"It seems it is true," the girl says, "that the Elves allow their women to battle."
Arwen is exhausted. For years she had begged her father to allow her to hunt Orcs with her brothers; for years she had dreamed of doing her part in defending what little was left that was bright and good in the world. And now that she has fought, she has killed, she has lost count of how many horrific creatures have met death at her hands, she feels... apathetic.
It had all been so repetitive. You fought, you killed, there were a hundred more.
"My father barred me from it for quite some time," she says absent-mindedly, wiping her sword again (although it is clean, she cannot seem to keep polishing it, as if the unclean blood she had spilled had left stains that could not be expunged). "But no, there is no rule that says women may not fight. Only that they are predisposed to healing, and the care of children."
"Can you heal, then?" Théoden's niece, Arwen identifed her as when she approached; there was a strong resemblance, in the brightness of her eyes and the tilt of her head, as if she expected to be answered truthfully.
Arwen slid her sword back into its sheath. "No." Memories wrapped like tendrils around her thoughts - her father's careful hands and patient voice as he tried to teach her how to bind the cut on her foot, and her own clumsiness and impatience. "Not as well as my father. I know a little, but..." She looked down at her hands. Was she imagining it, or had the luminosity of her skin dulled ever-so-slightly? "The more you kill, the less power to heal you hold."
"It's a pity I don't want to be a healer," the girl said, her voice taking on a touch of bitterness. "I doubt I'll ever see battle."
Arwen combed back her hair with her fingers, a convulsive tremble running through her.
"I don't know whether I'm glad I've seen it," she said quietly.
They both watched Aragorn leave, a small band of men and one Maiar to speak to Saruman; Arwen recalled Saruman from when she was younger, tall and white and strict. She had thought he was fussy, and funny when he started going off on one subject and everyone quietly stopped listening, and sometimes she had to listen because she been taught to be polite, and he had been a kind of constant in her uncertain world, if a distant one. And now...
"I know what you mean," Éowyn said, and Arwen realizes she had been rambling out loud (it was hard for her to separate thoughts and words sometimes, when she had spent her childhood in the company of those who could usually respond with ease to one or the other). Éowyn looks out over the plain where the group has gone, her eyes clear but her mouth tight with grief. "My uncle had a counseler... oh, he was horrible sometimes, but I could have sworn - once, he cared about my uncle, maybe even a little about Rohan. And even if he wasn't pleasant, you don't expect..." She makes a vague gesture, and again Arwen sees the battle of the Hornburg in her mind's eye.
For a few minutes, there are no words between them.
"My father told me stories," Arwen says quietly, "about how evil came to be, sometimes." Melkor's re-naming, Manwë's unability to understand. "Perhaps it is always unexpected."
"But is there nothing we can do about it?" Éowyn says, soft and bitter; then she touches Arwen's sleeve, and her voice becomes softer, almost shy. "These stories, would you mind repeating some to me?"
So they sit in her room and dismiss the servants, and for her sake Arwen finds herself scouring her brain for every tale of heroic women she knows. Once her favorite - Beren and Luthien - has been told, she struggles a little, and Éowyn wrinkles her nose at a few of the things she mentions.
"One of Galadriel's names means man-maiden?"
Arwen finds herself smiling a little at her expression, but nodding in agreement. "I can see why she does not choose to use it. I only know it because I was always particularly interested in names, and read everything my father has about them..."
"It seems rather insulting," Éowyn mutters.
Arwen bites her lip, considering; it was strange to think of Galadriel fighting, when she had never seen her so much as touch a sword, but she knew she was tall and strong beneath her flowing robes (Galadriel had always smiled as if at some private joke when she caught Arwen staring).
"But being strong does not make her a man," she says, finishing her thought out loud. "Perhaps you are right; perhaps we have our flaws as well, in how women are thought of."
Éowyn sprawled on the bed, her golden hair like a spray of flowers against the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. "If I could be a man," she said contemplatively, "I would only become one so that I could fight for Rohan, and so I do not have to marry."
