weeping woman

Leaving Dunharrow

Night has fallen over Dunharrow. The minds of the men are preparing to ride for war at first light. Fear and doubt swarm the encampment. There isn’t much more for them to do but await their King’s orders and ride to war. To only mentally prepare for an event as tragic as a battle is half the work, to actually ride and join the onslaught in the second half, which may change their lives forever.

Théoden and Aragorn are aware of what this war will bring upon them. There is certainty between the two, an unspoken communal thought, that they ride to death. With the numbers that have gathered, there is no victory for the race of Men. Nonetheless, there is no turning back from their purpose. 

To give his people any chance at all, Aragorn must depart. As he readies his horse, Éowyn approaches him. She is distraught to see him prepare to leave. She runs to him as if to keep him from leaving.

The truth behind the words

Why are you doing this? The war lies to the East. You cannot leave on the eve of battle! You cannot abandon the men.

Éowyn

As she doesn’t know of the exchange that happened between Aragorn and Elrond, she takes Aragorn’s leave as him abandoning the troops, right when they need him the most. But her concern for the soldiers does not compare to her need for his stay. She provides a reasonable argument but hides her true motives behind her words. Her voice betrays her with her last statement. It clearly emanates her own want for him.

Aragorn: “Éowyn…”

Éowyn: “We need you here.”

Aragorn: “Why have you come?”

Éowyn: “Do you not know?”

A careful declaration of love

Aragorn can spot the subtle differences in her behavior and voice and discerns where her truth lies. He knows her plea to stay involves only herself, and not the men per se. However, she does not give up her motivation behind her failed attempt at accusation quite so easily. 

Aragorn does not beat around the bush, he asks her plain and simple about the ultimate truth behind her coming to Dunharrow in the first place. She answers with a rhetorical question. Éowyn does not want to put her heart at such a risk as she did in Helm’s Deep. There, she declared her love for Aragorn without any sign of reciprocation.

Why would she risk losing pride and face again? It is a wound that, although not healed, still throbs at the sight of her beloved. Self-preservation has not yet begun to start the process of healing her heart. It is the love that she feels for Aragorn that pushes her to confront him again and face possible rejection again.

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Honesty

It is but a shadow and a thought that you love. I cannot give you what you seek. I have wished you joy since first I saw you.

Aragorn

Aragorn strikes at the core of Éowyn’s inquiry. He is honest and truthful. His truth shocks her. The impact of this blow to her heart moves her away from him. She takes a few steps back avoiding the ricochet of his words. There is nothing left for her to hope for now. Her love for Aragorn is not real, not in the way that it encompasses the true person Aragorn is.

She has fallen in love with what she has seen and experienced for a short while she had known him. It is the only version of Aragorn she knows and the only version she could have fallen in love with.

Her affection for him has grown exponentially as his own courage and leadership skills strengthened. She sees him as a great man, one who is confident and strong. A man who will reclaim the throne of Gondor. She sees this quality in him and is naturally drawn to it. 

Éowyn is not to blame for her one-sided affection for Aragorn. She hasn’t had the time that Arwen had to know Aragorn. To have her opinion and subsequent love for Aragorn be rendered unreal is unbearable. Heartbreak is devastating, but learning that the person you cared about was only a thought you made up in your mind starts an avalanche of doubt.

How can she now be sure with whom she fell in love? He seems almost a stranger to her now. Was everything she ever thought about him only a figment of her imagination or was it merely a catalyst for her own need for freedom and love?

Or is it just him giving her an insight into who he thinks he really is? 

A shadow of a man

Aragorn, however, is much more than she sees. He has struggled his whole life with who he is and who he is supposed to be. And even as he accepts his own fate, the fear of failure, the fear of history being repeated, grows inside him.

To accept himself and his fate is to be a part of a lineage that has been riddled with flaws, flaws that influenced the fate of Middle-Earth. If he is to stand as a proud man of Númenor, he must make peace with the history of his people as well as all the possible outcomes of his acceptance. 

He refused the Ring when Frodo offered it to him. That in itself goes against the weakness that has become synonymous with the race of Men. That single behavioral action has given Aragorn hope that he must not follow in the footsteps of Isildur. He is able to carve his own path and change his fate and with it the fate of all Mankind. In that one moment, he had subconsciously chosen to play a different role than that of his ancestors.

