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Hobbit in Arms - By Lóressar Erchamion

2002, A.M. Celaya. Adapted from the chapter titled "The Muster of Rohan" from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Author's Note: As anyone familiar with this chapter will notice, some of the events are described differently here than they are in the book. This is intentional, as this is meant to describe Éowyn's perception of the events.

I see him mounted beside the Lord of the Mark. If I knew no different, I would think this creature a child of men, though the curled hair on his bare feet would cause some wonder. Why does he stare at me so? Wait, he stares not at me but at my helm and sword. Does he wonder that a woman would be clad so? By such a thought, I am reminded of Lord Aragorn, who rode away only last night, carrying my last hopes with him. And before he rode away, he made of me but one request - to see that the hobbit is given arms.

I greet the Lord of the Mark, the King of the Rohirrim, my uncle. He returns my greeting and asks, Is all well with you? Is all well? I have had the task of dragging unwilling people out of their homes and leading them to hide in the hills (a thing they desire no more than do I), making sure each and every one of their needs are met, hearing no news of the battle save what Lord Aragorn was kind enough to bestow on me, and being told that all of this is my duty because I am a woman and that I could not with honor be released from it. Yes, all is well, I reply, using all of my shieldmaiden strength to hold back my tears. .

The hobbit stares at me still, only differently. What do I behold in his face? Pity? I will be pitied by no man, and certainly not this…this halfling. It is hard enough knowing that he must ride to war while I stay behind, but I will not accept his pity. And his armour can wait. I have news to give to the King and my brother. .

My uncle and brother relentlessly ask question after question about Lord Aragorn and his host. I answer, wishing the Grey Company could leave my mind as quickly as they had left my presence. My uncle gives me pity, speaking aloud that I am grieved. My brother proclaims that the company is lost forever, and Aragorn has deserted us. .

The three go to lodge for the night. I hope they find all well prepared for them. I have seen to each of their beds, even to pitching a small tent for the hobbit. Against my will, I find myself watching the hobbit go into his tent and wondering if he will gain the rest he needs. Something makes me want to go inside, comfort him, tell him that he was ever in Lord Aragorn's thoughts, and assure him he shall join the Lord of the Mark in battle. But, no. I am a shieldmaiden, not a dry-nurse. The hobbit will find soon enough that armour has been prepared for him. .

A meeting is called in the king's pavilion. For once, I sit at the King's table with my brother. The hobbit stands and waits on my uncle as I usually have in the past. But what is this? My uncle invites this hobbit, whom he calls Meriadoc, to sit at the table though only an esquire! Why should this courtesy be extended to a mere esquire when I, shieldmaiden of the House of Eorl, had stood and waited on the King these long years? .

Room is made for Meriadoc at my uncle's left hand. I sit in silent rage at this injustice. Though the others make small comments, Meriadoc says nothing. Still he stares at me. He tries to smile. I feel torn, not wanting to like him, not being able to dislike him. But then he speaks. He asks about Aragorn. Out of a thousand other things I am sure he could have said, he asks about Aragorn…and the Paths of the Dead.

My uncle, my brother, and I do our best to answer his questions. They speak of the mystery, the foreboding, the absolute horror that surround the Paths. I tell what news I have heard from Harrowdale. Then why has Aragorn gone that way? the hobbit pleads, begging someone to make sense of this chaos. Don't you know anything that could explain it?

Now I see that this Meriadoc is not so different from me. We both love Aragorn, and he abandoned us both in mad pursuit of death. But there is a difference. Aragorn wished me to stay hidden in the hills with this pathetic rabble. He wished for the hobbit to ride to battle, and to win glory and honor.

Suddenly, we are interrupted. A messenger has come from none other than Lord Denethor of Gondor. The Red Arrow has been sent. Gondor is in desperate need of our help. Gondor! The greatest and fairest of all kingdoms of Middle-earth! Only by the grace of Gondor does Rohan exist. And now Gondor calls us to war to defend her from the wrath of Sauron! Though my face shows no feeling, my mind reels with the thought of such honor. What a chance to strike against our great enemy! What glory, what renown to be won for the Lord of the Mark…and all who follow him!

I unconsciously glance at Meriadoc. His eyes, though fearful, are filled with a longing to ride with his master into battle and defend him to the end. Again I feel a kinship with him, yet still a barrier, for his desire shall be met. Mine shall not.

The King stands. We rise with him. Go now each to your rest, and sleep well, he says. And you, Master Meriadoc, I need no more tonight. But be ready to my call as soon as the Sun is risen. I cannot help thinking of how oft such thoughts have been expressed to me. Go away, I need you no longer, but be ready for my call when I do.

And yet, because of the love and loyalty I bear to my family and my people, my answer has always been as Meriadoc's is now: I will be ready, even if you bid me ride with you on the Paths of the Dead!

I wait for my uncle to reward these words of loyalty, but his reply strikes like an arrow in my heart. I watch the hobbit's sweet, childlike face fall as he is told, But I did not say that I would bid you ride with me on any road. Good night!

I watch the poor holbytla's face as he realizes his master's orders. A desire fills me to take him in my arms, stroke his curly brown hair, and tell him that I know exactly how he feels. I wish I could tell him all will still be well, but I cannot tell him what I know to be false. We leave the pavilion. I watch him go alone to his tent as I fight the urge to follow him and tuck him in bed. I walk past his tent on the way to my lodging. I can hear him saying quietly as he tosses on the bed I made for him, I won't be left behind, to be called for on return! I won't be left, I won't.

If only there was something I could do for him. But I cannot go against the orders of the King. If this were not so, I myself would join the muster of Rohan on the morrow.

