Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Thirty Six: A Ranger's Hope

So Morwen was dead. Eowyn didn't know what she felt. Sickened, angry... Morwen had been among her eldest and best friends. Almost the last of them. Eowyn bit her lip until the blood flowed, bitterness constricting her throat. Theodred, Grima, Baldor, Ceorl... And now Morwen. One by one.... she thought. One by one, they will destroy us all. Now Saruman owed these children a mother as well as a father.

Haldar and his little sister sat side by side at a trestle table in the dinning chamber of Meduseld. Aerin gazed about her with wide eyes, awed by the height of the great carven pillars, the rich tapestries lining the walls. Haldar's head was lowered over his plate, a lock of straw-gold hair fell over his face, but he made no effort to brush it back. His eyes were downcast, and he toyed absently with his food. He wished that he could forget the sight of his mother, wild-eyed, her face lit by the glow of their burning home as she snatched his dead father's sword from his hands.

The ranger, Strider, sat alone a table in the corner of the hall. His pipe was lit, and he drew slowly, thankful for the forgetful peace that the smoke brought. He watched as the King's neice cared for the two children. Theoden had told him briefly of their tale. He felt a pang, almost of loneliness, watching the way the boy sat with his head bowed, taking no notice of his surroundings. He knew what it was for a boy to lose a father. A strange, protective feeling welled up in his breast for the young warrior who had come so far. The little girl glanced at him with bright, curious eyes. He wondered how long it would be before she realised that her mother would not be returning.

The child's thought seemed to echo his own. "Where is Mama?" She asked suddenly, her eyes bright and trusting.

For answer, the King's niece threw a blanket about her shoulders, not altogether gently. "Sssshhh." She said, not meeting the child's eyes.
She tucked the blanket firmly about the girl in a strangely final, detatched manner. She did not hold the child or comfort her, merely provided. She cast a second blanket around the boy's shoulders with the same, emotionless movement she would use to put a rug on a horse.

Aragorn wondered at her, so stern and silent. And so cold! Any other woman, he thought, would be in tears for the plight of these two. He did not understand how she could be Eomer's sister. Eomer burned with inner fire, but this girl was a thing of ice. Dimly, he recalled their mother, Theodwyn. She too had looked like this, at the end. Perhaps it was something about the harshness of this land, which twisted it's women, ground them down and broke them. Or perhaps it was something in the Rohirrim themselves.

He shivered, and drew another breath of smoke. She was not so old, this girl. Watching her, she moved with an ease and grace that spoke of a youth which belied her hard, impassive countenance. He wondered what blows her life must have dealt to break her down so totally.

And then, strangely, the foresight of his people, so seldom known before, came upon him now. He saw this girl with other eyes, as she stood before a high window in a tower of white stone - Minas Tirith, he guessed. Her back was to him, her slender form clad all in white, her hair shinning gold in the sunlight. In her arms she held a small bundle swathed in white, and she bent her golden head over it, rocked it in her arms as she sang. Then Aragorn started in amazement, for the words she sang were those which he himself had sung to Legolas that same morning. But the girl sang them now in her own tongue, in the language of Rohan, fair and bittersweet and rich with sorrow:

"Hwær nu se mearh ond se sceotan?
Hwær nu se horn ðæt he blawan?
Hwær nu se helm ond se herepad?
Ond se beorht fax flowan?
Hwær nu se hand ont hearpstreng?
Ond se read brond bærnett?
Hwær nu se lencten ond gaðerian?
Ond se heah læs weaxan?
Man hæbbe lytlian gelic rinan on se beorg,
Gelic abrecan in sed mæd,
Se ealdordagas losian se wæst,
Beæftan se beorg in se sceadu.
Hwa nu motan gaðerian se asce o se dead holt bærnett?
Oth behealdan se flowan gear fram hwælweg efðweorfan?"

Almost as if she heard his gasp of astonishment, the girl spun around, her smiling face alight with joy. She held the babe in her arms high, as if to show it to him. The blue eyes of the child smiled up at him, the tiny face framed by a halo of dark curls. The girl's grey eyes looked into his, and he felt as if the glance would pierce his heart with pain.

Then the vison faded, and there was only the shieldmaiden, cold and unmaternal as ice, her proud eyes matching his defiantly.