It was not that Éowyn wished to be a man, for all she had arrayed herself as one and ridden to battle. What she wanted, rather, was not to be treated as a woman. This she said to Faramir, when they stood together in the Houses of Healing, overlooking the dawn, and he brought to her his mother’s cloak, fair as an evening sky studded with new stars. She took the cloak, held at her breast with one hand, her shoulders back and neck high. Queenly she looked, and cold, though there was a rising as of the sunlight in her cheeks, but she stepped back and looked steadily at Faramir with her grey eyes.
‘I do not need to be persuaded,’ she pronounced with disdain.
Faramir’s brow creased, not understanding her meaning, but wishing to rectify any offence he might have given. ‘My lady--’
‘I know you meant it not,’ she sighed, ‘but is that not what the giving of love-gifts is, at its heart? The man seeks to persuade the woman to his affections, or to outdo the suit of another, with grander and finer gifts.’ She stopped, and drew a breath, and made an effort to soften her countenance. ‘And yet I say to you, Captain of Gondor, that I know my own heart, and need neither jewels nor posies nor fine clothes to tell me how to read it.’
Faramir was silent, weighing Éowyn’s words even as heavily as he might those of one of his captains at a battle-parley, and all the sound in that fresh morning for some minutes was the chatter of thrush and starling.
‘I had not thought of it that way,’ he admitted, and Éowyn laughed, clear, but sharp as the clash of blades in the sun.
‘That is because you are not a woman.’
‘Indeed I am not. And I admit, I have spent far more time in the company of men than women; my mother died when I was very young, and in this City, warfare and scholarship are rarely the province of women.’
A faint smile touched upon Éowyn’s lips-- rare still, in these weeks after her wounding-- to hear him say rarely, rather than not. The smile was not for the truth of the matter, for indeed, she suspected that things in Gondor were even as in Rohan, if not more so, but that he should watch his speech for her sake, and not casually forbid even the possibility of such things.
‘Even if you had,’ she said, ‘You might have learned little better. Not all women chafe as I do. Indeed, I am told that a young maiden ought be flattered to receive a token from a paramour.’
Faramir smiled at her words. It was not a cruel smile, though, not mocking; nor was it even the expression of weary, fatherly fondness her brother Éomer sometimes wore, though he was but a scant few years her elder. It was a sweet smile, as Faramir himself was sweet, and as a scholar, willing-- indeed eager-- to learn. A warmth kindled in Éowyn’s breast, hesitant as a spark struck by the traveller in winter storms, and she looked away, out over the Fields of the Pelennor to smile at the rising sun rather than Faramir beside her. It seemed to her that she had scarcely met any men like him; sweetness and scholarliness were not qualities much prized in Rohan.
‘And if I should wish to give you a gift for no other end but the giving? Or because I deem that you have not received such gifts nearly as often as you deserve them?’
‘I will not be pitied, my lord,’ warned Éowyn, the frost returning to her voice, and Faramir lifted his hands in surrender. The gesture was as one made in jest, and yet his expression was sober and earnest.
‘And I offer you none, Éowyn.’ His large hand reached to touch at her arm, at her hand which held the fair cloak to her, and though it was pale and slender as a lily, he felt callouses there even such as his own hands bore, from riding and wielding blade. ‘Many things I would give you, but never pity. Pity is for the broken, and even now you heal and grow hale again.’
I feel broken, Éowyn nearly said, but did not, for that was not true all the time, and though she had grown very fond of Faramir, she did not yet trust him with her innermost secrets, which she had shared with no-one. Gandalf had guessed them, as had Aragorn, as she lay under the Black Breath, but she was not to know that. Instead, she said, ‘If you wish to give me gifts, then once I am healed of my wounds, you might spar with me. If indeed all the world has not then fallen under the wave.’
