Who Would Win in a Cage Match between Éowyn the Horse Maiden of LOTR verses Katniss of the Hunger Games?
“I do not wish to play at riddles,” Éowyn said. She slammed her fist on the edge of the wide, bowl-like studio chair. “Speak plainer!”
“I think someone’s a little nervous,” Caesar Flickerman said. He was a clownish man, wearing an odd motley of Panem-make, a patterned, shiny purple and amber suit. His hair, lips and eyelids were dyed powder blue and when he grinned, she had to squint from the glare of the studio lights off his oversized teeth. She still wasn’t convinced the brilliant lights were not of wizard make. But the people here insisted there was no magic at work. Flickerman winked at the gathered spectators, called a studio audience — a motley collection of brightly garbed fools — and the whole theater erupted with laughter. “We can’t blame our fair maiden of the horse lands for her lack of understanding, after all, there has never been anything quite as spectacular as the Suvudu Cage Match. Am I right folks?”
The fools in the audience all applauded, but Éowyn still had no idea what a cage match was, or how she had come to even participate in it. She had little patience left, but she had seen enough of this odd world to understand the need for caution. She waited for the Flickerman the Clown to finish mugging for the studio audience. He sat in a white bowl like hers, with Éowyn on one side and the Panem woman, Katniss Everdeen on the other. When he had done preening, he leaned in to Éowyn. “I don’t blame you for being impatient, Lady Éowyn. I’ll speak as plainly as I can. You and Katniss here, are going to be sent to a secret arena of death where you’ll fight, her for the glory of Panem, you for the honor of Middle Earth.”
Éowyn pushed Flickerman the Clown back down in his seat and spoke directly to Katniss.”I have no grievance with you, girl. Why must we fight?”
Katniss had tears in her eyes. Regret. “It’s the only way.”
“We could simply refuse,” Éowyn said.
“It’s not that easy,” Katniss said. “Trust me.”
“Then you think that the Darkness is coming?” said Éowyn. “Darkness Unescapable?”
“Once we’re in the arena of death,” Katniss said. Her sad face at odds with the bright red and gold dress she wore. “There is no escape. I’m sorry.”
“I desire no man’s pity. Nor woman’s.”
“Oh don’t look so glum girls,” Flickerman the Clown said. “It won’t be so bad. What if you could bring a companion along? A partner or lover to stand beside you in this, your most dramatic hour?”
“What are you talking about, Caesar?” Katniss said.
Flickerman the Clown grinned his shiny, big-toothed grin and played for the studio audience. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned at Pan-Capital Productions, it’s that everyone loves a good love story! Isn’t that right folks? Are you ready for our surprise guest stars?”
The spectators cheered again and Éowyn scowled at them, contemptuous. She caught movement from the corner of her eye, and saw a squad of peacekeepers — the brutish, armored warriors retained by Pan-Capital Productions — herding a group of prisoners onto the stage with the magic boom-staffs they called guns.
The studio audience went wild for the first two prisoners, apparently familiar with both handsome young men. The tall one wore a blue suit of Panem-make, as dark as his grim expression. But of the two, only he seemed bothered by his captivity. The other boy engaged the audience, waving and flashing his pretty smile like he was the honored guest at a royal banquet, and the studio audience responded to him as if it were so, cheering and chanting his name, Peeta! Peeta! Peeta! He was golden haired and as pretty as any human girl Éowyn had ever known. He wore a flamboyant suit that matched Katniss’, gold, with hundreds of red gems set into the shapes of flames.
While the spectators cheered for Peeta, two more prisoners were brought onto stage, grown men garbed in a fashion of Middle Earth. These two were far less agreeable than the boys had been. The faces of the men, though battered and bruised, were as familiar to Éowyn as a woman’s first and last loves ought to be. “Dear Husband, Faramir. Aragorn, my old friend…”
“Ladies and gentlemen of Panem,” Flickerman the Clown said, “it honors me to present to you the 3rd High-King of Arnor and Gondor, Aragorn of the Line of Valandil!”
