When Éowyn rides out from Dunharrow, she is riding to seek death.
She barely notices the mark on her arm beginning to burn the closer she comes to the great white city. If she notices it at all, she only thinks, grimly, that it is fitting. She rides to Gondor, and to war; if the tales told to her as a child are true then in that land, perhaps, will also be found the other half of her heart.
With the miles passing beneath her, the reins in her hands, the sword at her hip, a halfling companion at her back, she gives it not more than a fleeting thought. She cares not if the tales are true.
She is a shieldmaiden, a warrior, nothing more or less. A noble death on the field of battle is all she wants and in her mind's eye she sees it growing closer by the hour and feels no fear. Her heart is already there, gone ahead to where her destiny awaits her in the clash of steel and the thunder of hooves. That is what it means, surely, the awakened pain in the crook of her sword-arm where her skin is marred by the soulspell whispered over her cradle. Her heart is in Gondor, calling her to battle.
She will go to meet it.
Éowyn has few memories of her mother. But there is this:
Sitting on a comforting knee and lifting up her arm to be looked at.
What does it mean, Mama?
A soft hand stroking her arm, a kiss upon her hair.
One day you will meet someone who knows your heart like you know theirs, because it is one and the same. This mark, here, it will pain you, and you will know.
Love, child. You will know love.
I know love, Mama. I love my horse.
Éowyn has long since forgotten the sound of her mother's laughter, but those words return to her one day while she stands in a garden. Some twenty years have passed since she heard them and it is only here beneath these green leaves that she wants to ask again, what does it mean?
Éowyn has no place left in her for belief in children's tales. At least, no place for kindly belief. As a child she knew happiness, and wished for many things, and believed all of them possible. Now she is a woman driven only by despair, and the small, insignificant pain in her arm where the soulmark burns beneath her skin holds no meaning for her.
When she strikes the blow that ends forever the dark malice of the Nazgûl Lord the evil melts her blade to nothing and turns her sword-arm to ice, and she falls, and feels nothing.
Though Aragorn comes and calls her back from the darkness, he is gone when she wakes, and his healing touch has not restored her to anything but new misery, for she has failed. She wanted a good death; anything but to be left behind awaiting a slow, meaningless end.
The healers are kind and the women who come to help her bathe and dress and settle her broken shield-arm in a sling are good to her. But Éowyn knows she will find no healing in this place as she looks around her at the stone walls of her chamber and the door shut fast.
The only thing she has ever feared is a cage.
She goes to seek the Steward, who also resides in the Houses of Healing, but he cannot grant her wish - to leave this place and ride out once more and join the army marching on the Black Gate.
He looks at her in pity. She thinks it is the worst thing he could do, for she wants no man's pity, any more than she wants their attentions.
But the Steward, it seems, is determined to offer her both.
Her cheeks warm when he speaks of her beauty. She has not the will or the means to grant him whatever ease he seeks to gain in her company. She leaves him and hides herself away for a day, wanting only solitude, to nurse her wounds and her pride and her dark thoughts alone.
But he has granted her the small freedom of the gardens and on the morning of the next day, when she cannot stay another minute in her chamber, she goes out and passes along the green terraces beneath the elegant trees to climb the wall, and that is where he finds her.
The man of Gondor is unlike any she has known before. She knows not what to make of him but finds she is able to bear his company tolerably enough.
The Lord Faramir has been left behind, too, and when she looks to the East, so does he. This, if nothing else, builds a certain kinship between them.
And then, too, he is so soft-spoken, his manner measured and kind, and he does not press her if she wishes to be silent. He walks ever at her side with his hands clasped behind his back and when she chooses to speak he listens to all that she says, and answers with care. It is more consideration than many have shown her before.
And sometimes he looks at her and there is a light in his eyes that she does not share but that draws her to seek his company near as often as he seeks hers.