Faramir faltered, and his gaze fell upon the outline of her shield arm, bound up in a sling under the great cloak. ‘Your arm-- your sword arm is still weak, and the other will take weeks yet to set fully, even with the attentions of the king--’
‘I said not now,’ interrupted Éowyn, sounding gentle for the first time, if still sorrowful and resigned. ‘Poor patient I may be, but I shall not try to pick up the sword again just yet. Not in play. But when I am healed, and have the use of both arms again? That would be a better gift than aught else you might give.’
Perhaps Faramir feared, as might many men, to match arms with a maid so slender and fair, wary lest he should hurt her, though she had since proved herself strong, and felled a foe beyond even the doughtiest man. But whatever his thought, he ceded to her desire. ‘When you are well. I would gladly see the skill of the daughters of Rohan on the field.’
Her smile then was little more than a hint about her eyes, but it was there nevertheless, and she nodded firmly, turning east to look at the shadow of the mountains of Mordor, even as the sun crested the horizon and struck the spire of the Tower of Ecthelion.
‘Know you what came of my gear?’
Her sword and shield had been shattered and broken in her conflict with the Lord of the Nazgûl, but as far as Éowyn was aware, her hauberk and helm, leather jerkin and leggings, had all been unscathed save by the blood of her foes and a few chance scores of lucky blades. But she had been stripped of all when she had been brought to the House, and clad since chiefly in simple gowns such as the healers and seamstresses of the City could provide.
Her smiles were less rare now, making her look like a young maid instead of a lady high and stern, and she flashed one to Faramir as she spoke. ‘If I am to trounce you upon the training field, I would like to be properly attired.’
Faramir’s grief too had lessened, though his happiness was greatest, it was said, with the Lady of Rohan, and he laughed. ‘Certainly my pride could not stand it were I beaten by a foe not only fresh off the sickbed but unarmoured as well!’
‘Need I remind you that you are fresh off your own sickbed as well?’ There was arch humour in her voice, but Faramir’s face was shadowed with thought, and the sudden remembrance of grief, and she regretted her words.
‘I have not forgotten,’ he murmured, his hand lifting to press at his shoulder where he bore the wound from a Haradrim arrow. Éowyn knew not what to say, for she knew that the grief for his father must still be fresh, and so instead went to him and in silence, laid a hand upon his shoulder. His fingers went to touch at hers, and he sighed. After some moments, in a changed tone, he spoke again.
‘When you rode to battle, how did you manage to maintain your disguise? A helm may do much, I can see, but on a long march-- you are too fair for me to imagine any taking you for a man.’
Éowyn smiled wryly, turning to the side and looking down at herself, and then back up again at Faramir with a lift of one brow. ‘I have been told that I can be most stern of countenance.’
Her tone teased, and Faramir matched it, even as if they were in debate. ‘Stern indeed, my lady, but lacking even the shadow of a beard.’
She lifted a hand to touch at her jaw. ‘Alas, you are right. But a visor hides many sins, and my figure is not so womanly that it is not easy to hide if I wish.’
Faramir looked faintly abashed that she should speak so frankly, but it was true. Though her shoulders were not broad, nor were her hips; her arms and thighs were strong with muscle, and her breasts small. Her face as well, though unmistakably that of a maid, was carved in firm lines, with heavier brows than some, and a stern mouth. All this Faramir surely saw, though he strove to seem as though he had no judgements on how womanly or not her body was. Éowyn took pity on him.
‘A long march, aye, but a large one too. None have any cause to notice or care if one young soldier should prefer to keep to himself when the Eored makes bivouac.’
All this she said without shame for her concealment, for she felt none, and she looked evenly at Faramir, who was watching her keenly.
‘The name that I took as a soldier-- Dernhelm. In my tongue, it means helm of secrecy.’
‘Apt,’ noted Faramir.
‘Aye, apt,’ Éowyn agreed. ‘But... not, I think, for the reason that you are thinking. Oh, true enough, I kept a secret of my sex, but--’ she trailed off, shaking her head and passing to the balustrade to look over the Field of Cormallen, with its tents and bright banners. ‘I think the greater disguise was that it was not a disguise. Or-- that I am as much that young warrior as I am the Lady of Rohan. That some days, fine gowns and jewels feel as much a disguise as hauberk and helm. Does that make sense?’
