Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Eowyn washed the shieldmaiden's back with water and the rags that had been a prince's undertunic. She pulled the shieldmaiden onto her side, that torn and shredded back to her brother and her cousin, and wiped the sweat from her face and brow, laving neck and armpits with a rag soaked in cold water.
The shieldmaiden did not speak again. At times Eowyn would see her eyes open, the eyelashes parting to show the dark, confused glance beneath, but the shieldmaiden seemed not to see her, seemed not to see the stone roof or the walls or the dark or the fire by which Theodred and Eomer were sitting. Those eyes would look at Eowyn as though they were looking through her and her lips would move, the small white teeth against the lower lip, breathing Fara
, and Fara
, and Fara
. But there were no more tears, and soon enough those eyes would close again.
Eowyn's sleeves were bloodied to the elbow. Where the blood smell had made her sick at the first, now it seemed she had become too familiar with it.
The bitterness of it made her want to weep. All those long months they had spent searching for her, for a golden-haired shieldmaiden with a long coat of rings, and when they finally found her it was only for her to die in their company. Had the son of Denethor seen these wounds? Had he sent her out onto the road knowing he was sending her to die? Fara,
the shieldmaiden called, Fara
the name on her lips as she died. Two sons had the Steward of Gondor, and these were Boromir and Faramir. Eowyn had never met the brother of Boromir Denethorsson, and though she had known Boromir Loudmouth from her childhood and had heard much of Boromir Horde-Breaker from girlhood to maidenhood, she had always heard little and less of Faramir. Theodred, the only one of the three to have met both brothers, had never had much to say of the brother except that he seemed more the mother's son than the father's, and Eowyn had always taken this to mean that Faramir was not the warrior his brother was, not the man. Yet it was Faramir's name in the shieldmaiden's mouth.
The valley was flooding. Eowyn could hear the rushing water, the groan of trees and clinging roots, the smaller stones swept away. The wind and the rain were blowing hard and the light had dimmed to a midday gloom. The fire was between them, the shieldmaiden shifted as close as Eowyn could move her, but the stones and the dirt seemed to leech all heat from it. Theodred had stretched his cloak over the broken wall and moved the horses between it and them, and still they were wet.
“The road is underwater,” Eomer told them, the last time he went out. “The horses could swim it I think, but a weak rider would be swept off.”
“We have no help for her here,” said Eowyn. Her fingers stroked the shieldmaiden's cropped head. “I do not know if even a cunning man could help her now, but as we are she will not live.”
Theodred did not answer. He was watching the shieldmaiden, his eyes black in his face. He sat with his knees bent, his arms outstretched and his hands clasped between them. If he was cold in only an overtunic, he did not show it. Water dripped from his hair.
“Cousin,” said Eomer at last. “If we—if we turned back—”
Theodred turned his eyes on Eomer, and Eomer fell silent.
“No,” said Theodred. He shook his head. “No. We must go on. We must make for Edoras.”
“Cousin, she will die,” said Eowyn. “If we only went so far as the meadows, the wheelhouses there are full of Eorlingas—”
“No,” said Theodred.
The shieldmaiden's back was not putrid, but that was only luck. If her flesh spoiled, then there would be nothing to be done but to gather stones for a cairn. For half her life Eowyn had scolded her brother for his drinking, and what she would not give now for a horn of mead to make a wash.
Eomer sat against his wall, his face turned away. Where Theodred's eyes were always on the shieldmaiden, her face and her back and her bare head, the whiter flesh of the backs of her naked arms, Eomer would only look at her from the corners of his eyes, in glances so brief that Eowyn thought that she only knew what he was looking for because he was her own brother.
The shieldmaiden's fever did not break, but neither did her back begin to rot, though Eowyn lowered her head to smell for it again and again. The day faded as they waited, and toward evenfall Eomer brought out bread and sourmilk and divided it among them. Eowyn picked off the mold and moistened the bread with water, but the shieldmaiden could neither chew nor swallow.
Long spears of lightning sundered the dark, followed by such a herd of horses that had not existed even in Eorl's time. Water was trickling through the cracks of the roof, the walls. Eowyn could have said that the sky was weeping for the shieldmaiden, but she could not bear for it to be so, and she did not know what would be worse, for Theodred and Eomer to laugh at her childish talk as they usually did or for them to say nothing.
Through the day, Eowyn washed the shieldmaiden's back with rags stained brown and bathed her brow and arms. The shieldmaiden lay as one dead, but when Eowyn put her ear to the shieldmaiden's mouth she felt her breath, and still, when the cold dark fell on the valley, her wounds had not begun to turn.
When the rags were washed and the waterskin was full, the horses rubbed down and fed, Theodred and Eomer sat shoulder to shoulder against the far wall and kept a watch. Eomer had given Eowyn his cloak and blanket, and the two shared Theodred's while Eowyn tucked the blanket about the shieldmaiden and wrapped herself in her brother's cloak. Under her hand, the shieldmaiden's skin was warmer than the fire, though by rights she ought to have been ice against the stone floor.
“We wait until morning,” said Theodred, suddenly. Eowyn looked up from where she was laving the shieldmaiden's face. “Then we ride.”
Eomer looked at Eowyn.
“North?” Eowyn made her voice cold, straightened her back against those black eyes. “Or south?”
“North.” Theodred's eyes lowered, to the shieldmaiden. “It must be Edoras. We cannot go back.” Why,
Eowyn almost asked, but then she remembered a peculiar thing, and that was Boromir's face. Boromir as he had looked in the alley, that glare, the anger in it. And on the shieldmaiden's lips, Fara, Fara.
She did not know she fell asleep until she woke again. The fire had burned down to ashes, and Theodred and Eomer were asleep against each other. The horses steamed in the weak light. Eowyn's shoulder was numb where it pressed against the wall, her neck aching from how she had slept upright, and then she saw the eyes in the dark.
The shieldmaiden was watching her.
All was queerly silent. The storm had died, Eowyn realized, and the silence was the lack of wind and thunder. It yet rained, but it was a tepid rain that made less noise than a footfall.
The shieldmaiden had turned her head so that her face was toward Eowyn, and if she was in pain it could not be told by her face.
Eowyn came away from the wall. She forgot the numbness in her shoulder, the pain in her neck. The dark was a dream, the cold and the cloud of her breath only vague shadows.
She laid down on the stone floor, looking at the shieldmaiden. Their faces were not even a hand's width apart.
These were the eyes she remembered. These were the eyes of a shieldmaiden.
Those pale lips moved, and she could barely whisper. “Faramir.”
Eowyn shook her head, her hair scraping the floor. “Eowyn.” Breathlessly, her breath mingling with the shieldmaiden's. “How.”
The shieldmaiden licked her lips. “Faramir.”
Eowyn shook her head again. “I do not know.”
The shieldmaiden's eyes held hers, held Eowyn's until the tears filled them up, and then the shieldmaiden closed her eyes and turned her face into the floor.
Eowyn had never thought a shieldmaiden could weep. The sagas did not speak of tears. The songs were full of war and vengeance, of a thirst for battle and the killing of enemies, but they said nothing of tears. Women wept, wives and daughters and wronged women, the ones who stayed at home and had the women's share of war.
Yet here was a shieldmaiden, and she was weeping, and Eowyn told herself that even men were known to weep when they had cause. For who sang those sagas and remembered those songs but men, and a daughter of Eorl ought to know that if a man had ever seen a shieldmaiden weep, he would have put it in the stories. Eowyn thought that if she should ever meet Faramir Denethorsson, she would have to tell him that her cousin had the right of it, that he was not the man his brother was, if he could cause a shieldmaiden to weep.