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They call her Anoriel, but in the tales Éowyn heard growing up she was simply known as The Shieldmaiden. She remembers sitting by the fire as a young girl where her mother told her stories of a woman with golden hair and green-fire eyes who commanded armies and cut down her enemy like a burning flame. When her mother passed and her uncle slowly weakened under the influence of Grima, she kept those stories alive in the back of her mind. They became a comfort to her, a blanket she used to ward off Grima’s leering gaze and the darkness growing over the Riddermark.
At night she softly prayed to her. By the bedside of her ailing cousin she would think of The Shieldmaiden and whispered to the wind for her to come and awaken her uncle, to somehow heal her cousin, and most of all, to recognize Éowyn as one of her own.
It is unfortunate then, that when she was first in her presence, Éowyn did not recognize her
. Granted, her mind was in turmoil with her brother’s exile, her cousin’s death, and Grima’s unchallenged power over her uncle when the odd group of strangers came. And sure, there was a glimpse of envy, of yearning for the freedom this woman so obviously had, but not once did she think that someone so young and small could be the legendary figure from Theodwyn’s tales.
Now though, as her own golden hair whips in the wind and she watches from a distance Anoriel and Aragorn say goodbye to one another, she wonders how she ever could have thought differently.
All the clues were there leading up to the battle. She had thought Aragorn was going easy on Anoriel during their sparring, not able to believe someone of her size could overpower such an experienced ranger. And her bright green eyes (the same ones Theodywn described) always found Éowyn’s own, a look of knowing in those orbs that left her lost. When she learned that Anoriel would fight while she would be among the other women and children in the caves, she quickly approached her uncle to prove her own worth in this horrible time of war only to be rebuffed.
“Éowyn,” Théoden said, his iron voice echoing against the small hall they stood in, “If something should happen, if your brother never returns, then it falls onto you to lead our people to safety.” He placed a warm hand on her shoulder, his body leaning in to her. “I could not bear to lose you as well.”
She had deflated after that, resigned herself away from glory in the face of battle, but the orcs found her in the caves anyway. Of course they were proud women of Rohan, and so each had carried a small weapon with them in case such a thing were to happen. Éowyn felled enemy after enemy, swiftly moving towards the opening where the orcs rushed in and away from her company. Though she was a talented swordswoman, her weapon was not as sharp as it should be, the best blades given to the soldiers currently in battle. If the onslaught of orcs continued, then Éowyn knew in the deepest parts of her that she and the others would not last. Covered in the blood of her enemy and her own sweat, she embraced the inevitability of her end.
It was in her darkest moment that a light shown, a fire that reflected against the gems and crystals embedded into the walls and caused the orcs to flinch at the sudden brightness. That moment of weakness was all she needed, and her blunt sword was quickly coated with fresh blood. In the corner of her eye she noticed she wasn’t alone in battle, that Anoriel has joined her wielding a flaming sword that either sliced through orc or sent them running in fear out of the caves. Soon it was quiet except for their harsh panting.
Each woman silently regarded the other. Anoriel took note of Éowyn’s torn dress, her well used blade, and the burning steel behind her gaze. She used the fire covering her weapon as a lamp, taking stock of the bodies behind Éowyn. “It’s nice to meet another woman capable in a fight.”
Éowyn nodded, her stance rigid and tall. “And to you as well. That is quite an interesting weapon you have.”
Anoriel smiled, her eyes warmly gliding over the fiery blade. “Thanks. It was a gift.” She turned her attention outside the entrance of the cave, where the sound of swords clanging against swords and the cries of men danced through. “No rest for the wicked it seems,” she said. Stepping over the fallen orcs she moved to return to the war outside.
Éowyn quickly ran after her, crying, “Let me come with you!”
Anoriel turned back, just outside the entrance, where Éowyn stopped right in front of her. The moon had finally showed itself throughout the night, its soft gleam illuminating Anoriel’s green eyes that pierced through Éowyn’s being. It reminded her of tales about the elf witch, how her simple gaze could expose your very essence.
“You’re the strongest of them, aren’t you?” Éowyn assumed she meant out of the group of women and children behind her; she nodded yes. “Then you need to protect them.” There was steel behind her words that reminded her of Théoden, of Aragorn, of a person she wanted to follow.
There was another sword hanging against Anoriel’s side with a plain but beautiful silver hilt. She freed a hand to pull it from its sheath and then drew a line in the ground between herself and Éowyn. “Don’t let them cross that,” she said.
