June 7, evening
"Although there is not truth to any word of it," Bearn thinks to himself, "the holbytla does tell interesting tales. He fancies himself a great warrior who slays barrow-wights, imaginary creatures, figments of his own mind. Still, perhaps his tales can amuse and entertain these people of Rohan who have sought sanctuary at Dunharrow."
He eyes the hobytla, and then his look turns to Eowyn. "Eowyn the deceived, Eowyn the befuddled. Eowyn, the pawn and thrall of Sauron. Wretched creature she is, and has fallen from her high estate, the White Lady of Rohan. Far better would it have been if she had stayed with her ordained place and encouraged her people. But no! She had to disguise herself and ride off to battle. It would have been better had she never come back from Pelennor alive, than to arrive in this condition. But fate is a cruel master, and ever do we serve him."
The path beneath them continues to rise, and Bearn looks towards the statues on each side of the road. Bearn had never liked them, these strange, squat, fat statues of a culture that once existed far back in time and alien to today. Their grotesque forms seem to stand out in the gloom, and little remained of the features of the statues' faces, except here and there a set of darkened eye sockets would stare aimlessly out at passersby.
Bearn wonders if the halfling is curious about the statues, and so he speaks. "Master Hobytla, do you wonder about these strange figures?" But fearing the Hobbit would resume his endless babblings about his prowess as a warrior, Bearn answers his own question.
"These statues were built long ago during the Great Darkness when men worshipped the Enemy in the open. Their civilization has long since vanished, but we know them as the Púkel-men. Some say they still exist, hidden, never showing themselves to anyone, and naught can be seen or heard of them except the sound of their drums when they beat, as any who dares travel through the Drúedain Forest will TELL. Never have I seen one of them, and I doubt that they still exist, but nay, the stories vouch that indeed they do dwell in the Drúedain Forest. Now, Master Hobytla, since you are such a great traveler and a bard of some renown," he stops and chuckles at his jibe, "perhaps you can now add the sight of these strange statues to your songs."
The road continues to climb, twisting and winding up the steep incline. Far above the floor of the valley, the horses carry them through a cleft in the rock and then up into a mountain field. "This is called Firien-field," Bearn says, and this place offers a good defensive position and it is safe from everything....." his gaze looks upward through the shadows, "except from the air." In the Firien-field, they can see tents and pavilions, the homes now to much of the civilian population of this part of Rohan.
"Lady Eowyn, it will be some time before the wains comprising the baggage trains can arrive here. In some places, the wagons will have to be unloaded, because the beasts used to pull them cannot carry them up such slopes. At least the ancient treasures of Rohan will be safe here, maybe, for the time."
"Master Hobytla, behind us is the Ered Nimrath, and to our south, if we could see it, is the peak of Starkhorn. To the north is Irensaga, and between them is the dreaded mountain, the mountain of ghosts, the Dwimorberg. Perhaps if fair Arien ever can shine upon our land once again, you may see the mountains as they are and not seen through shrouded mists."
"Lady Eowyn, I will guide you to the pavilion that has been prepared for you already, where you may refresh yourself. Master Peregrin," he points to the side of Eowyn's pavilion, "you will have that tent there. You are the lady's page now and you may escort her about the camp. You will be at her side at all times, so see that she comes to no harm. And don't forget to tell her a tale now and then," he laughs. "My pavilion is over yonder. When you both are refreshed, come join me there and we shall dine."
"Master Peregrin, I do suppose you want to eat again soon. Your appetite is endless, and the capacity of your belly has never been fully discovered, but I fear you must soon learn to tighten your belt. We have food here, but for how long a space it will hold us, I know not. For you see, now that Edoras has fallen, there is no way of easy escape for the road to our north will be barred. If our fortunes should come to dire circumstances, the only hope of escape in Dunharrow would be through the mountains...." he hesitates. "But there is another way of escape which we shall not take, though it is said now to be safe..." his voice dwindles to a whisper and his body seems to shudder, "they call it the Paths of the Dead."
It dawns upon him suddenly that the phrase could have two meanings. The fearful path that once Aragorn trod, or the path that leads to the "Gift" of Illuvatar, Death. Either way Bearn was not eager to be forced with the decision to chose either path.
Evening of June 7
Maltriel listens to the tales that Bearn and Pippin tell with an eager ear, for they are neutral topics, not charged with the passions of powers and war... tales of the strange Pukel-men and Druedain Forest far away in the unknown. She keeps her silence, for she knows virtually nothing of the lands and legends of Middle Earth, save the few, vague things which she remembered Angmar telling her. Slight twinges of guilt haunt her thoughts at her interest in the tales of the enemy, but perhaps, the thought comes to her, if she listens carefully to all that they say, she may overhear something... and should she escape...
