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legolas watches the shieldmaiden

It was the men, Legolas noticed, his fellow warriors, who carried him, in state, to the burial ground. But it was the women who received him there, and laid him in his tomb—the women who, (as surely as they must have overseen his birth), oversaw his burial.

The elf stood between his mortal friends, eyes downcast, an outsider.

Bealocwealm hafað fréone frecan forth onsended…

The song sounded strange to his musical ears—a monotonous chant—and the voice not light and sweet, like an elleth’s, but deep and earthy, torn by pain from the very depths of the singer’s being.

Legolas raised his eyes in sudden recognition.

Giedd sculon singan gléomenn sorgiende
on Meduselde…


…þæt he ma no wære
his dryhtne dyrest and mæga deorost…

His White Lady was no songstress. But standing, tall and grave, amongst the grieving women, singing her simple dirge—though he could not understand her language—she spoke directly to his heart, of a man taken before his time, a warrior honoured for his heroic death, and of a people deprived of their future king.

It was the most moving song that Legolas had ever heard.


The tomb slammed shut.


The Golden Hall was filled with bustle—men hurrying, here and there, packing the Royal household into wooden chests and carrying it out to the carts.

As they passed the great double doors, a glimpse of something within the chaos brought Aragorn to an abrupt halt. Legolas followed his gaze.


She had taken a broadsword from one of the chests, and was sliding it from its scabbard.

The elf and the man both watched in fascination as she lifted the blade and held it before her eyes, running her palm along its length, transported to some distant battlefield… Then she raised it above her head, spun, and advanced—one step, two—cutting to right and left—executing each move cleanly, with speed and grace.

Aragorn drew his knife.

No, thought Legolas, leave her be…

She paused, in a perfect horizontal guard, then spun again—and Aragorn caught her weapon and held it, mid-cut. “You have some skill with the blade,” he said.

He had taken her by surprise, but she did not flinch: she kept her sword aloft, her enormous grey eyes steady, unblinking.

He has underestimated her, thought Legolas, smiling, and now she is trying his strength.

With perfect timing, the Shieldmaiden swung her hands down and to the left, throwing Aragorn’s blade aside and leaving her own perfectly aligned to strike at his throat. Now it was the man’s turn to be surprised—by her open challenge—and he let his sword arm drop in surrender.

Satisfied, she released him and turned away, re-sheathing her sword. “The women of this country learned long ago,” she said, “that those without swords may still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain.”

“What do you fear my lady?”

“A cage,” she said, her voice suddenly throbbing with emotion. “To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of valour has gone beyond recall or desire.”

She searched his face for some sign of hope.

“You are a daughter of kings,” said Aragorn, evasively, “a Shieldmaiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.” He bowed courteously, and backed away.

Legolas watched him go. Aragorn! If you will not open the door for her, at least leave her be—

A strange screeching noise behind him pulled him, shuddering, from his thoughts—and he turned to see Eowyn dragging the weapons chest across the floor, gritting her teeth against the sound of its wooden base scraping on the stone tiles.

“My lady!”

She paused. “Sir Elf?”

Legolas smiled at the quaint title. “May I help you?”

She was surprised by his offer, but accepted it. “Take the other end.”

He could have carried the chest by himself. But what Eowyn lacked in strength she more than made up for in determination, so he held himself in check, and tried not to worry for her as they slowly shuffled towards the doors.

“I have heard,” she said, already a little out of breath, “that the women of your race fight beside the men.”

“The ellith fight beside the ellyn, yes,” he replied. “Ellith are taught the sword, the knife, and the bow, as we are, and are expected to serve as guards and warriors, but…”

“But what?” she prompted, swiftly raising one hand to her face and wiping her forehead.

“There is far less difference between an elf and elleth than between a man and a woman…”

“What do you mean?”

We are physically alike, in size and strength,” he said, “your men are so much bigger and stronger than you are—”

“You think it is physical size that matters?” She tossed her hair back from her face.

“I think it helps.”

“Lord Gimli told me that, in Moria, you killed a cave troll—ran right up its chain and shot it in the head.”

“That was not the kill,” said Legolas. He smiled. “But yes, you are right, skill can outweigh strength, and spirit outweigh size.”

“My uncle does not think so.” She was panting now. “Nor does my brother. And nor, it seems, does Lord Aragorn. They confine me to womanly duties.”

“Can we put this down for a moment?”

She nodded.

They lowered the chest to the floor and Legolas tried to hide his concern when she remained leaning over it, her hands spread on its gabled lid. “Women’s duties,” he said. “Like the one you performed this morning, bidding your cousin’s spirit farewell?”

“Births, marriages, disease and death. Those are our province: where we are allowed to rule.”

“Those are the most important events in life,” said Legolas. “To help another pass safely through birth or illness is surely a noble thing?”

“But not something to be remembered throughout the ages for,” she answered, bitterly. “Not a thing that brings renown. If it were, it would be reserved for men…” She nodded at the chest. “Shall we continue?”

