He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 7, Part 191
The Healer Unhealed
Gravel scraped Frodo’s bare arms as Eowyn dragged him out into the yard by one foot. “Fight her, Eowyn!” he cried. “You can fight her!”
A cackle answered that chilled Frodo in the summer heat. “Ai, but she cannot tell where she leaves off and I begin. Oh the memories, the red, red memories!” Frodo heard footsteps scampering all around him, but he couldn’t look up, he had to concentrate on keeping his face from getting scoured off, while the dust half-blinded him. He felt the fingernails dug deep into his ankle, felt the blood trickling down his leg. With relish the hateful voice in Eowyn’s throat hissed, “And oh, I love it when she fights me. I just loooove it.”
Frodo tried to writhe out of her grasp, but he might as well have been a fish on a hook. Voices all around him called, “Watch out! She has a sword!” Groaning, Frodo remembered the arms by the door that they had just passed through. “Beware!” folks called out to one another, somewhere beyond the grit inches from his eyes. “Remember her fame for weaponcraft!”
“Listen, Eowyn–I know you can hear me.” He choked on dust but he tried to raise his voice nonetheless. “I’ve been through this before. The dividing line *cough* between you and your tormentor is love–try to think of everyone you love.”
He heard a whirr overhead, a few clangs of metal against metal, an outcry, and the pound of retreating feet. Long, throaty laughter crackled above the hobbit. “Come my sweet–I have a horse nearby, and these sheep will not stand between us.”
“What about Eldarion?” he cried.
“Him?” She broke into giggles now, high and strange. “He shall not go anywhere.” Frodo remembered a gush of red in the confusion and his own blood froze.
“Faramir, Eowyn! Remember Faramir!” The steps stumbled to a halt. “Remember your children. Remember Uncle Merry–Holdwine, that is, remember Holdwine!”
“Ah, the little warrior!” The steps began again, dragging him as he flopped and struggled. “Red memories–I could play with him indeed.”
But Frodo felt the steps stagger, as though Measse lacked full control of them. “Faramir! Faramir!” he shouted. “Tender moments–recall his smile on you!”
”Silence!” Frodo left the ground–he felt himself whirled through the air, her grip still cruel on his ankle, till he thudded chest-first right into a wooden pillar, the wind knocked out of him, stars shooting through his sight. She dropped him only to kick him; he tasted blood.
“Faramir,” he moaned, and the next kick missed. “Remember...his face...when you showed him...your firstborn...” No blow followed. He dared to pull himself up, leaning on his hands though a sharp pang stabbed him, and so he glimpsed her briefly when she fell to her knees, pulling her own hair as agony contorted her face. Then the pain overpowered him and he fell back down again. “Remember,” he forced himself to whisper, and then everything went black.
Motion...he seemed to flow somewhere. A cradling arm...PAIN!...better, just breathe shallowly...a slow and rhythmical motion..resist the urge to cough...dust in the lungs makes demands... Do NOT cough...need air...don’t cough...must...it HURTS!...shallow breaths, keep them small...glad to get that out of the system...slowly the need to cough builds up again...
Now someone laid him on the ground but he kept his eyes closed, concentrating on keeping his breaths as light as possible. Hands lifted back his tunic, but he felt too hurt to care. He cried out when fingers probed his bruised torso. Someone half-lifted him. Bandages wrapped him tight, around and around and around.
“No injuries to any organs,” the woman muttered. “That is something, at least. Yet the broken rib will need some care.” He felt her lay him back down.
Frodo opened his eyes to a windblown silhouette between him and the sun. “Eowyn?” he asked, but she did not answer. “Eowyn, where have you taken me?”
“Away,” she sighed. “Danger. You were in danger.”
“From what? Who?” But he heard nothing except weeping in reply. “Eowyn, please listen to me,” he said as she picked him up again, very carefully, cradling him in her arm as she remounted the horse. “I know what it feels like, this confusion. I have been through it. A fallen maia plays with your mind. You need to resist her.”
“I must see you to safety,” she husked, and rode on. Randomly. “Duty. The warrior’s duty is to defend the weak.” He felt the muscles harden that cradled him. “The Vala of Battle is both just and merciful. She causes the wolf to defend her whelps, the lark to defend her nest.” Eowyn’s arm tightened on Frodo till it hurt. “Woe to he who threatens my young! I shall watch his hot blood gout into the sand!”