The entourage climbs ever higher on the twisting, curving road through the darkness... finally they pass through a cleft in the rock and come to a field in the mountains.. Firien-field, Bearn calls it. Maltriel can see the vague forms of many tents and pavilions ahead and refugees milling about in the darkening gloom. Though the riders of the entourage have reached Dunharrow, still many wains climb the curving stair of the hold. Bearn informs her that it will be some time before the entire train will arrive in the hold... for the slopes are quite steep in some places.
"Master Hobytla," Bearn tells Pippin, "behind us is the Ered Nimrath, and to our south, if we could see it, is the peak of Starkhorn. To the north is Irensaga, and between them is the dreaded mountain, the mountain of ghosts, the Dwimorberg. Perhaps if fair Arien ever can shine upon our land once again, you may see the mountains as they are and not seen through shrouded mists."
Maltriel looks around and sees the vague forms of the mountains, pitch-black against the darkness. The darkness does not bother her, for she remembers little of sunshine and light, save for a few days at the beginning of her captivity, and those hours had mostly been spent in agony from her withdrawal-illness. However, although sun- light is a new and strange thing to her, making her feel uneasy, she wonders what the land would look like, basked in the golden rays of Arien.
"Lady Eowyn," Bearn interrupts her thoughts, "I will guide you to the pavilion that has been prepared for you already, where you may refresh yourself. Master Peregrin," he points to the side of Eowyn's pavilion, "you will have that tent there. You are the lady's page now and you may escort her about the camp. You will be at her side at all times, so see that she comes to no harm. And don't forget to tell her a tale now and then," he laughs. "My pavilion is over yonder. When you both are refreshed, come join me there and we shall dine."
"Thank you, my lord," says Maltriel, and she throws her leg over the saddle and jumps down, glad that the slow journey is finally over, and now she can walk around, stretching her aching muscles. However, the sudden burst of movement causes her to become dizzy, black and red spots twinkling before her eyes... Maltriel stumbles forward, but grabs the pommel of her saddle to catch herself. She slumps into the side of her horse and leans her face up against it, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths. She waves away Bearn and Pippin who come to her aid. "I am just a little weary from the ride," she mumbles, turning towards the pair.
Maltriel follows Bearn to her pavilion. As she draws back the flap, she overhears parts of Bearn's conversation..... "...We have food here, but for how long a space it will hold us, I know not. For you see, now that Edoras has fallen, there is no way of easy escape for the road to our north will be barred. If our fortunes should come to dire circumstances, the only hope of escape in Dunharrow would be through the mountains...." Bearn hesitates and Maltriel pauses, looking back at the man and the hobbit. "But there is another way of escape which we shall not take, though it is said now to be safe... they call it the Paths of the Dead."
Maltriel looks upon them for a moment, then enters her tent, pulling the flap closed behind her. She closes her eyes and swallows. No hope of escape, no hope of rescue.... no hope at all in this wretched place. And if she were able to break away and run, where would she go? She had seen few maps during her time with the army, and knew little about the countryside in this area. And if she were to find the Mordor army, she faced the possibility of being killed on sight, mistaken for one of the Rohirrim.
She had lived with this knowledge the past several days, but it had only been a dim fear, pushed far into the back of her mind. But now she fully realizes the hopelessness of her situation... a feeling of pure, utter and total defeat hits her. She despairs... there is no escape, and she will never see her beloved Lord Angmar again. She will be forgotten, and if her illness does not claim her first, she will die of starvation alongside her enemies, should Dunharrow be besieged, or die with them as they flee through perilous paths.
Outside, she knows that Bearn and Pippin are waiting, and doubtless one will come barging in if she does not make haste. Now is not the time for mourning or for tears. At least the Rohirrim have treated her kindly so far, like one of their own, for it seems that she shall reside in their company a very long time.
Maltriel sighs and slowly undoes her belt and struggles out of her halberk.... her aches lessen at this lightening of the load. On a small table, she finds a pitcher filled with water... she pours some into a nearby basin and washes her face and hands.
After drying off, she stumbles out of the pavilion and approaches Bearn and Pippin. Cold and indifferent is her facade, always wary despite her exhaustion and illness. She tries to hide feelings of defeat and hopelessness; she does not want to give her enemies the satisfaction of seeing her despair.
