Was it just her? She didn’t know, and somehow, did not have the courage to ask. She was not even able to find the words.
Who would she ask, in any case?
But she wondered. No matter how engrossed she was in whatever she was doing, still a portion of her mind was consumed by questions.
Was it a failing of women in general? Did other women want what they could not have only for as long as they could not have it, and then, once they did have it, found that it was not what they truly wanted after all?
It was not that she did not care at all, for that was not the truth… he was just not her heart’s desire.
Was it all women? Could it be just her?
There were times – when her husband was with her, embracing her, loving her in their bed – that she told herself that nothing had changed, that she loved him still and truly, not merely because she had led a sheltered life, not because he had been the first man she’d seen that was not of her own close kin… and as well as she knew herself, she could not tell whether or not she was lying.
But how sheltered could a woman be who had lived for an Age?
Walking in the gardens of Minas Tirith was not like walking through those of Imladris.
Even with her dulling senses, Arwen could feel the trees were thwarted by the very stone of the city, their green souls twisted and stunted because their branches were unable to reach to the sky. No matter the season, there was no flowery blaze of color to relieve the eyes; no fiery reds, no sun-drenched yellows, no violet buds deep and cool. All was white and grey, and even the sparse leaves of greenery seemed to take on the same colorless cast, as if they suffered in not receiving enough sunlight, or if there was some other blight upon them.
She did not often long to visit the gardens.
But the only other way she might have time to herself – my escape, she thought frequently, and was ashamed – was through riding, and that, she found, was of no more help than the former. Asfaloth was still her steed, but the bunching of his muscles beneath her thighs as he ran, the wind in her face, the very sound of his hooves drumming against the earth, reminded her most forcibly of what she wanted and could not have.
Arwen knew she should not have been surprised at this discovery. For that one, riding was second nature, horses in every drop of blood.
She kept telling herself there was no reason for her to linger in this chamber overlooking the courtyard, but she could not leave.
They had gone riding this morning. And she just needed to see… to be sure…
At the sharp ring of hooves on stone, Arwen looked down into the courtyard eagerly, expectantly. When the rider came into view, she caught her breath, though she knew that it could have been no one else.
Astride a tall chestnut, Eowyn clattered into the courtyard, her hair streaming behind her, a banner of sunlight. She pulled up, and her mount pranced in protest, clearly eager to run some more. Smiling, she stroked his neck and urged him to circle back toward the courtyard gate. Just as she reached it, Faramir and his mount appeared, as windblown as Eowyn, and as flushed from their ride. She grinned when she saw him, and came up beside him so their knees touched. In response, he gave her an affectionate smile, panting slightly from the run.
The chestnut danced again, but Eowyn easily kept her seat. “So, my lord, do you still doubt me?” Arwen heard her ask, and the laughter, the joy in her voice made her heart clench in her chest.
Faramir dismounted and reached out to hold her horse’s bridle. “Indeed, my lady,” he replied with mock-solemnity, “I would not presume to disbelieve you. But let us not forget that he’s a hand taller, and carrying a lesser weight besides.”
Eowyn laughed gaily and slid from her saddle, letting her fingers brush against Faramir’s as she took hold of the bridle as well. “Still, bloodlines will tell, and he comes from the finest stock in Rohan…” she teased, following her husband as he walked his spent mount toward the stable.
Whatever reply Faramir might have made was lost as they entered the stable.
Though they had disappeared from sight, Arwen continued staring down into the courtyard, one hand pressing against her breastbone and the heart that galloped there. Her mind was awhirl, and she could feel heat prickling in her cheeks.
How can it be? How can I desire someone other than Estel? How can the sight of her make my heart beat so fast?
And would it have been too much to imagine that she’d glanced up at the window, to imagine that she knew?
Behind her, the chamber door opened and closed softly. Before she even heard the hushed sound of his tread across the floor, long before he embraced her, she knew Estel was with her.
For one moment, the strength of his arms was a prison.
“Faramir and Eowyn have returned – I heard them in the courtyard as I passed. ’Tis good to know that they’ve found happiness together,” Estel said softly, resting his chin on her shoulder.