Never before had she said such a thing to anyone, and she did not think even now she would have dared with anyone other than Faramir. But her trust was not unfounded, for he was watching her narrowly, as if she were an old parchment whose translation he was not sure of. He nodded.
‘I am not sure, I confess. But simply because I do not understand it does not mean it does not make sense.’
The sense of relief to hear him say those words was unexpected, and some tension in Éowyn that she had not been aware of suddenly loosened, and she let out a great breath, closing her eyes and allowing the parapet to take her weight.
‘It... is good, to hear you say that.’
Behind her, she heard the sound of Faramir standing, and his long paces as he walked over to stand beside her.
‘If there is anything else you would say, Éowyn, I am glad to hear it.’
Indeed, she had rarely met another man like Faramir. She lifted her face to him, and her grey eyes were shining. ‘You are kind. But for now, I think, I wish only my armour.'
Éowyn had since departed the Houses of Healing, and had been accorded apartments on the Seventh Level. She still was often in the company of Faramir, but if he was occupied with matters of the Stewardship, or she was simply otherwise inclined, she spent time with the holbytlan, and met Pippin, whom Merry had spoken so much of, or with Legolas and Gimli who had come to Edoras with the Lord Aragorn those many months ago, or was introduced to those of their kin whom they had brought to Minas Tirith to aid in the rebuilding.
Living in Edoras, those two had been the only Elf and Dwarf she had ever met until this point, and it was with curiosity and some wariness that she spoke with their kinsfolk, Elves of Mirkwood and Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. There was much for her to learn, and much indeed she did, and it was on that which she reflected one evening, when she and Faramir were again together. He was in a chair, reading a book, and Éowyn stood on the balcony, looking down over the City below.
‘Did you know,’ she trusted her voice to carry to him, ‘that some of the Dwarves Gimli has brought from the Lonely Mountain are women?’
She turned in time to see Faramir look up in surprise. ‘I did not.’ He sounded as if he felt that he ought to have. ‘I had heard--’
‘That there are no Dwarf-women?’ Éowyn anticipated him, with a dry curve of the lip. ‘That is what Gimli said. That they are so alike in voice and appearance to Dwarf-men that the rumour has arisen that they do not exist at all.’ She smiled faintly, wistfully. ‘And yet I met two such today. Ái, the sister of Gimli, and Fjalar, whose family are smiths of great renown, apparently. At first, I could not credit it, for their beards were long, and their hands broad, and their voices deep. And yet as we talked, I began to see under their beards, that they were indeed.’
‘The world is full of strange things,’ said Faramir. ‘What thought you of these Dwarf-women? For I perceive that they have remained in your mind not merely as a curiosity.’
‘No,’ sighed Éowyn. ‘We spoke of many things, for I wished to know what life was like for women of that race, and I-- I do believe that I am jealous.’
‘Jealous?’ Faramir arose from his seat now, setting aside his book to come and lean on the doorjamb, watching Éowyn. ‘Why? Do you wish for a fine beard of your own to braid trinkets into and tuck into your belt?’
The question provoked a laugh, as it was designed to, but only a small one. ‘Among Dwarves-- sex seems not to matter. They treasure their women, yes, for they are rare, but children are raised no differently, and when they go among Men, they are taken to be Dwarf-men. Do you see?’
Éowyn feared that he did not, and felt suddenly desperate that he should understand, remembering what he had said to her, that he would be glad to hear anything she had to say.
‘They can be both man and maid at once, and it matters not a whit if they should wish to be both, or one one day, and one the next. Either way, they are still Dwarves.’
And then Faramir did seem to understand, for he let out a long breath, and his face grew kind. ‘I believe I do see. The Dwarves are a remarkable people, it would seem. But know, Éowyn, I think you just as beautiful in leathers and mail as you are in the fairest of gowns.’