Night of June 7 - Morning June 8
In her pavilion, Maltriel wearily kicks off her boots, preparing to go to bed for the night. Earlier, she had come to Bearn's tent and eaten with him and Pippin as she was bidden. It had gone reasonably well at first... she had been quiet, saying little, slowly eating her food. It was hard; months of her "medicine," its accompanying nausea, and now withdrawal-illness had well-nigh destroyed her appetite. To make matters worse, she was always fearful of poison... it had happened once, according to Angmar, by a man named Merry, and what if it should happen again? Helpless, ailing, in the hands of her enemies, and with no memories of who she was.... But there had been no poison so far, no ill-effects from eating the food of the Rohirrim, and if there had been, Pippin would've been the first succumb, considering the little hobbit's enormous appetite.
She had been, thankfully, ignored for most of the dinner- conversation... as usual, Bearn baited Pippin about his tales, mocking him slightly, trying to catch him in a lie. she could see that Bearn's disbelief hurt Pippin's feelings... knowing how it was to tell the truth and be disbelieved, her words considered treason, evil lies spawned by the Enemy. Pippin provided the sport for the evening, as the orcs would say... besides amusing Bearn with his earnest attempts to defend his honor, the little fellow sang a few songs. Bearn also joined in with a song of his own, one about a man called Eorl the Young. Maltriel wished she knew a song or a tale, but the only songs she knew were snatches of the songs the orcs sang, and somehow she knew those would not go over well with the people of the West.
Then the conversation turned to matters of war.... the possibility of Mordor besieging Dunharrow, the possibility of the people running out of food and starving..... the possibility of surrender...... Maltriel had encouraged Bearn to consider the latter possibility rather than those former, assuring him that his people would be treated with kindness and mercy by the forces of Mordor. Alas for the stubborn Rohirrim! This suggestion offended Bearn's pride, and he had called her a thrall of Sauron, then insulted the honor of her love Angmar. She then cast her drinking goblet at him and fled from the tent in anger and fear.
Maltriel wanted to keep on running, run, run and never come back, to somewhere, anywhere, it didn't really matter. There was no place to go, the world was closing in about her. Bearn would be enraged at her deed, and doubtless he would order her to be tied up again like she was when she was first captured, and then her fate would be to live the rest of her ill-fated life locked up in a cell someplace. Her thoughts were scattered and panicked, her heart pounding, her breath coming in short gasps. But she was already weary from the ride, and her withdrawal-sickness made her more exhausted... she stopped, fell to her knees and began to cry.
Soon she had sensed the presence of Pippin kneeling beside her... she felt ashamed for him to see her this way, giving in to a fit of desperation, sobbing, her face red and tear-stained. She expected to see an enraged Bearn and a group of irate Rohirrim soldiers from the eoreds assigned to guard the civilians of Dunharrow to come charging at her out of the darkness,. But the only one who had followed her was the little hobbit.
Pippin had taken Maltriel back to her pavilion, and no doom had befallen her for her outburst in Bearn's pavilion, at least not yet. So now she stands, alone in her pavilion, her treatment by the Rohirrim ever confusing her. They have shown her nothing but kindness and honor, except for impassioned speeches about the evils of Mordor and Lord Angmar. Feelings of guilt descend upon her.... a wretched ingrate, she seems. Perhaps she should apologize to Bearn in the morrow... but she was a soldier of Mordor, why did she need to beg the forgiveness of her enemies. Would that be akin to surrender, treason against Mordor? She recalled few customs from her past, and seldom knew how the proper way to act. She had little idea of how to abide with the unfortunate predicament in which she had suddenly found herself since that fateful day the clouds of Mordor had been lifted and she had been captured by the riders of Rohan in the golden light of the Sun....
She sighs, walks to her cot and collapses upon it, falling into a deep, restful slumber of vague dreams not to be remembered... the first sleep she has had in ages not tormented by nightmares of the all- consuming Fire devouring her mind...
The long hours of the night pass, and then comes the morning of the 8th.
CONFUSION AND TORMENT
Morning of June 8 - evening
The wizard had come the morning of the 8th, and Maltriel had been summoned to appear before him a few hours later. She had thought him just an old man until he had revealed his name, Gandalf. She recalled Angmar warning her about this wizard, saying he was evil and had great power. Maltriel had stood her ground and tried to keep up a brave facade, but the presence of Gandalf made her feel a great unease. He asked her the usual questions at first, of course challenging her answers and never believing her.
But then Gandalf had said something that made every muscle in her body tense, preparing for a desperate attempt to flee. Ah, but what was it? All seemed so vague and hazy, but that was commonplace now. Something about delving into her mind.... she had cried that not even under pain of torture would she reveal plans of Mordor. Was that it? It all seemed so strange. Then she had fainted.
