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Hunger

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She had sought her death. And she had found it, glorying that at the moment when her heart might have failed, she had stood and declared her name; the Witch-king of Angmar had fallen to her blade, and Théoden was avenged.

When she awoke back in her own bed at Meduseld, Éowyn screamed. How could she be closed in again, smothered, stifled, dying of shame? She felt a howl rising inside her, bereft as she was of the freedom of death. Someone would hear her weeping and rush to attend her with loathsome pity. She threw off the blanket and stumbled out of her chamber. Some uncouth maiden of the Rohirrim, running through the dirty stable they called a hall in naught but her under-dress.

But she was still wearing her mail, and her left arm was broken. Meduseld was empty. Éowyn had not been dreaming; mayhap she was dead, and Meduseld one of the houses of lamentation. It is, it is, she thought, laughing aloud. The tapestries muffled Éowyn’s laughter as well as her sobs.

“O glorious dead of Rohan, will you not take Éowyn? Must you leave me in this house forever?”

Her body ached from battle as she made her way to the main hall. Something dark stirred behind Théoden’s chair, where Éowyn had once cowered. Well she knew the shape: tall, the face hidden by a fearsome helm, armoured and cloaked.

When she struck Angmar, the wraith had fallen forward, bracing against her shoulder with icy, burning fingers. Éowyn had seen the true face of the Witch-king. All the strength had left her hand when she saw another woman looking back at her, exposed by pain and on the brink of passing from the world. Éowyn could not hold back her surge of pity for Angmar, twisted servant of evil that she was.

“I slew you,” Éowyn said to the shadow.

“Yet I am troubling thy heart still, Éowyn, Éomund’s daughter,” Angmar replied, in the same terrible voice as when they had met on the field. “This house is thy doing, and the wound which consumes thee was not of my making.”

“If you know me so well, then you will not speak to me as if I am a child.”

Angmar nodded her head. “As you wish, shieldmaiden. But I too am a prisoner here, as long as you hold yourself in bondage, and I have no love of the home either. ”

“You brought so much death.”

“Aye, I did. For thousands of years, the Men of the North feared me, and then I taught Gondor the same. Breaking the bonds of our birth always comes at a price, does it not? What do you think will happen to you, if you wake? Will you go meekly back to your four walls, and pour your husband his cup of wine, and tell yourself that you are alive?”

Éowyn cradled her broken arm, pressing where it hurt enough to distract from how her skin crawled. “Did you tell yourself that you were alive, all those years? A bodiless gast, only fit to frighten children without your master to give you shape?”

Angmar’s answer came after a long silence. “I lived, half-life that it was. And now I can welcome my death, when it finishes its work upon me.”

“I wish it haste.”

She turned her back on Angmar as she started to laugh, the sound almost like a living woman’s. Éowyn would not stay for more of the wraith’s poison and she ran to the doors, steeling herself for the courtyard that had marked the bounds of her life for so long.

There was only the sea. Joy rose in her breast to see waves breaking over Edoras. She had never seen the ocean, only heard tales of how Men had once crossed it. Éowyn breathed in the smell of salt as she listened to the cries of gulls. Here at last was something new, something she had not built up from her old miseries.

A woman was standing on the lowest steps, so close to the water that each wave nearly touched her feet. Easily as tall as Aragorn, she was clothed now in purple gabardine, with a white gem on her brow. The hair which had been hidden by her helmet was loose now, black as Morwen Steelsheen’s. She had a little of Morwen’s look to her, and Aragorn’s as well, but no one truly like her had been born in an age.

Bereft of her trappings as the Witch-king, Éowyn could no longer harden her heart against Angmar. She had already killed Angmar for her uncle’s murder; what more wrath could she summon? They were both trapped here. Éowyn joined her, though she kept herself farther from the waves.

“What was your name?” Éowyn asked.

“Tar-Míriel. I was the last queen of Númenor. I would have drowned in the Fall, were it not for this.” Angmar held up on a gold ring, its setting empty. “It anchored me to this world, and to Sauron. The ring was my bargain for a better name. I will be remembered for what I did, rather than what I suffered. But its time is done, now that you have freed me of it.” She tossed the ring into the sea, where it shone for a moment in the tide before it was carried away. Holding her empty hand out to the water, Angmar said, “This is the only bounds I have left. I have hated the sight of it for so long, though ’tis good to see it bring happiness to someone else.”

“You are remembered for doing evil.”

“Evil, Éowyn, dwells not only on one side. You have not seen Men as I have, seen how the creep of time makes them eager to conquer. If Gondor has no enemies, it will greedily look to its neighbours. There is a bottomless hunger in the Dúnedain. I know, because it lives in me as well.”

Hunger was surely the name for the feeling which had eaten her alive within Meduseld’s walls. Éowyn shivered, as the sea wind turned suddenly chill.

“Is that what is wrong with me?” asked Éowyn. “Why I cannot be content?”

Angmar looked at her sadly. “Do you think you should be? It is not expected of men.”

“I cannot live like this,” Éowyn said, and to her shame, her voice broke. Yet she did not weep. Angmar reached out to lightly touch Éowyn’s chin, turning her head until their eyes met.

“Had I any power left, I would give you what you desire,” Angmar whispered, laying her other hand where Éowyn’s mail bared part of her neck, leaning in so closely that Éowyn could feel her cold lips against her skin. No one had touched Éowyn as Angmar had, rousing her body to life while her words kindled a guilty flame. “You could ride into battle at my side, to write your name across every war which wracks this Middle-earth.” Angmar’s fingers were around Éowyn’s throat, gentle against her wild pulse. “I would even give you death, if that were still your dearest wish.”

If hunger was part of her nature, Éowyn would let herself have her fill. She did not wait for Angmar, who had centuries of patience, to kiss her; instead she was the one to do it, pressing her lips to Angmar’s while the sea roared in her ears. Angmar made a pleased sound, yielding to Éowyn’s inexperience. Éowyn wanted so much, needing to crush every lonely, wretched year into how Angmar felt against her, smelling of perfume and the ocean Éowyn had never seen. Perhaps she could forget, lose herself to dreams until her body, ignored, perished and spared her from ever waking.  

A voice came from Meduseld, crying “Éowyn Éomund’s daughter, awake! For your enemy has passed away!”

Angmar released her. “It seems you are being healed,” she said.

Éowyn shook her head, reaching after Angmar, who simply backed away, letting the ocean wash over her knees. “I do not want it,” Éowyn pleaded.

“Awake!” called the voice. “The shadow is gone and all darkness is washed clean!”

Angmar started to laugh. “Elendil’s heir! If only I could have met him on the field, I might have rid myself of that craven’s line. The arrogance!”  

“Please,” said Éowyn, “do not let me wake up.” Following Angmar, the waters rose to her chest. Salt stung her broken arm and her armour weighed her down.  

But Angmar was fearless, watching the waves come in with delight. “At last, I am not afraid of the sea. Come here, Éowyn.”

She stumbled forward, and Angmar caught her by her one good arm.

“Drown with me,” Angmar said.  

Yes, Éowyn thought. I will drown.

“Éowyn, Éowyn!” called her brother, most dear to her, innocent of the ill he did with his love.

For Éowyn was saved.