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The Fire Sermon
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Chapter II

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole

Most of what I know of love I have learnt from books. Now, I am not so innocent as to expect life to imitate these stories, for in them children find lost parents, battles against darkness end in glorious victories, and warriors return from quests as saviours of their homes. But, despite all, still I had expected, when finally I came to fall in love, to feel the moment acutely, like an arrow or a flash of light.

The first time I saw the Lady Éowyn, the depth of her sorrow moved me greatly, and I thought her the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. But there was no arrow, no flash of light. When I saw her again, standing in the garden the following morning, shining in the sunlight, and I felt by her presence the pain that would be her absence - then I knew that I loved her. By the end of that day it was clear to me that my life would be empty without her, and it was also clear to me that she loved somebody else.

Ever eastwards she gazed, as if by straining her will thither she might somehow glimpse the host and its captain. And I saw her face become pale, and her eyes dim, and I sought to distract her thoughts, which seemed only to make her grieve greatly.

'Tell me about your home, Éowyn.'

She glanced up at me, startled, as if she had forgotten I was there. I took her arm and gently guided her away from the walls, and towards a seat at the far side of the garden. It was a mark of her weariness, I think, that she allowed me to do this.

'My home,' she murmured. 'Where to begin?'

She spoke, haltingly at first, of Edoras and the Golden Hall; and then colour came to her face as she told me of her brother and their childhood together, and she seemed for a little while almost vivacious, a glimpse of the woman she might be if she could but set aside her unhappiness. She spoke of Théoden, at first with warmth, and then with growing sadness as she recalled his old age. All her thoughts, it seemed, could not help but bend towards her sorrows. She stopped speaking, and her face went sad again.

'Could you not,' I said hesitatingly, 'remember him more as he was before the shadow fell on him, and then after it departed? Perhaps then you might grieve less.'

She did not answer straight away, and sat for a moment considering her next words. Then she said softly, 'It seems strange, lord, to hear you offer me such counsel.'

'How so?'

She rested her hand on mine and looked at me steadily. 'For I know, my friend, that your own mind is filled with the memory of a bitter parting from a father who loved you too late.'

For a moment I could not answer and sat looking at her hand on my own. 'Who told you this?' I said finally.

'Merry,' she said simply, and seeing my astonishment, remarked, 'You saw fit to question him about me.'

I lowered my head to hide my smile at the thought of the Halfling passing tales between us, then looked up at her. Her face was grave, but her eyes were soft.

'I am caught out, lady,' I admitted. 'Will you forgive me if I promise never to be underhanded again?'

'If you are, I shall find you out, since I need only ask Merry!' she laughed. 'I suspect, lord,' she added, 'that you lack the necessary talent to deceive with great success.'

'It is not a failing of which I am ashamed.'

'Indeed you should not be, my friend,' she said, and took my arm. 'And of all the mean things crawling on the earth that I despise, I hold a special contempt for those whose tongues are slippery with deceit.'

And we walked to the walls and looked out, and we turned aside from our griefs for a while, and talked instead about our friends the Halflings, and wondered what kind of country could make a people so light in spirit and yet so strong in will.

On the fourth day after she first came to see me, the third that I had loved her, she was the saddest I had seen her yet, and I too was sick at heart from the watching and waiting, and at my failure to bring her any real joy. As if in gentle mockery of our mood, the sun shone and the sky was bright, and we sat side by side and leagues apart in the shade of an ancient tree. With a sigh, I put aside the book which had been resting on my lap, open but unread.

'This is unendurable,' she said, her voice brittle, and she lowered her head, shielding her face from my view with a veil of golden hair. I reached out to brush it aside, to see her again, and she drew away.

I dropped my hand as if clutching a stone, then shifted away to lie on my side, and rested my cheek against the prickly grass. Unendurable.

After a few moments, I felt her move too, and she touched my hand. 'My lord - ' she said.

'I would wish - ' I began at the same time.

We both stopped. Once I was certain that I could face her evenly, I sat up again. I pushed away the veil, and this time she allowed it, and I gazed on her pale and flawless face.

'What would you wish?' she said.

I took her hand and smiled at her. 'To see you in peace and happiness,' I said, 'however you might find it.'

Her head dropped down again and I saw in dismay that she was in tears. 'Sir,' she said, 'I am ungenerous to you, and you repay me only with kindness.'

'It is only your due, Éowyn; and you are not ungenerous. You are fearless, and honourable, and beautiful.'

She shook her head firmly. 'Sir, you are greatly mistaken about me.' Then she looked at me steadily. 'My friend, I would not see you, out of all the people that I love, suffer the anguish of desiring an image above the reality.' She released my hand. 'All is dark. There is no way ahead.'

I lay back on the grass, stretching my legs before me, and looked up. 'Come and see, Éowyn,' I said at last. 'The sky is so clear.There are no clouds.'

And she lay down beside me and, after a moment, leaned her head on my shoulder - with care, since she knew that this was where I had been hurt. I rested my head on top of hers and, very soon, we were both asleep in the gentle March sun.

The next morning was cold and the sky was grey, but still we preferred not to remain caged inside the House, and we paced the walls. And although my heart grew heavier as the morning went on, and I felt a cold fear chilling me, I needed only to look at her, wrapped in midnight blue and wreathed in stars, and the darkness seemed less terrible.

And there was a moment when all was silent, and the earth trembled under a great force, and my reason told me that we were lost, but my heart lifted as we stood so close together and waited for the stroke of doom.

Then the sun shone forth, and its light caught the wings of a great eagle, flying in from the east, and bringing tidings of victory, and of the coming of the king. All the bells in the city were pealing, and the people in the streets were singing, and I wept for Minas Tirith and for Gondor, that had seemed lost, but had passed through fire and shadow to preserve the memory of Númenor into a new age.

Beside me, Éowyn grasped my hand tightly, and she seemed to be weeping too, and hope rose in me that it might be the shadow had been lifted from her also.

All that I have ever read tells me that now would be the moment, Éowyn, I thought, not a little wryly, for you to fall into my arms and say that you love me.

But the moment passed. She sighed and withdrew, releasing my hand from her clasp, shifting her hand to rest only on my arm.

Alas that I love a lady as heedless of convention as she is lovely to behold.

We watched for a while in joy the people below us, rushing from their homes into the streets, and then I spoke. 'Tomorrow,' I said, 'I must leave this house, and take up my authority in the city.'

She sighed. 'So it is soon goodbye, then, my friend.'

'I hope not, Éowyn.'

'I fear that it must be,' she murmured. 'Everything changes, yet I remain the same.'

'Yet it need not be so. Against all hope, the shadow has gone - '

'Not from me, lord.'

Her words pierced me. 'I would change that, if you would allow it.'

'I know that you would. But I fear that is something only I can accomplish, and I do not believe I have the strength.'

She took my hand again, and squeezed it, then turned away and passed into the House, and as she departed, she seemed to have been diminished, and become no more than an image of her true self.


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