She wished she had some way of telling how much he understood in truth, behind his pretty words, for she had grown indeed to love him, and would that he would love all of her, even the strange and broken parts she did not always understand. And so her voice grew stubborn and fearful.
‘It is not merely the clothing! It is-- I do not know how to say it, save to say that I-- myself, Éowyn, naked beneath whatever raiment I wear-- am neither merely woman nor merely man. And I would live as I wish, but I cannot. I never have been. And you seem to understand, and I so wish--’
But then Faramir was before her, and his hands were on her shoulders, and his voice was low and steady. ‘Whatever I understand, I know that you have won renown and glory on the field, and shown yourself to be mighty in arms, and fearless, and fair. And I know that you are a lady of great heart, and that it is softer than you have made it. And that I would not for my life have you made less than you are. And I would wed you, and live with you in peace, as Éowyn, or Dernhelm, or whoever you wish. And what I do not yet understand, I will learn, and gladly.’
And Éowyn, overcome as she had not been since the battle upon the Pelennor Fields, fell into his arms, and laid her head upon his shoulder, and said nothing for some time.
Some weeks later, Éowyn returned to Rohan with her brother and his retinue, and with them many of the riders who had gone south with them to the battle. Now, though, she came in honour as herself, with her hair unbound, and rode in joy in the spring. She rode with Éomer ahead of the bier which bore the body of Theoden King, draped in gold-edged cloths which bore the sigil of the House of Eorl, the white horse upon a field of green, for they were escorting him home.
At Edoras, Theoden was laid in a mound in the Barrowfields, the seventeeth in the line of old kings. Fresh sod was laid over it, and soon simbelmynë would grow there, as it had for the noble dead of Rohan as far back as memory stretched. Women and great warriors alike wept for his passing, and sang lays of his prowess and wisdom. After the funeral, though, Éomer sat upon the throne for the first time, and was crowned by the hand of his sister, and pronounced Éomer King, First of That Name, Lord of the Mark of Rohan, and tears were given over to celebration.
It was announced, too, then, that Éowyn was to wed Faramir, the Steward of Gondor, and both Éowyn and Éomer wept for happiness, and loss, and all that had changed, and clasped each other close. In the days that followed, after many matters which had been in uproar in the absence of a king were settled, Éomer gave over the rule of his court to Elfhelm, his marshal, and returned with Éowyn to Gondor, with a wain of her clothes and possessions, where she would be married.
So she was wed with great joy, and the ceremony was witnessed by her brother, and Gandalf, and Aragorn the King. Faramir was clad in the sable and silver of the City, but Éowyn was in a gown of green and white, and over it a kirtle of mail that shone in the sun, for she was a shieldmaiden without shame. And all the crowd cheered as they kissed, for Faramir was loved by all, and Éowyn was a hero, and Éowyn’s heart beat wild and high in her throat, for she had not for years thought the day would come when she would wed and find herself the happier for it.
But she was, and many there that day later said that they had never before seen the Lady of Rohan smile so brightly.
It was sweet to take him like a man.
Éowyn knew of these matters, for she had grown up amongst riders, and though she was a woman of royal blood, she was not so sheltered as that. It was the way of soldiers, far from homes or sweethearts, in the loneliness of night camps, or the consuming rush of the aftermath of battle, of still being alive.
Faramir knew because he was himself a soldier. And though it would not have been proper for a captain to dally with one of his own men in such a way, he was neither blind nor deaf. Indeed, many would not have called it proper to do so with his own wife, but this was theirs, and neither of them cared for the thoughts of others.
And so he lay with knees pressed into the bed and his cheek on the pillow, his hair cast all about him and his back a slow slope up into Éowyn’s hips, where her strong white hands gripped him, and drove into him. A gasp tore from his throat as she rode him, her posture even as she had ridden horses since her youth, her spine curved and shoulders back and straight. Naked they both were, Faramir all covered with a sheen of sweat, Éowyn milk-white save for the freckles across her shoulders and down her back, and the straps about her thighs, both of them with battle-hard muscles strung taut and quivering.