Arwen raised an eyebrow. "No wish to marry?" She tried to think of a delicate way to put what she had observed. "You seemed to... care for Aragorn." Oddly enough, it had not troubled her. What lay between her and Aragorn seemed unshakeable, inevitable.
"It's not like that!" Éowyn sat upright, cheeks flushed, but it seemed to be more with anger than embarassment; her words are choked and frustrated. "I - I admire him, I would ride to battle with him - but I do not love him as women are supposed to love men! My brother is not accused of wishing to bed Aragorn when he looks upon him with love and loyalty; why should I be any different?" She let out a long blowing of air, like a distraught horse. "But I do not know how to say it."
"I believe you," Arwen told her, reaching out to hold her hand; Éowyn's pulse raced beneath her fingertips, and she stroked her wrist gently, trying to calm it. A suspicion is beginning to enter her mind. "Have you ever cared for men?"
Éowyn shook her head, anger subsiding; she looked dispirited now. "All the maids tell me I should. Please don't speak of it further."
"If I may ask one more question - what do you think of when you think of beauty, or beauty that touches you and sets your pulse racing?"
"Sunrise," Éowyn replied slowly, brows furrowed in confusion. "Horses running free, birds flying. Women - you, you especially."
That was slightly unexpected; Arwen felt a tinge of color touch her cheeks. "Me?"
"Yes," Éowyn replied frankly, raising her clear eyes to Arwen's face; she was strange, so tanned and golden and red, her skin not clear and her voice not pure - but she was lovely all the same. "I've never seen a woman as lovely as you." She grinned a little, struck by a thought. "I feel like Beren seeing Luthien for the first time when I look at you."
Those words sent a shiver through Arwen she could scarcely define. For the rest of the time she and Éowyn talked of matters of less consequence - weaponry, the beauty of Imladris and of Edoras compared, horses and dresses and Éowyn's views on how women should be allowed to wear trousers - but the words stayed with her, unquiet in her mind.
Late that night, they returned to her as she drifted off to sleep, and she thought of Aragorn; clean and inutterably handsome and framed by the light of Galadriel's kingdom when she had seen him and fallen in love. Then Éowyn - red-faced and awkward but royal in her bearing, scratches on her hands and dust streaked on her cheeks when Arwen had first seen her, with bitter eyes and a long tear in the sleeve of her dress.
She dreamed of Beren and Luthien, and of how Beren was ragged and weary from wandering in the woods, and in her dreams Luthien looked out to a world full of war and pleaded with her father to let her go to it.
The night before the forces set out, Arwen came to Éowyn and told her of her dreams.
There was another long silence between them; Éowyn drew patterns on her blanket, cheeks red.
"Are you saying I'm like Beren?" she finally said.
"Not exactly," Arwen said; but found, like Éowyn, she could not express herself properly. "I... do not need to compare you to a man. But I wish to ask you something."
Éowyn looked up at her, and for a moment they are alone, without the influence of men.
"Ride with me; I have chosen to go to battle again, and I want you by my side," Arwen said, and Éowyn's lips parted. For a moment she seemed like one of the mortals beholding an elf for the first time, eyes brilliant with wonder.
But when she wetted her lips and spoke, it was not of love.
"What I said, about evil in the world," she said, and there was something more than royalty in her as she rose to her feet; no matter how little history recalled, she was born of women who were warriors, "I say that the only thing we can do is face it when it reveals itself."
"I will speak to your uncle," Arwen said.
"I can speak for myself," Éowyn said, but the sharp words were sweetened by the kiss she pressed to Arwen's lips.
Arwen closed her eyes, savoring the touch; but there was a part of her that still felt torn, guilty. "Nothing lasts," she said, "and I do not only love women, as you do."
Éowyn smiled, bright and hard.
"I have you on the battlefield at least, my lady," she said, "and did not all the great stories you told me claim that the briefest moment of love is worth killing for?"