“Eowyn, I am not your young! I am a full-grown hobbit with parents of my own.”
She glanced down on him vaguely. “Oh. Right.” Her eyes narrowed as she did a double-take. “Bruises? Excoriations? Do I feel bandages beneath your clothes? Somebody attacked you!”
“I must defend the weak!” Still holding him in one arm, she dropped the reins to pull out her sword with the other, shouting inchoately and digging her heels into the horse to make him gallop as she steered him with her knees. Frodo found himself clutching her clothing to keep from falling. The bloodstains looked gruesome on the pale green cloth.
“Ha!” She threw her sword high into the air. Frodo watched in terror as it spun above him, flashing in the sun, and then came hurtling down at them, but she caught it by the hilt before the blade could shear them through. “It feels good, the life of the warrior!” And she burst into some triumphant song in the language of the Riddermark, the horse’s hoof-falls keeping time.
“But you gave up the warrior-life to become a healer–don’t you remember?” Yet she did not hear him over her singing. “Eowyn, you were the one who attacked me! You broke my rib.” He could not draw a deep enough breath to outshout the song; the effort made him cough, and the coughing hurt like the blow all over again.
Congratulations. You drove Measse out of your friend, here, with that cheap shot about Faramir and the baby. Unfortunately for you, you also drove the woman herself clean out of her mind.
“What?” Frodo whispered. “What are you saying?”
Not that it took particular talent–Measse never did have much of a grip. Oh, the wreckage she left behind her, all of the soldiers in no fit shape to serve anyone anymore–such waste!
“What did she do to Eowyn?”
Her usual. Latched onto some old scar of the soul, ripped it wide open to gain entry, ripped it even further on the way out, poisoned in passing with the slime of her own inefficient doctrines.”
“Doctrines?” Frodo leaped at any chance of figuring out what went on in Eowyn’s mind right now.
Oh, nothing much. Nonsense by which Measse convinced herself that she was somehow the best of us, the most “honorable”, still serving our maker--after she spit in his face. Frodo felt an unpleasant chuckle in his head. A sort of bloodthirsty philosophy that I could understand, had she left it there, except that the ideas curdled around a handful of uncomfortably incompatible scruples. Again came the horrible chuckle. Morgoth always kept the most hypocritical of our number close by for a laugh–and some of them became the most zealous of his servants--but Measse and her brother misconstrued the attention and entertained delusions of grandeur. If you can believe it, they fancied themselves Morgoth’s children, Valar like him, their heritage supposedly concealed by enemies, since (conveniently) like all of us, they could not remember the moment of their own creation. Now the inner laughter roared. Him? He’d never beget anyone, would sooner blast the unhappy womb that might conceive by him–Morgoth would never tie himself down to whining brats and the degrading demands of instinct. Stupid, stupid, stupid Measse!
“Oh dear,” Frodo muttered. “All of this would cut closer to the bone for Eowyn than I might have guessed.”
A spattering of drops fell on Frodo’s face. Then one hit his lips and the salt taste told him that it hadn’t started to rain. Eowyn’s singing had cracked, and now lapsed into near-silent sobs. “Duty...” she husked.
“Poor woman!” Frodo murmured.
Oh cheer up, you mewling fool! At least she no longer seems inclined to torture us. Measse does not have many talents, but her creativity in pain at times has startled even me, in its own crude way. Yet she never grasped the artistry of plying on complementary layers of suffer...
“Shut up, Sauron.”
He had no choice. Frodo remembered Uncle Pippin’s stories well enough. He had no treasure but one to part with, only a single thing that would shout to a tracker that he had passed this way. Moving as carefully as he ever had in his life, fearful lest Eowyn glance down again, he slipped the cord over his neck. Unaware, she began to sing again, this time intoning a dirge, solemn and deep, her voice going hoarse on the low notes. Silently Frodo kissed the lens, but he thought at it as hard as thoughts could shout: “Bring help, little gift of love.” His eyes brimmed up till he could hardly see the pink jewels glinting in the sun. “If you have any special grace from May’s hand or from Billie Lass’s mane, draw to me those who mean me well.” And then he let it fall.