She woke up, confused and disoriented, slumped forward on the table with a wet rag upon her forehead. Gandalf said that she reminded the people of Rohan of their White Lady... what she feared was true. He also told her that the Rohirrim treated their prisoners with honor and respect. She had definitely found the latter as true as well, at least so far. Perhaps the Rohirrim were not as bad as Angmar had claimed, but still she was wary.
Maltriel feared becoming too cozy with her enemies... what would be considered treason to Mordor? Kindness, compassion, friendship to those whom she had expected to face upon the field of battle? She had been told that the Rohrrim possessed none of these virtues and were cruel, wicked butchers, but she had found that they had treated her with all courtesy. She knew the penalty for deserting the Mordor army.... death. Indeed Lord Angmar had sworn to kill Maltriel's old page, Ashgaz, for his crime of cowardice and treason. Would she be considered a traitor, if she treated her captors as friends? She had told them nothing of the Mordor army, remaining faithful to Sauron and her beloved. She knew if somehow the Rohirrim were able to wrest any information from her, her life would be forfeit because of her treachery, and she would be in disgrace, never able to return to her land. She wondered... even if she did escape, would Mordor take her back, or consider her a thrall, a spy of the West...?
Maltriel had then been taken to her tent and slept many hours, tired and confused, wishing to forget life for a while. The rest of the 8th passed by with no event.
"YOU DON'T SAY!"
June 9 - Morning
"Did you know, Héowa," exclaims a middle-aged matron, her blue eyes wide as they scan those nearest to them in the twilight-lit camp for any suspected eavesdroppers, "that the rumors are true?"
The other woman looks up from the stain on the tunic which she tries desperately to remove with her wooden bat. "Oh?" she pauses. "They are!"
"Aye, my cousin Earla told me so. She was serving food and drink to Lord Bearn and all those gathered in his pavilion. She saw her with her own eyes, plain as day." Her blue eyes open wider, emphasizing this point.
"The Lady Eowyn?"gasps Héowa, the wet tunic temporarily forgotten as it lies limply upon the laundry-board.
The other woman nods, then bends down to put more clothing in a barrel filled with warm, soapy water. "Mmm hmm," she mumbles.
"Then it IS true, the tales we've heard about her riding with the entourage leaving Edoras. I wonder where she's been? She disappeared back in March," her eyes widen and her voice lowers, "from this very place!" Her eyes shift back and forth, and she whispers, "I heard she disguised herself as a rider and sneaked off to Pelennor. Oh, Eadgytha, do tell me more!"
Eadgytha's hands grip the side of the wooden barrel and she leans forward, speaking in a whisper, "Rumor has it she was," she pauses, relishing every detail of the dark tale, "captured by the," her blue eyes widen even more, "enemy."
"Oh!" exclaims Héowa.
Eadgytha nods gravely. "Aye, twas what I heard. They took her back to that evil land.... to the very Dark Tower itself!"
Héowa's hand rushes to her face. "But no one ever comes back from that place alive!"
"Oh, she's definitely alive," says Eadgytha, nodding her head slightly, recalling some of the rumors she had heard about Eowyn's spit-fire hostility towards her own people. "But who knows what torments she was forced to endure?" She looks around again to see if anyone might be listening in, then says in a barely audible whisper, "I hear they drove her mad, and now she thinks she's one of them! I heard she even threw a drinking goblet at Lord Bearn and then fled from his pavilion when he spoke ill of the lord of that foul dwimmerlaik!"
Héowa's face blanches. "Oh, Valar save us!"
"Well," says Eadgytha matter-of-factly as she stands back up, "if you ask me, and, oh, I don't mean any harm or ill at all," a grave and sincere expression comes to her face and she waves her finger about in the air, "you know I love the Lady Eowyn and think the world of her.. Why, everyone loved her, a great and noble lady she was...." Héowa waits patiently for Eadgytha to continue. "But as I was saying, if you ask me, the Lady never should sneaked off to fight. It was foolhardy and proved to be folly. A woman has no place upon a battlefield!" A grave look is on Eadgytha's face and she stands there with one hand upon her hip.
"Mmmm hmmm," vigorously nods Héowa, and she resumes trying to beat the stain from the tunic. Eadgytha dumps more clothing into the barrel, and gently stirs the soapy water. Both women are quiet for a moment, but soon the two laundresses are discussing matters other than the Lady Eowyn. A calico cat leisurely meanders by the pair, but a stray splash of water from Eadgytha's barrel lands near it, and the cat scurries away into the camp.
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