Aragorn received much ovation, but when Flickerman the Clown introduced her husband, “And this is the steward of Gondor — “ His mouth stretched into a jaw-cracking yawn that seemed to infect the whole audience with a gray sense of tedium. “Please, forgive me — “ When he had done, he went on in a bored voice, “ — Prince of Ithilien, Lord of Emyn Arnen, Faramir, son of Denethor!” there was only polite hand-clapping. Rage flashed through Éowyn, that her man should be shown such discourtesy.
Armed peacemakers escorted Flickerman the Clown to where Aragorn and Faramir knelt on the stage, “Now, according to Pan-Capital records,there is no greater fighter in all of Middle Earth than Strider, son of Arathorn. With this mighty warrior at her side, the lady Éowyn’s odds of surviving the cage match improve greatly.” He turned and leveled his clown’s grin at her. “So the question for you Éowyn, is will you choose to stand with the greater fighter, or your husband? Now, bear in mind, whomever you don’t choose…”
“My husband, Faramir, of course,” Éowyn said. “I would die at his side before standing with any other…”
The spectators applauded her choice, though she got the feeling they had hoped for something more dramatic than honorable. That only served to show how little they knew of the Rohirrim. She would die smiling if the other option was betraying her beloved husband.
A peacekeeper stepped up to Aragorn, jammed his boom-staff into the king’s head and made fire explode from it.
Éowyn shrieked in horror.
“Not my king!” Faramir wailed as Aragorn’s head burst into bloody chunks and bits of brain and bone. Éowyn screamed for the loss and wept for a time. As her tears slowed, Flickerman the Clown went on in somber tones. “You made your choice so quickly, Lady Éowyn, I had no time to explain to you the fate of the man you did not choose. I am so sorry.” He played for the audience again. “So tragic. The king is dead. But there you have it.”
“Why?” Faramir demanded, and Éowyn’s heart broke for he grief in her husband’s voice. “Why have you murdered my king?”
Flickerman the Clown aimed his grin at the audience. “Now that’s entertainment!” He turned to Katniss and gazed upon her with pity. “It’s your turn to choose. Peeta or Gale. Choose one to fight with down in the arena. But remember, the other dies here and now.”
“No!” Katniss screamed. “Please! Not again!”
“Any words for Katniss, boys?” Flickerman the Clown said. “Something to make the choice a little easier? What about you, Gale Hawthorne?”
Éowyn, through sheer will, stopped the flow of her tears and focused on the darker of the two boys, Gale Hawthorne.
The handsome lad spoke quietly, as if he and Katniss were the only ones in the room. “We could do it, you know.”
“What?” Katniss said.
“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.”
“Oh Gale…” Katniss wept. She seemed to fold in on herself, pulling he legs up to her face and crying into her knees. Éowyn felt for the girl, she had heard a little of what Katniss had endured regarding the Panem Capital and the Hunger Games, and thought perhaps the girl’s sanity had finally broken. Katniss murmured, “Peeta? Gale? I can’t choose. I can’t. Can’t choose.”
Flickerman the Clown moved close to Peeta and put a hand on his shoulder. “Looks like she still has strong feelings for Gale.” How does that make you feel, Peeta?”
“It’d be better if he were easier to hate.”
That elicited sympathy from the spectators, and a round of applause.
“What about you, Peeta?” Flickerman the Clown said. “What would you say to your beloved Katniss?”
Peeta walked over and stood before Katniss. The peacekeepers gave him some space, but remained vigilant. He went to one knee. “You love me. Real or not real?”
Katniss lifted her head. “Real.”
The choice seemed clear. Though Éowyn pitied poor ale Hawthorne’s fate, she felt at least a touch of relief. At least this part was over. These monsters of Pan-Capital Productions would murder Gale as they had Aragorn the king, and the remaining prisoners would fight to the death. Éowyn waited as Katniss grieved what she must do. Peeta held her in his arms as she sobbed quietly.
“I know it is hard,” Peeta said. “Your love for him…”
“This is a nightmare, Peeta, Katniss wailed.”
“My nightmares are usually about losing you,” Peeta said. “I’m okay once I realize you’re here. That’s why you should choose Gale. You have a better shot of surviving with him.”
Éowyn gasped, amazed by utter selflessness of Peeta’s act. From what she had discerned in her short time in this realm, the odds of Katniss’ survival improved should she be partnered with Gale, almost her equal with the bow plus a lifetime of brawling experience that trumped the skills Peeta had mastered during the Hunger Games, the most profound of which was dumb luck. He was wise not to count on that luck standing against a shield-maiden of the Rohirrim and the greatest swordsman in Gondor, now that Aragorn was dead.