Arwen closed her eyes, and forced a smile, and tried not to think about the falsehood of her silence, weighing her spirit until she thought she would drown.
The first time she had seen the White Lady of Rohan had been at Estel’s coronation, standing beside a man who so resembled Boromir that Arwen knew they must be brothers. She had been smiling happily, her gaze bent fondly at the man by her side.
Arwen had never seen anything so beautiful in all her long life.
The gown Eowyn wore was of lightest gold, and her fair hair flowed wildly down her back, waving in the breeze, bound only by the thin shining band across her brow. She stood in the sunlight, nearly glowing, her cheeks flushed with color, and the only thing Arwen could liken her to was a pillar of golden flame, pale and fierce.
Arwen had been jubilant that Estel had finally come into his birthright, that he had become the King he was destined to be, but even so, all that was nearly forgotten at her first glimpse of that shining lady, lovelier even than the Lady of the Wood, her own grandmother. Her father had had to nudge her to remind her to move aside the banner of the White Tree she’d held, so that Estel could see her.
Her chest had felt so tight that she could hardly breathe, and, naively, she believed Estel had caused it.
Yet, when he’d kissed her, it had not felt the same. It had not felt wrong, but ... something had been lacking, though she knew not then what it might be.
Arwen knew now that it was her. She had been lacking.
She had not been whole since that moment.
And she did not know what she could do to remedy it. Or if she even wanted to.
She believed she had never suffered such torture in all her years.
The rain was an endless torrent outside the window, beating against the stone and the shutters, loudly, relentlessly. It reminded her of the roar of the waterfall in Imladris, the way it settled into her bones and became part of her. The cataract had been part of her life for so many years that, in some ways, its absence was the hardest part of learning to live in Minas Tirith.
But today, there was none of the homesickness that the storms off Mindolluin usually brought.
Arwen sat pretending to read in the light of a branch of candles, the flames dancing in the draught through the shutters. She could not concentrate, and had not turned the page in more than an hour.
As loud as the storm was, she could not help but dismiss it in favor of the sound of Eowyn’s breath. She sat by the window, a bit of embroidery ignored in her hands. More candles flickered at her elbow. Her head rested against the wall, and she stared at the shuttered window as if she could force the sun to shine again.
From beneath her eyelashes, Arwen stole glances at Eowyn, noting how the candlelight made her hair gleam, how her dress echoed the color of her eyes, how long and fine her fingers, now stilled on the crumpled cloth and thread.
But rainy days did not suit Eowyn at all.
Raised on the scoured plains, she is sunlight and wind and motion.
Arwen blinked, surprised at her own unaccustomed lyricism, and let her eyes slide back to the still-unread page of her book. Though she hardly recognized them as her own, she could not deny the truth in those words. What outlet is there now for her courage, her spirit? She must be doing something, and it must be something that she knows makes a difference, not just for the sake of having something to do.
Thus, the unfinished stitchery, the listless air. Gone the liveliness of scant days ago, when she and Faramir had ridden long and fast away from Minas Tirith.
Oh, the joy that I saw in you then, she thought, and turned the page, as if she had read a word on the last one. Would that you found your joy with me ... As quickly as she could, she stemmed her thoughts; she could not bear to think about that, about what she desired but could not have.
Despite her awareness of Eowyn’s presence, the sound of her voice startled Arwen; they had been silent for too long. When she glanced up, Eowyn was studying her.
It was so difficult, somehow, to meet those ice blue eyes. “I’m sorry, I did not hear…?”
“Is what you’re reading so very sad?”
Surprised still further at this question, she could not help but blurt out, “Why?”
At her confusion, Eowyn smiled faintly, and it transformed her. “Because you keep sighing.”
“Oh.” Chagrined, Arwen turned back to her book, brushed her fingers over the pages, vellum smooth beneath her fingers. She shook her head. “No… ”
Eowyn rose, beckoning, and, unable to disobey, Arwen stood also and went to her. Still smiling, Eowyn took the book from her hand and laid it aside, near the basket of her embroidery threads.
