See, it's not that you're alone, and a long way off: it's that I'm surrounded in a house on a hill, and I've lost the sound of the only word that fits. Days the sun hangs, an obnoxious gong, but nights the pasture air fills with fireflies, the sky singing that you're the name of the world. - from Sonnet For Elizabeth by Jorge Sanchez
Eowyn swings the hammer over and over, holding hard to the tongs so they do not twist from her grasp. The sound clangs in her ears and her face shines in the heat, her arms ache with the strain. Each blow shudders through her, rings down through her chest and thighs. When the smith signals it is enough, she stops and the stillness of her body feels strange to her.
She is impatient for the dagger to be finished, but it will take many days.
By day, she works. She has duties in the king's household, though they do not fill her hours. When her cares are done, she goes to the smith, or seeks for one to cross blades with her. Her skill has surpassed that of all the maids and of most of the men who stay behind. With whomever she can find, she drills in the heat of the day, with sword and shield, until her eyes fill with salt and her opponent begs for rest.
She watches, too, eyes ever turning to the horizon, as the sun slowly drags down the day. If a horse strays, if a hawk stoops, she sees, though she does not care. That is not why she watches.
Eowyn works the treadle, grinds the blade against the wheel. She squints, wishing there were more light. She concentrates so hard it sets her head to aching, her arms buzz from the shaking of the wheel. She is careful, very careful, and the smith watches over her shoulder, giving her a word or two as she slowly shapes the blade.
By night, she waits. She throws open the shutters, lets the night air into her bower. She takes the room's measure again and again, in paces, in hours, in the murmurs of the wind. She sleeps but little and her dreams are red, fractured things that leave her weary when she rises.
Her maids have a hundred ways to bring their men back to them. A charm of rosemary and hawthorne flowers, held in the bosom, scraps of cloth he has worn burned and the ashes blown to the east with a muttered word, a disc of wood with old signs scratched on it and hung up in the doorway.
Eowyn does none of this. There is no power in it for her. Her power is her own will, her own resolve that he must return, he will return to her. She has one charm: when she has finished smithing the dagger, then he will come.
If her maids have a hundred spells for safety, they have three times that number to divine a woman's true love, to foretell her destined husband. But Eowyn's love has long been fixed and she does not wish to marry.
Eowyn files with long, slow strokes, watching the gentle curves as they fall, then rise to crest in the centre of the blade. She chooses finer and finer files until at last the metal shines. At the top of the blade, she etches the head of a horse, mane flying.
He comes before the dagger is ready.
She is training, mounted combat with a young guard, when she sees them far off, a dark mass crawling over the horizon. She rides out to meet them, hair unbound to the wind, sword still unsheathed.
She laughs to see him riding before his men, unscathed and shouting out to her. His face seems brighter than the sun. He takes off his helmet and they ride back together, the children of Eomund, last of their house.
Eowyn is busy that day, making ready, and that night they feast. Eomer sits at the king's right hand, and Eowyn beside him, leaning against him as he takes the cup again and again. All know the Lady of Rohan has a great love for her brother and they smile to see them so.
They do not know that she goes to him at night, walking the halls without a candle, carrying a posset for him, lest she need an excuse.
Eomer is eager tonight, but slow with wine. Eowyn is not displeased. There is time to relearn each other in the darkness, to touch, to hold, to stifle laughter against hair and skin. When he is roused at last, she gives herself gladly, one hand tangled in his hair as he rocks against her.
His head is so thick, he would have her sleep the night in his bed and she would stay, her heart is so full. But she creeps back to her own bed and sleeps, dreamless, until the sun rises.
The next day, she draws him into swordplay and soon they are surrounded by a laughing crowd. He's forgotten, as he always does, the strength of her arm and the quickness of her step. She presses him and she can hear the men making wagers. He disarms her in the end -- she is not his equal with the blade, not yet. But sweat is on his brow and wonder in his eyes.
"Well done, my sister," he says and smiles down at her.
"All I lack is experience," she replies and watches his face cloud over.
"Must we speak of this again?"
"I would ride with you," she says. "I would do something of more worth than arranging meals and seeing beds are made. You cannot deny I have the skill and the strength."
"I cannot have you go." He takes her shoulders. "Eowyn, I cannot have you go."
"If not with you," she says, "then with another company. Speak to the king. I would not stay here!"
"No," he says and turns away. She expected nothing else, but still she must hope.
At night, within the circle of his arms, she says his name over and over, softly so no one else may hear, her lips against his. His love is silent and swift. After it is done, he clings to her, face buried in her hair, and it is a long hour before he will let her go.
Eowyn's maids know six ways to keep a babe from quickening in the womb and she has used them all.
"The king says that I should marry," Eomer says, as they stand together, looking down from the hill to the lands below.
Eowyn cannot speak. She has thought many times of how to refuse her own marriage; she has never thought to prepare for this.
"He says that you will tell me who would suit me best." Eomer looks down at her and she cannot read his face.
"No," she says. "You cannot."
"Eowyn," he says, "you know the day must come."
"But not yet," she says and puts her hand upon his arm. "Not yet."
He smiles at her. "I do not have the strength to refuse you in all things. It shall not be yet."
She breathes deeply and the air is sweet.
Eowyn fits on the guards, and then the handle, carved from dark, heavy wood, polished smooth and shining. It is done.
She cannot gift Eomer with this. The dagger gleams in the light, but the lines do not flow, the balance is wrong. She wants to throw it from her, but she dares not -- so ill-made, it might fly astray and wound the smith.
"A good first try," the smith says and she thinks that he is flattering her. She has tried to step beyond herself in this, to do a master's work without even a journeyman's skill.
She sheathes the dagger and ties it to her waist. She will carry it, to remind her.
She had thought the company would rest a week, but Eomer will be away at dawn. He is busy making ready and she does not see him until night has fallen and she is in his bed.
He is slow and tender. Eowyn does not trust herself to speak. Every word is one he will not want to hear. She stops her mouth with his, and presses close to him. She stays until he falls asleep, then goes to watch the rest of the night in her bower.
When they leave, she embraces him as any sister might her brother. She watches them ride off, watches until the sun is high and the horizon empty.
Then she goes down to the forge and begins another blade.
F I N I S
Say what you think.
Halrloprillalar "Hal" firstname.lastname@example.org FIC: http://prillalar.com
Wesley is our King.
Please post a comment on this story.
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Title: Hammer and Tongs
Author: Halrloprillalar [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | 7k | 04/18/04
Summary: Eowyn is waiting.
Notes: Thanks to Wicked Cherub for timely beta. Written for the Free Verse challenge.
Disclaimer/Other: Tolkien, not me.
Distribution: Archive anywhere. Email forwarding allowed.
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