* * *

It is morning, but there is no dawn. A Shadow of Mordor fills the land. The sun will not rise today. We are all summoned before the king. He stirs our hearts, rallying the Riders to go forth to Minas Tirith at once for the great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away.

All Riders save two. Meriadoc is told to stay behind with me.

Meriadoc valiantly protests that he offered the king his sword, that he would not be parted from the master he loved, and that all his friends were gone to battle and he would be ashamed to stay behind. As I fully expect, it is to no avail. My kinship with this hobbit, as well as my desire to aid him, only grows stronger as he begs the king to tie him to the back of a horse or let him hang from a stirrup. In desperation, he declares that he will run the whole way, though he wear his feet off and arrive weeks too late.

My uncle, touched by the hobbit's determination and loyalty, allows him to follow the riders to Edoras on his pony. I feel the resentment coming back as I ponder the fact that such a courtesy was never extended to me. Why had Meriadoc's pleas moved the king when my own could not move Lord Aragorn?

But this is foolish. This hobbit has done nothing to me. He cannot help it if he is a charming halfling and I am a wild shieldmaiden. And if I truly love Aragorn, how can I refuse his last request? I invite Meriadoc to come with me and see the gear I have prepared for him.

I bring him to a booth among the guard's lodges. An armourer brings me the small, makeshift armour I have chosen for Meriadoc. I regret that we have no mail to fit him, but he is given a small helm, a round shield, a jerkin of leather, a belt, and a knife. All ready he has a fine sword unlike any I have seen.

He bows when I present him with his shield. Like me, he now bears sword and shield for naught. Perhaps we can defend Dunharrow together at the last if ever the war reaches our hidden refuge. No. It cannot be. I could bear such a fate for myself, but I cannot bear the thought of this poor hobbit dying a brave, valiant death only to be forgotten and burned in the hills. Take all these things, I tell him, and bear them to good fortune! Yet maybe we shall meet again, you and I.

He bows again and takes his leave. The armourer follows…but I linger. I have work to do.

* * *

I am summoned to the hold to bid my uncle farewell. I beg him to take me with him. I have always served by his side in the house. Why can I not do so on the battlefield? I faced the perils of Grima Wormtongue with my hands tied. Why can I not face the evils of Sauron with sword and shield in hand? I have endured life. Why can I not endure death? Of course, I cannot bring myself to say all of these things. There is little purpose, anyway. My uncle clearly intends only to bid me farewell. He cannot promise that he will ever hail me again.

I fight the tears that stubbornly appear in my steeled eyes. I bid my uncle farewell. He leaves to muster his troops. He has left. My brother has left. Aragorn has left. Why should I stay?

* * *

I stand near the end of a long line of Riders, hoping my face is hidden by my helm and my figure by my armour. This is it. If the hobbit can wear armour and demand to use it so can the shieldmaiden. I will ride to victory, honor…and death.

I watch as the King, flanked by his heir and his esquire, inspects his troops. I hold my breath as my uncle and my brother pass me by. I should not have worried. They overlook me, as usual. I stare at the threesome, for a moment forgetting the need for secrecy and wishing to be noticed.

Meriadoc meets my gaze. He shivers. What does he see, I wonder? Does he know me? Does he fear for me? Is he pitying me again? Does it truly matter? If all goes according to plan, soon all shall honor me and sing of my death.

We mount our horses. Elfhelm glances toward me, his eyes asking if our secret is safe. I give a slight nod, then cue Windfola to follow the other horses. I am a Rider, and I am going to war.

We halt at Edoras and eat our noon meal. We are joined by some threescore riders. I softly caress Windfola, though all the while keeping a close ear on my uncle's speech with Meriadoc. My uncle tries to convince him to stay home where it will be safe. Oh, yes. Safe, with the women and children. What good can this mere creature do on the battlefield?

Meriadoc makes a protest that once would have moved me to tears. As for that, who can tell? But why, lord, did you receive me as a swordthain, if not to stay by your side? And I would not have it said of me in song that I was always left behind! I stifle grim laughter as I think how little this hobbit must know of our songs. Never would a song say someone was always left behind. If that were his lot, his name would never be in a song at all. The songs only speak of riding, fighting, and slaying. Such is the stuff of honor among the Rohirrim.

I received you for your safe-keeping, the king answers, and also to do as I might bid. None of my Riders can bear you as a burden. I hear no more of my uncle's words as I feel a chill turn my body and soul into solid ice. You must be kept safe. You must do as you are told. None will bear you as a burden. I have heard these things for the last time. I will show that I am no burden. And I will show this hobbit that he is no burden, either. He will not be in arms for naught.

I approach the hobbit as he stares sadly at the lines of horsemen. I speak softly in his ear. Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say, and so I have found myself. He looks into my eyes. Surely he knows me. You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes, I continue, I see it in your face.

I do, he says.

Then you shall go with me, I say, hardly unable to contain my urgency. I will bear you before me, under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker. Such good will should not be denied. Not in him…and not in me.

Thank you indeed! he says, his eyes shining with gratitude and hope. Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.

Were my mood not so fey, I could laugh at being called "Sir". I am surprised but relieved that the hobbit knows me not. Softly, I say to him, Do you not? Then call me Dernhelm.

I draw my cloak around the hobbit and guide him to Windfola. I help him into the saddle. The saddle was made for a large man, not a slender shieldmaiden, so I fit easily into the saddle behind Meriadoc. I cover Meriadoc with my cloak, trying to keep him hidden, yet still let him breathe. I reach around him and take Windfola's reins. Windfola goes forward at my command. My command. My life is now in my hands. And, as a brush of soft curls against my mailed arms reminds me, Aragorn's last order is being carried out to the letter.

The hobbit is in arms.

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