“No!” Katniss turned to Caesar, desperation in her eyes, “Sacrifice me! I’m the selfless one…”
“Don’t die for me,” Peeta said. “You won’t be doing me any favors!”
“But you’re too good to die, Peeta. Too pretty… too”
“No!” Peeta said. “I would rather be dead than be without you, Katniss…!
“I could live a thousand lifetimes and never deserve you…”
“Enough!” Flickerman the Clown said irritably. It was the first time Éowyn had seen the man anything other than cloyingly over-pleasant. “You know that’s not how this works! Besides that selfless martyr schtick polls lower than Panem congress and their numbers are in the toilet. I’m sorry kids, but audiences have moved past that sentimental schlock. It’s totally played out.” He turned to the studio audience. “Am I right, folks?”
The spectators went wild. Éowyn had no idea what Flickerman the Clown had gone on about, but she was growing weary of Katniss’ indecision. She had lost not just her king, but a good friend, the first man she had ever loved. She would be damned before she lost her dear husband, the last man she would ever love. “Choose, Katniss!”
“I won’t choose,” Katniss said. “You can’t make me!”
The peacekeepers moved as one then, as efficient as the most disciplined Eorlingas. Before she knew what was happening, Éowyn had one of the boom-staffs jammed into the base of her skull. She clenched her teeth and watched with impotent rage as the soldiers closed in on the others. In half a second, Faramir, Peeta, Gale and Katniss all had boom-sticks pointed at their heads.
“Just do it!” Gale said. “You know who you’re going to choose, just get it over with!”
“I am so sorry, Katniss,” Flickerman the Clown said. “I’m afraid you must choose one or sacrifice all. This really is terrible, I know, but it’s out of my control. Do the heroic thing here. Save lives and win ratings…”
“How? How can I make such a choice?” Katniss demanded.
“Weigh your pain,” Éowyn said, noting the growing rage in her brave Faramir’s steely gray eyes. He looked ready to spring at the peacemaker standing over him, an attack that would surely get him killed. Éowyn spoke quickly. “Decide which loss will hurt more, Katniss, and choose the other.”
“The worst pain? To me, it’s always the pain that is present.”
“Choose!” Éowyn said. “The hour grows desperate!”
Katniss said, “If desperate times call for desperate measures, then I am free to act as desperately as I wish.”
“Your words are poison!” Éowyn said. “Why won’t you choose, silly girl?”
“Because I’m selfish,” Katniss said. “I’m a coward. I’m the kind of girl who, when she might actually be of use, would run to stay alive and leave those who couldn’t follow to suffer and die.”
“By Felaróf’s mane!” Éowyn said. “What are you talking about, you foolish twit?”
But before Katniss could spout more mawkish gibber, the CRUNCH of a heavy object smashing bone sounded behind her. Faramir cried out in pain as she turned in time to see him slump to the floor clutching his bleeding head. The peacekeeper stood over him, posed to smash the butt of his long boom-stick into her beloved’s skull once more.
She screamed in fury and hurled herself at Katniss, propelled by rage and contempt. She understood well the pain of a heart cloven twain. After all, she had once burned for Aragorn the king, but when her heart had opened to Faramir, she made her choice and honored it always. Why could this twit and archery savant not do the same? She shouldered Flickerman the Clown out of the way and made a grab for Katniss, but Peeta jumped in her path, shielding Katniss’ body with his own.
“What are you doing?” Peeta said, “Have you lost your min…?”
Éowyn punched him in the side of the head, and as he fell away, she slammed the heel of her boot into his knee, shattering it. He fell to the studio floor, shrieking like a foal at gelding.
“Choose!” She grabbed Katniss by the ears and slammed her head into her nose, bursting it. Katniss’ scream was cut short when Éowyn punched her in the throat, crushing her windpipe and ending her whiney equivocating for all time.
Both Gale and Peeta cried out in grief but she cared not. They were fools for loving such an dithering twit and she was done suffering fools.
*Originally published on the SUVUDU web site, March 2014.