There are also moments when he looks at her and there is more than that gentle light in his eyes; there is heat, too, so much that she nearly believes it could warm her through, if she let it. But there is such a chill upon her still, and she feels nothing with her heart iced over and her sword-arm carrying the fell echo of the Witch-King's defeat under flesh and sinew.
She feels numb and thinks it is better this way.
The day is cold, even with the heavy blue mantle he placed upon her shoulders when he met her that morning. They speak of the battle that even now must be waged far off, beyond their sight. She asks him if the end is upon them, when in her mind it has been all along, though she does not give the thought a voice.
When he says to her: "Éowyn, I would not have this world end now, or lose so soon what I have found."
She pretends not to understand. She calls him friend. She thinks she has nothing else to offer him.
She is wrong, of course, but doesn't know it yet.
The world waits, holding its breath. They stand on the wall and he speaks of the fall of Númenor, of the great dark wave rising over the land.
They wait, and their hands meet, and hold, and something happens at last, something that is not an ending. He has never touched her skin before and where his bare flesh meets hers a sudden heat blazes that chases the frost from her bones. She feels it suddenly and inevitably; they are not and will never be friends.
They stand upon the precipice of doom, still waiting for the final blow to fall, but Faramir kisses her brow and knows not despair, and there it is, her heart, waiting for her to find it.
While the shadow hung dark over the land, and darker upon her mind, she could not feel it, her soulmark. Now it burns night and day without recourse. It is a new sort of pain than she has known before and it troubles her greatly.
Lord Faramir is here in the city still but is busy now with his duties. She walks the gardens alone and refuses all entreaties from her brother to ride out and meet him and the victorious company before their triumphant return.
She cannot go to be with Eomer. When asked, she cannot say why.
Though she be healed enough in body, still she lingers in the Houses of Healing, waiting, and fearing that Faramir will not come back. And fearing, too, what it will mean if he does.
In the shade of a tree she unveils her arm to frown at her own smarting flesh, though it is of no use. Were this a matter merely of flesh, bone, or blood, she might understand it. She might solve it then with a blade. But her sword was destroyed with the slaying of that foul being and now she is unarmed, her hands empty.
She thinks of her mother, then. Of being a child and never having known a day's sorrow.
What does it mean?
A single soul shared between two beings - what is that, she wonders, but another kind of trap?
He has a warrior's hands, more calloused and scarred than smooth, but so does she.
It is not the rough quality of her touch that rends a gasp from his lips when she draws up his sleeve to the elbow. He is surprised she is so bold as to touch him like this at all. He should not be. What is she, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, if not bold?
She is bold enough to tell the truth: "I know you."
"Yes. As I know you."
She touches it, the mark seared into flesh that is the mirror of her own. "It burns."
She wonders then. She thinks of him walking at her side day after day. She thinks of his kind and careful words. She thinks of the way he held her hand that day and faced the world's ending. And most of all she thinks of that light with which he looked at her, as if no shadow could fall upon him while his gaze was upon her.
She asks: "When did you know?"
And she receives a sad and gentle smile. "I was almost lost to fever, and flame. And when I woke my father was dead and I was alone, and my memories were grave, full of fire and madness. Even in waking I felt the heat of it and wondered if I would have the strength to go on." His smile changes, the sadness gone, replaced by a quiet joy she wishes always to see upon his face, it becomes him so much the better. "And then I saw you, and knew I had nothing more to fear from the flame. Éowyn, Éowyn, I have known since I saw you."
What she will always remember of their first meeting is the warmth in her cheeks cutting through the cold. And yet she tells him honestly: "I did not know then. I could not feel it, or anything that was good and true."
He nods in understanding.
She takes his hand, and tells another, greater, truth: "Our hearts have always known each other, even when we did not."
You will know love, her mother had said in so many years gone by, and Éowyn had not understood. She had ever only wanted freedom, not love. Freedom, and to never know another cage.
When Faramir comes to find her keeping her lonely vigil upon the wall and asks her if she loves him, finally she knows both her answer and her heart. Yes, she does, and she is not afraid.
She loves him, and is free at last.