“I won’t,” Éowyn replied.
Anoriel tapped a finger against the unused weapon, a thoughtful look crossing her features before she tilted the hilt in Éowyn’s direction. “A shieldmaiden should have a proper sword.”
Her nerves fluttered. The fingers around her current sword loosened until the metal jangled against the rocks below. The pieces were coming together, the picture becoming clearer and her whole body trembled as Anoriel pushed this warrior’s sword into her grasp and tied the sheath onto her waist.
“Its name is Hadhafang,” Anoriel said, “I no longer have need of my old sword, but hopefully it will guide you as well as Arien now guides me.”
,” Éowyn whispered, “You’re The Shieldmaiden from my mother’s tales.”
Anoriel just shrugged, said “Probably,” and with one last look returned to help protect her uncle’s lands and people.
She bloodied her new sword well that night, and celebrated with the others over their victory back home in Meduseld. The men did not know of Éowyn’s involvement in the battle, and Théoden and Éomer sent more than one curious glance to the blade she always kept close.
During the night’s festivities she thought of a million questions to ask Anoriel, but watching her interact with Aragorn and the others she could not find it in her heart to interrupt her happiness. She figured there would be time later, time to bask in the legend from her childhood and learn each of her secrets.
She did not know what time she retired that night, so caught up in the contagious joy of her people and even joining the hobbits for a dance. There was no longer a dark shadow cast over Edoras. Her uncle and brother were well and Saruman’s influence was gone from their lands. She was recognized as a true shieldmaiden. Éowyn could not remember the last time she felt so light.
It was still dark when Anoriel awakened her, the shorter woman already dressed for travel. Her bedchambers were dark, the only light from the small lantern Anoriel placed on a table casted shadows over her small features. “What’s wrong?” Éowyn asked, quickly shucking off the warm covers of her bed.
“I didn’t expect to leave so early,” she said, one hand resting on the red-jeweled hilt of Arien, “but I’m needed elsewhere for the time being.”
“But you can’t go!” Éowyn exclaimed, rushing to the other woman and grabbing both her shoulders tight. “I waited so long for you to find me, to finally meet you! There’s so much I don’t yet know.”
Anoriel’s fingers gently pried off Éowyn’s own, the rough skin matching hers. “I’ve seen you in my dreams, like a sister from my past. A girl with a power to do what others can’t.”
“A shieldmaiden,” Éowyn whispered.
Anoriel smiled in response. “They’ll underestimate you because you’re a woman. Use it to your advantage to show them why they’re wrong.”
“My family will not let me fight. They will ride into battle to win renown, and I will be left to find food and beds when they return.”
“Then you will have to find a way,” Anoriel said, her voice firm and sure. “Éowyn, you have to be there. There’s something only you can do.”
Éowyn was taken aback by her words, curiosity and anticipation bubbling inside her. “What is it?”
She stepped back, picking up the lantern and carrying it to the doorway. “I have a feeling you’ll find out soon enough. Now, I have other goodbyes to dispense before I leave, but keep Hadhafang close. You might find it to come in handy later.” She paused, her steps stalling before the large door. Sighing, she swung the light back around, and Anoriel’s green-fire gaze pierced her once more. “Battle is not for glory or renown. It is ugly and harsh and unfair and is a necessary evil in order for good to prevail. We do not fight for a glorious death, but to protect those who count on us to survive. When you enter the battlefield, you cannot have a death wish. Do you understand me?”
Slowly Éowyn nodded, too stunned to speak after such a fierce statement. Anoriel left then, taking the lantern with her and dousing the room in darkness.
She watches her now and wonders what words she shares with Aragorn to lessen the pain of her leaving. She halfway hopes that Aragorn convinces her to stay, knows that if anyone can, it is her betrothed, but Anoriel proves as righteous and steadfast as the character from her tales. She gives him a lingering kiss, and then joins the wizard and hobbit as they depart to Gondor and the dangers lying on the edges of its borders.
Aragorn joins her at the top of the hill. They keep an eye on the travelers until they are a speck on the horizon. “That is a nice sword you carry,” she hears him say beside her.
“Thank you,” she replies, “It is the weapon of a shieldmaiden.”
She can feel him smile at her side, knows that he is thinking of the woman imprinted in his heart. “I’m sure that is true.”
She does not know what fate awaits her, does not know what Anoriel sees in her dreams, but she has given her hope for something better, for something worthy. With this sword at her side and The Shieldmaiden’s words engrained in her, Éowyn is ready to make her own legend.