Then, before Arwen could fathom what she was about, Eowyn tipped the latch on the shutters. They flew open, banging against the walls hard enough to echo the thunder outside.
The rain was an immediate shock, cold and wet upon her face, sluicing over her in a chilling instant. She gasped at the suddenness of it all, at the sting on her skin of icy water driven by icy wind.
Beside her, she heard Eowyn laughing. When she turned to look, the wind whipped her hair into her mouth, snarling it without mercy.
The sight burnt itself into her memory: Eowyn standing before the now-open window, her face raised in supplication, eyes closed. And she laughed. The gale raked through her hair, turning it into a tangled, sodden mess, soaking her gown while the rain puddled at her feet. She didn’t even seem to notice.
Storms came but rarely to Imladris or Lothlorien; they seemed to avoid those centers of Elvendom. And yet – the wind, the rain, the force of it all was familiar to her through a thousand years. She felt it, desire, passion, lancing through her on the wind.
Rather than face the rain, Arwen continued to watch her, memorizing the sound of her laughter, the way her hair lashed about her, the color now of old gold rather than sunshine, the way her cheeks reddened as the wind stung, how she looked so very alive.
Her gaze was as intense as the storm, and it was no surprise that Eowyn felt it, that the pale blue eyes opened to meet hers.
And when she did, Arwen smiled, unable to stop herself, and unwilling.
As if that was the sight she’d been waiting for, Eowyn smiled back, and the warmth of her expression drove away even the chill of the rain. Neither of them had spoken since Eowyn had opened the shutters, and they did not speak now, but moved in silent accord to close them once more. Arwen braced them against the wind and Eowyn tipped the latch to anchor them back into place.
When the storm was without again, Arwen was at a loss; she simply couldn’t understand why Eowyn had done such a foolish – exhilarating, she admitted, but foolish – thing. Was she trying to cheer me? she wondered, then recalled the way her face had nearly glowed, lit from within by vitality. Could she have been trying to show me something? But what?
She was still studying Eowyn, she realized with a start, staring at her, the power of her regard little reduced. And Eowyn was watching her in return, head canted to one side, as if curious.
Arwen straightened from where she had been leaning, her back against the shutters; they rattled in response to her movement, but she paid them no mind. Eowyn’s smile had faded somewhat, and it was only in the hope of seeing it again that Arwen broke the silence that had fallen between them. “Thank you,” she murmured, and then smiled herself. “I’d not done anything like that before. ‘Twas… invigorating.”
Though that was not the reason that her heart was beating so fast.
Eowyn laughed again, this time more gently. “Aye, it may have been… but ‘twas also perhaps ill-thought-out and foolish.” She stretched out one hand. “Come.”
In a daze, Arwen put her hand in Eowyn’s, and let the other woman lead her from the room.
It was not until the familiar corridor to the chamber she shared with Estel resolved around her that Arwen realized her intent. Nerves attacked her then, even as she tried to convince herself that Eowyn could not mean to help her change from her wet things, or to borrow dry clothing.
Arwen was right; she did not, though before she returned to her own chamber, she did accept the offer of a heavy woolen dressing gown to warm away the chill that still clung. When the door had latched behind her, Arwen stared at it, and wondered where all of her courage had fled.
There were times when Arwen looked at her husband and did not wonder if she still loved him, when tender feeling welled up in her and the way she felt was clear and simple.
At such times, she could almost forget Eowyn, could almost forget the way the blond woman consumed her thoughts and filled her senses.
But always, always, Eowyn was there at the back of her mind, and the questions would not really go away, the feelings would not wholly disappear.
And as time went on, she was less and less sure she wanted them to.
It took some time before Arwen discovered her courage once more. She did not avoid Eowyn while she searched for her nerve, for she could no more avoid her than she could stop breathing, but she could say nothing.
She only managed to find it in herself to speak just before Faramir and Eowyn were to return to Ithilien, and even then it was only because she felt time was running out, that if she did not speak now, she never would be able to say the words.
