The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 39: The Eagle's Wing

Éowyn watched Líofa the harpist walk from the feast-tent and her eyes shone with tears. His song echoed in her ears but in her heart were only thoughts of Aragorn. King Théoden turned to her and mistaking her look of sorrow he said;
‘Sister-daughter, it may happen that Líofa sees out the battle and comes safe home. If he does, he will fill the Golden Hall of Edoras with music in happier times. If it were my choice, I would send him hence with you when you leave tomorrow, there to wait out the days of war in safety….’

These words fell on Éowyn like sword strokes, and she turned to her uncle to beg once again to be allowed to ride to war. But at that moment Éomer spoke to Théoden and the king turned away from his niece and soon was deep in talk of the coming battle. Éowyn sat feeling desolate and forgotten, thinking of the long dreary days that lay ahead, waiting in Edoras with the womenfolk, the young and the sick, fearing the worst and helpless to aid those she loved…..as soon as she could she begged leave to retire and hastened from the tent.

Outside the air felt cold after the warmth of the feast-tent, but it was March and even in the North wind there came the softness of spring. Éowyn felt it not, but took advantage of the darkness to give way to her tears. She pulled her cloak closer around her and covered her face with the hood and for a long time stood gazing bitterly at the busy camp, where preparations for the next day’s ride to Minas Tirith were continuing even into the night…

Smiths hammered and horses were shod and swords, axes and spearheads sharpened. Men talked in groups as saddlebags were packed. While Éowyn watched, a tall yellow-haired young warrior strode from the king’s tent, accompanied by the riders of his éored. Éowyn recognised him; it was Elfhelm, who had once accompanied her cousin Théodred the king’s son to war and had fought with him at the Battle of the Ford….his warriors walked on and Elfhelm stood alone for a moment as if in thought. A sudden idea struck Éowyn, reckless but irresistible, and she threw all notions of duty and oaths aside and walked up to him.

‘Elfhelm?’ she said to him. He turned and seeing who it was he bowed.
‘My lady Éowyn…’ he replied.
‘If ever you loved my cousin Théodred now do me this favour in his memory…..’

Inside the tent, set behind the King, were the banners of the lords of the Mark. Among them was one bearing a great rayed sun on a field of blue, the banner of Grimbold. Newly made Marshal of Grimslade, he commanded the third éored of the Mark and was accustomed to lead the right flank of the Rohirrim in war.

King Théoden looked across at Grimbold and after a moment of thought summoned him to his chair. The Marshal was a thin wiry man with long dark hair streaked with grey and keen blue eyes. He bowed to Théoden who said;
‘Lord Grimbold, tomorrow we ride to the aid of Gondor. I wish to strengthen your éored with men from my own household….’
He glanced at Callanach and went on ‘..any who wish can ride with you. We will approach from the North West, so your éored will be the first of our army to strike the enemy. You will be the right wing of the eagle…..’

As soon as the king dismissed Grimbold and the other lords Callanach slipped off the bench in the feast-tent and quietly hurried out after Líofa. Had the Elf not heard him call his name? The hearing of Elves was keen….he looked about and amongst the crowds of warriors and picket lines of horses he saw the dark red cloak of the Elf disappearing among the tents of the nobles.
‘Líofa!’ he called ‘..wait for me!’

And he ran after the Elf, who at last turned to face him. A gleam of torchlight fell on Líofa’s pale face and he turned his dark grey eyes on the young Ranger, but showed no recognition. Callanach faltered.
‘Líofa, don’t you know me?’

The Elf gazed at Callanach for a long time. His dark eyes showed sorrow and he spoke slowly;
‘Yes, I remember you, Callanach.’
‘Then..what is the matter?’ stammered the lad. Líofa smiled sadly and said;
‘Those who break a fellowship deserve no friends’
‘What are you talking about?’ cried Callanach.
‘I swore to be your friend, once a long time ago, in Rhovanion where your father saved my life…’
‘Yes! I remember it as if it were yesterday…’ broke in Callanach.
‘And then…’ went on Líofa ‘I broke my oath. I left you in Lothlórien, and went on without you. I deserted you, Callanach….’

There was a silence, then Callanach gave a nervous laugh;
‘No, no. You did not! I lay as if in death, and you did not know if I would ever awake, and you had another oath to keep, to the Black Company….’
‘the Black Company are no more!’ said Líofa bitterly. ‘and I was wrong to leave you.’
He smiled sadly
‘I have no right to call you friend.’
‘But you do’ said Callanach eagerly. ‘I give you that right. If there were anything to forgive, I would forgive it, but remember I deserted you in Isengard too.’ He smiled and said;
‘Let us both forget the past, Líofa. Tomorrow we ride to battle, and there might not be many more sunrises for either of us; let us see them in friendship..’

Líofa gazed at him for a moment, torn by uncertainty and hope, then suddenly he embraced Callanach, who returned his embrace then laughed and said;
‘I have followed you all through Fangorn and across the plains of Rohan, do not try to escape me again, Elf!’