‘Éowyn!’ cried Faramir, in a broken voice, and Éowyn thrust again, punishingly, and did not draw out. Instead, she leaned forward to fit the curve of her body against Faramir’s, drawing an arm around his chest to lift him up, so that her stomach and breasts pressed flush to his back, and she might speak in his ear. They both shook, and their breath came heavily. Faramir’s hands clenched in the sheets, as if it were an effort not to reach to touch his prick hanging heavy between his legs, to bring himself to completion instead of waiting on her. But he did not.
‘What would you, my lord?’ she murmured, her voice more than half a breath,
Slowly she circled her hips, shifting the length of wood inside him, and he gasped and twitched, his head falling forward. Again, Éowyn prompted him, with a breath in his ear.
‘I would you continued,’ Faramir said roughly, and after a pause, shoved his own hips backwards onto the false cock Éowyn wore. For a startled, bright moment, Éowyn was quite unable to decide whether she ought growl or laugh, but then Faramir spoke again, calling her, ‘My lord.’
And then both burst out mingled, a laugh indeed, but a laugh as the cry of the horselord who rides to wreak death and snarls in the face of bright blades, for his is the brighter. So she gripped him hard, and shoved him back down against the bed, and rode him until he shook and swore and came apart under her, praising her on gasping breaths-- beautiful, Éowyn, magnificent-- and entreating more. More she gave, until he stilled, all his body tight as a drawn bow, and released, choking a cry as his body spasmed and he came.
A few moments she waited for the trembling to subside, and then pulled gently out of him, sitting back to observe the loose splay of his body, the flush of his face, rosy all the way down his chest and stomach to his prick lying now soft against his thigh. He met her eyes, and smiled such a smile, sweet and sated, that Éowyn’s heart leapt a little in her breast, and she could not but smile back, edged slightly with hunger, for she had herself not yet finished.
Faramir pushed himself up on his arms then to kiss her, his rough cheek bumping against hers as he murmured in her ear, ‘Lay back.’
When she had done, he set to unbuckling the straps about her hips and thighs, careful of the red welts they had left behind. Laying the device aside, Faramir set his scholar’s mouth to soothing the marks with his tongue, and then to kissing and licking and sucking between her thighs, nose buried in damp blonde curls, until she too cried his name, legs flung over his shoulders and back arching, shuddering in a moment of brilliance.
‘You are a gentleman,’ breathed Éowyn as she descended, smiling down at her husband.
‘And you are not.’
‘Am I not?’
‘Nay.’ He smiled against her leg, and placed a biting kiss there, before soothing with a soft touch. ‘You are a wild horselord of the North whom I am yet to tame.’
And Éowyn laughed, and drew Faramir up to kiss him, and wrestle him onto his back.
They slept together after that, after they had washed, stretched out against each other on the bed, drowsy from their earlier exertions. Éowyn’s hair lay flaxen over the pillows, and Faramir’s hand tangled in it, stroking over her scalp as their breathing slowed.
‘Are you asleep, m’lord?’ Faramir murmured after some time, half-asleep.
And Éowyn, drowsing herself, nuzzled her face into his shoulder and decided, ‘Mm, lady. For now.’
Faramir smiled softly, and amended, ‘My lady.’ And then, both and neither together, ‘Éowyn.’
Faramir and Éowyn dwelt in a fine house in Emyn Arnen; in the front grew a fair garden of plants and all such herbs which were known in those lands to be used in the arts of healing. In the back was a stable, built in the fashion of Rohan, with knotwork and horses' heads carved into the gilded pillars, and a horse crowning the apex of the roof, as of the prow of a ship. The house itself, by the request of Éowyn, was built entirely by Dwarf-women of Erebor who had come to work in the City, and the stonework was admirable indeed, and strong enough to last Ages of the world.