That did not make them any easier to find, or to say. Not that that was necessarily odd; the eloquence that seemed to come so naturally to her father and her grandmother had somehow passed her by.
The words had not yet come when Eowyn glanced up from packing her traveling case. “Which is it to be?”
As lost in thought as she had been, Arwen was startled by her voice. She blinked at the other woman; her mouth opened but no sound emerged.
Then Eowyn smiled at her, and in her dazzled eyes, it was the same smile that she had given to Faramir at Estel’s coronation. “Do you mean to help me pack because you wish us to leave, or do you wish to hinder the packing so that we must stay?” Her expression turned impish, and her grin widened. “At this moment, I must say, you are the very picture of indecision…”
“I wish you to stay, of course.” Arwen spoke before she knew what she meant to say, and when the words at last touched the air, she felt her face color.
Unexpected, then, was the thought that struck her. All this time have I fought with myself, with how I felt, with finding the words to express it all, and now, perhaps it is simplest and best to just say it…
As she opened her mouth to pour out all that lived in her heart, however, Eowyn spoke again. “Indeed,” she said slowly, her fingers tracing some bit of embroidery on the dress she had just packed, “there is some part of me that wishes to stay. But… the greater part of me longs to return to Ithilien.” She glanced up, with a brief smile. “It is… home, and moreso now than Rohan, perhaps.”
What Arwen had been about to say dried in her mouth, and for the first time, she really thought about how she felt for the woman in front of her. She had agonized over the feelings Eowyn had stirred in her, had tried to deny that they existed at all, but she had never faced them.
Is it merely a yearning, physical desire that will fade as soon as it is slaked… or is it more?
And the mention of home… Arwen had chosen to leave her home, to stay behind when her father and brothers departed from the Grey Havens. Eowyn, too, had left her home, to wed Faramir.
Faramir loved Ithilien, perhaps more than he loved Minas Tirith.
And if I said all I wish to say, she thought, achingly torn, watching as Eowyn turned to place something in the trunk behind her, if I were to confess my feelings… what would it mean to her and to me if she did not feel the same? What would it mean if she did?
How can I ask her to carry this burden when I have been so reluctant to bear it myself?
Arwen blinked those heavy thoughts away and saw Eowyn watching her, her expression puzzled. Quickly, she drew a fortifying breath, forcing a smile as she did. “If it is home,” she said, her voice very soft, “then of course, you long to return thence.” She took the shirt that Eowyn held and folded it carefully into the trunk. “And I would not keep you from your home for all the world.”
Then – because she could not stop herself – she reached out and cupped the other woman’s cheek, the skin beneath her fingers as soft as rose petals. Before she could even think about regretting her actions, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to Eowyn’s brow.
I cannot ask it of her.
One fleeting, stolen moment of happiness, and then it was over. Arwen released Eowyn and stepped back, smiling gently at her confusion. “As much as I would like to help,” she said, her voice light, not revealing the tenuous control she still maintained over her emotions, “I fear I would simply hinder you, and you would not be able to depart tomorrow as you and Faramir have planned. So I will take myself off, and allow you to pack in peace, so that I may bid you a pleasant journey tomorrow, and hope for your swift return.” Still smiling, she picked her way around the cases already packed and those still empty, and made her way to the door.
She made it back to her bedchamber before her tears overflowed. One hand covering her mouth, she sank to the floor, her back against the door, and let herself weep.
At last, she understood how she felt.
Aragorn, Isildur’s Heir, ruled in Minas Tirith for many years, and with him his queen, Arwen, the Evenstar of the Elves. She shared his burdens, his grief and joy, and bore him a son to rule after him.
But at times, she would turn from him and stare at the horizon, her face etched in sorrow so deep that it seemed she would never know happiness again.
Knowing, as indeed all did, that Arwen had given up her nearest kin and her birthright of immortality to stay at his side, Aragorn gave her that time to mourn, and lavished her with love when her eyes returned to him. He understood also that the loss she must feel was great, one that even time might not soften.
In that, at least, he was not wrong.
September 15, 2007