In the day that follows, she shows him about the Hall and its surroundings, eagerly but with a certain shyness. Not from any shame; Meduseld has not appeared so inviting in many long years. Again she has the sense of revealing more than she intends. Yet, in the background of her mind, as she speaks to this man – so easily, so lightly – of things she has never spoken of to anyone else, she is ever keeping watch, and finding no cause to hold back.
They meet on the terrace the next morning, and stand at the edge to look out at the new light moving across the fields below. She remembers the walls of Minas Tirith and has a sudden thought to seek a more private place. But he has an air of gravity about him now and she loses her nerve.
"What would my lord wish to see to begin this day?"
He turns to her, his face earnest. "You have shown me much of your home, and I am grateful for the chance to see it with your eyes. Thus I have also seen your love for it. You may be of a different mind now that you are returned to your own land, among your own people. And so I must ask you: can you bear to leave?"
She is drawn to look in his eyes, sees fervent hope tempered with resignation.
A different mind. It has been so since I last left this place, and it cannot be changed back.
"There is another place I must show to you."
She leads him past the rear walls of the Hall, across a courtyard littered with blown leaves, through a creaking door half-covered in ivy, then up a path that begins to ascend into the wild of the mountains. She quickens her pace, even as they climb, not looking back. Then she remembers him following behind, and slows, and turns.
"This was my route of escape."
He looks at her with a question, but guessing the answer.
"If Eomer were at last sent to his death... I would not wait."
She climbs further up the path, now narrow and stony, to a cleft in the rock running down from the heights at one side. She places a foot, two hands, and then springs up into the space. Reaching into the black void, she comes out with a pack, damp and dirtied.
He seems to collect himself for a moment. A slow breath, and his hands release from fists. "Would it not have been faster to ride?"
"Faster, but expected. A trusted ally arranged for a horse to be kept ready at a house some leagues to the west." Oh faithful Hama, how dearly you paid for your loyalty in the end.
He looks out at the plain with a thin smile. "A good strategy."
She cannot help but smile in return. But the great Hall sitting below, an anchor in the sea of grass, speaks of the flaw in her plan. "Except that they – Wormtongue – jailed my brother. I could not leave him..."
She turns and looks out as well, at the flat land far below, seeing again the lines drawn, the borders of her own cloister held firm. A flicker of frustration and fear shows on her face. Her own hands are clenched, although she is not aware of it until he gently touches her wrist.
"You and I have seen both the sharp pains of battle without our walls and the slow erosion from within. The one is hard, but the other is far harder. Would that the Shadow had not crept into your own house!"
Clouds race across the sky and darken the grass far off.
Slowly, but slightly, she shakes her head. "It matters not that the Shadow is gone... this house is no longer my home." Once spoken, she knows this to be true, and feels both set free and set adrift.
"And this grieves you," he says gently.
She keeps her eyes fixed on the distant plains. "It does."
A question forms, sudden and sharp, and she finds herself speaking it aloud without thought. "When I rode into battle, I wanted naught but to die. There were others of my people who wanted to live, who rode with the thought of preserving life, who had home and kin to defend. Why should I have been spared?"
He regards her with an old sadness. "Oft is that question asked after bloodshed, and each time is a fresh wound to the heart. Who of us can say if it be mere chance, or the fulfilment of a course long laid out, that spares any one of us? Those few left who would foresee paths appointed are soon to depart. And I begin to question the benefit of some knowledge of a path beyond the culling, for it does nothing to ease the pain of seeing others cut down."
She thinks of his brother.
"I thought once to seek death as well." He says it almost mildly, as though observing a bird in a tree, but with eyes observing nothing of the present. "The easiest way... in truth the way my father all but commanded me to take."
She feels her stomach twist. His own father...
"It was only the kind words of Mithrandir that kept me from succumbing. 'Your father will remember ere the end that he loves you,' he said. And perhaps he did. If he did – he showed it by leading me back toward escape in death, the way he deemed best for both of us, his mind twisted by struggle with One too strong."
She could only stare at him, turned towards the empty air of the valley. To think that the full brunt of the Enemy's hatred had come down on his city, on his house, and on his very head, the last survivor. Of what consequence were any simple condolences she could offer? How could she possibly hope to succour this man?
"But in the moments of highest peril I strove only to prevail, and do what I could to deliver those who fought with me. As did you, Eowyn. And when our fates were taken from our own hands, other hands led us back. And here we stand."
He grasps her hand and looks at her intently, willing her to take in his next words. "You cannot deny the chance to live still, once given. What would honour those fallen? To question, and regret, and thus spend your days? Or to take hold of the days, and use them to build anew?"
She looks down at his hands, feels the strength surrounding hers.
Oh how difficult to trust! So much more difficult to cast one's lot not as a pebble thrown over the wall, but as a cornerstone placed in the spot prepared for it; not knowing what weight would be brought to bear, knowing full well it would not be moved again.
Yet not a burden laid, but a building lifted.
It comes to her that she has never spoken his given name, not to him. It was once a petty means of keeping some little distance; now his name has become at once too intimate and too momentous.
How absurd. Nothing prevents me from addressing this man.
Why, then, have you not?
She draws a deep breath.
You would be a healer. You said it. So begin.
She senses the slight, quick ripple of shock that goes through him, and knows now that he has been waiting, oh so many long days, to hear his name from her lips.
The look he gives her – such joy, such hope – stops her from saying more. But although he too has drawn breath, he seems unwilling to answer, to interrupt what further flow of words may come.
Now keep on.
"Let us leave from here. Let us go back to the city of your people, but then continue on, and make a new home."
In an instant she is encircled in his arms. "So we shall," he breathes into her hair. She feels him draw back, and his eyes shine down on her like stars. "By your grace, the land of Ithilien will become a home indeed, for us and for our heirs."
Another thought forms: never had she given a proper answer to his question on that day. She who had so imperiously demanded plain speech had skirted that subject, not precisely saying yea but merely giving hints that fell closer to that side than to nay.
This, then, is the true precipice.
"Were you a wanderer, cast out with no land to call your own, unknown to any save me – still I would love you."