in a black torrent across the land, leaving naught but withered waste in its path. So they waited.
Tears threatened often, as well, though she swallowed them like acid and refused to let them fall. In the long watches of the night, when the darkness thickened and the silence sucked her bones hollow, she would close her eyes and think of him, his touch, his embrace, the way his eyes caught the light of a summer sky when he smiled. And she waited.
Hark, what was this? Voices rang outside, voices that exclaimed and cried out and drew others to join them, movement stirring and then rushing beyond her tent. Her heart leapt thundering into her throat and she seized scabbard and blade. As the commotion outside grew she drew the sword and its steel gleamed in pallid light. Light -.
She felt dizzy, her breath coming too fast and the sword heavy in her hand. Yet her feet refused to move, to face whatever truth waited beyond these flimsy walls.
A hand slapped furiously against the canvas in a frantic tattoo.
"Mistress, come out!" a youthful voice cried. "Come see! The Sun has returned!"
And she burst forth into sunlight, into the glorious day and let its brilliance blind her with tears. In the new warmth she felt his thought, his love, reaching for her as surely as the coming of spring, and she turned with arms outstretched and wept for joy.
A/N: Special thanks to my friend and writing partner, 'Sevilodorf' of theburpingtroll.com, from whom the spur and inspiration for these 1000 words came! The challenge was simple: A Knock At The Door. Any knock, any door, any time in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Thank you, Sevi - and Thank you, Howard Shore, for giving us the fabulous "The Two Towers" musical score, which was playing the entire time I wrote this! :-)