They picked it up, and shuffled, Legolas searching for something more to say. As they passed the next great pillar, two men standing behind, speaking in their native tongue, seemed to be sharing a joke. The elf looked to Eowyn, expecting her to join in the laughter—and was startled to find her staring, wide-eyed, at him.

“What is it?” he asked. “What are they saying?”

She shook her head.

“My lady?”

“I—I cannot repeat it.”

Still laughing heartily, the men stepped into the central hall, and caught sight of Legolas. One froze, his face contorted with shame; his companion bowed apologetically, and hurried his dumbstruck friend away.

Legolas lowered the chest. “My lady,” he demanded, “tell me what they were saying about me.”

“You do not want to know—”


“They said that you were Lord Aragorn’s lover,” she whispered, “—his ‘mistress’. They said that you and he…” She looked away, her cheeks aflame

“No!” hissed Legolas, “no, I am not that, my lady, I assure you!” He looked about him, wildly. “Why would they think that?”

“They find you womanly,” she said.

“Do they want proof I am not?”

“You will give them proof,” she said, “when you fight them.”

Fight them?” Her words brought him back to reality. He shook his head. “No. I will not fight them. No.”

“Why not?”

“Because elves to do not fight over insults—and because those men are my comrades, or will be when we stand together on the battlefield. And because it does not matter what they think…” It only matters what you think, meleth nín. “Why are you smiling, my lady?”

“You have just known something of the contempt they show us women,” she said. “Though you, being male, will have the chance to prove yourself.”

Slowly Legolas reached out and laid his hand upon her shoulder. “Be patient, my lady. Your moment will come. I know it will.”

“Be patient?” She shook her head. “I thought you understood.”

“Being patient is not accepting the cage,” said Legolas. “The skilful warrior awaits his—or her—best chance. You know that. Your moment will come—”

“Easy for an immortal to say.”

“You will not run out of time, my lady.”

“I see it happen every day,” said Eowyn, passionately. “When a woman’s body ages, used up by birthing and by raising children, she is—she becomes a figure of fun.”

“The woman I saw this morning will always be respected. She is a Queen,” said Legolas.

“Only if she can marry a King.”

“The woman who sparred with Aragorn is a fighter.” He squeezed her shoulder. “I know he spoke the truth, my lady—the life you fear will not be your fate. The gods have other plans for you and they will set you free, when the time is right. What you must do is watch the door.”

“And not falter when it opens,” said Eowyn, softly.

Legolas smiled. “Shall we ask two of these strong men to carry the chest for us?”

“We shall order them,” said Eowyn.



Ten years later

The Golden Hall was deserted.

“We should not be in here.”

“Why not? You are a Princess of Rohan.” He took her by the hand and led her, barefoot, past the dimly glowing braziers and the fire pit’s dying embers, to a table hidden in the shadows between two of the great carved pillars.

“Do not imagine that I do not know your intentions, wicked elf.”

He grinned—“Shhhh,”—and lifted her onto the table.

“I have not forgotten,” she whispered, “how you tried to ravish me, outside, upon the parapet. Nor how you looked at me, afterwards, when you found me sleeping in here…”

“I wanted you long before that,” he corrected. “There is something about watching a Shieldmaiden practise her sword skills…” He nipped her ear.

“Oh…” She hunched over his shoulder, eyes closed, smiling. “So when I thought you were,”—she giggled, as his lips tickled her neck—“sympathising with me, what you were really doing was—oh!—trying to lift my shift?”

“You remember our talk, then?”

“I remember that Fengel and Freca called you Aragorn’s ‘mistress’. A pity they are not here now.” She slipped her hand inside his dressing robe.

He bit her neck.

“Ow!” Her fist clenched reflexively—

Sweet Eru! You nearly broke it off.”

They both giggled.

“I have waited ten years to take you in here,” he whispered.

“Do not tell me, Lassui,” said Eowyn, drawing him closer, “show me…”

Later, she lay upon the table, cradling Legolas in her arms. “You were right.”

“I am always right. About what?”

“About the cage.” She stroked his hair. “All I had to do was watch for the door to open and have the courage to step through it. Now I have everything I ever wanted.”

“Hmmm. I think that disguising yourself as a man, and riding into battle with a hobbit, would count as forcing the lock, melmenya.”

“I did not mean renown, my love. I meant having an insatiable elf for a husband.”

Legolas raised his head. “It took you five years to notice that that door was open, Eowyn nín,” he said.

“But five years is nothing to an immortal, Lassui,” said Eowyn, smiling.





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Part 2
The Stew. On the journey to Helm's Deep, Eowyn brings Legolas some of her stew—and asks him a difficult question.


Eowyn's song
Bealocwealm hafað fréone frecan forth onsended
An evil death has set forth the noble warrior
giedd sculon singan gléomenn sorgiende
a song shall sing sorrowing minstrels
on Meduselde þæt he ma no wære

in Meduseld that he is no more,
his dryhtne dyrest and mæga deorost.

to his lord dearest and kinsmen most beloved.
An evil death…

Text and translation from Language in the Lord of the Rings Movie.