Aragorn has resisted the One Ring and advised the bearer to make his quest alone, knowing if he followed him there might come a moment of weakness. He has regretted his decision, as the oath to protect Frodo had effectively been broken. However, in the grander scheme of things, it was the single most meaningful event of his life. It has effectively proven his own worth and strength of character. 

A heart in pain

Aragorn is riddled with guilt, fear for the Men as well as fear of failure. He truly cannot give her the man she seeks, for he himself has not found him yet. There is a shadow of a possible King that stirs in him but that is all. He cannot claim to be something he still is not.

There is more he has to prove to himself before he can claim to be more than what he currently is. This takes time, challenges that only he can face and a one-track focus toward his goal. His romantic feelings do not have the space to grow or even exist in him right now. They were all but flattened with the thought of Arwen dying, of never seeing her again, of her leaving Middle-Earth, of everything he has known.

Aragorn is putting himself in danger of the Oathbreakers not only for the Men that have assembled at Dunharrow but also for the woman he loves. He will do whatever he can to relieve Arwen’s suffering, a pain she inflicted upon herself for him. This will be his way of returning the favor.

For all his struggles and emotional pain, he can only wish happiness for Éowyn, that is all he can give her. He touches her face then turns away. Aragorn takes his horse by the bridle moving in the direction of the White Mountain.

Three’s company

Gimli: “Just where do you think you’re off to?”

Aragorn: “Not this time. This time you must stay, Gimli.”

Legolas: “Have you learned nothing of the stubbornness of Dwarves?”

Gimli: “Might as well accept it. We’re going with you, laddie.”

This is a mission that only Aragorn can either conquer or fail at. There is no other that can even come close to the Army of the Dead and ask for their help. In spite of that, Legolas and Gimli see no reason why they shouldn’t be involved in this dangerous adventure. They wouldn’t help him in his negotiations, they would simply be his safeguards if he runs into trouble.

Legolas and Gimli both have built an inextricable relationship with Aragorn, so there is no way they are letting him go through this alone. They all leave for the path through the mountain.

A path through a mountain
Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

Army unrest

The men of the Rohirrim remain unsettled as they witness Aragorn’s party leaving the encampment. The questions of their whereabouts and reasoning behind their deflection are justified. The one man who was almost single-handedly responsible for their victory at Helm’s Deep, who has given them hope where there was none, has now abandoned them without a word.

Their reasoning is clear: if Aragorn has left, then there is no hope left.

The men try to call after Aragorn and demand an explanation for his leaving, but his determination does not break. The Three Hunters disappear into the darkness. 

Courage in spite of fear

Soldier #5: “Why does he leave on the eve of battle?”

Gamling: “He leaves because there is no hope.”

Théoden: “He leaves because he must.”

Gamling: “Too few have come. We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor.”

Théoden: “No, we cannot.”

Théoden: “But we will meet them in battle nonetheless.”

The soldiers place an understandable query into them leaving, giving adequate reasoning behind it. Théoden, although in the know, does not provide his true motivation. This, in turn, makes the Men lose any residue of hope they might have harbored. Aragorn’s leaving means there is no hope for Men, plain and simple.

Théoden does not refute this. He, as well as his men, is aware of the insufficient numbers of able-bodied men that are camping right below them. However, that fact does not sway Théoden from the ultimate purpose of their gathering. For, whatever happens, they will face the armies of Mordor. 

Although objectively a nonsensical decision to pursue, Théoden manages to encourage the men to move forward as instructed. They have taken oaths to protect and serve their country and their King. Therefore, if the King decides to aid a neighboring land in their struggle against a common enemy, then they shall follow him to whatever end. 

Even though the battle is taking place in Gondor, the outcome of the war will influence all of Middle-Earth. So, it is in everyone’s interest to do as much as they can to stop the enemy from advancing, for the fate of their world concerns them all. 

Pain and heartbreak over Aragorn leaves Éowyn in misery. Read on in my next post.

Photo by Karen Smits on Pixabay

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