"A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of valour has gone beyond recall or desire."
Éowyn had told herself that loneliness did not prompt the request.
"Faramir, I wish to visit my kin in Edoras. May I depart for a time?"
Her words had been so honest and innocent that even Éowyn believed herself. She said that she missed the green-scented plains of Rohan, the dazzlingly bare sunrises, the counsel and comfort of Éomer: and indeed she did. Faramir, she knew, would not deny her this; he denied her nothing, and indeed, he embraced her with a smile as she departed. During the journey north, she thought often of Éomer's face, the broad crinkled smile that he saved for his sister, and the wind that rushed over her face could not remove her smile.
Only at night, when she camped under trees and watched the black network of branches obscuring the glittering sky, did she dare to think of the queen of Rohan. As her maidservant slept beyond the horses, Éowyn touched herself quietly in the ways that Lothíriel taught her. Yet not once, then or in the many months before then, would she bring the other woman's face to mind. The effort was difficult at night, but the crisp autumn sunlight made it easy enough to forget.
Five days later, Éowyn arrived in Edoras. Éomer was away in the Eastmarch, however, and his absence did not sadden Éowyn as much as she thought it should. Baldor, ever courteous, showed her a room to wait until her brother returned, but the Seneschal cared not where or how the White Lady spent her days.
Even Lothíriel cared not, from all she told Éowyn; a small smile was all she would show upon the lady's arrival. Later that evening, after seeing naught of Lothíriel beyond her greeting, Éowyn had found her in her chambers, her back to the door, embroidering a wide black cloth with small, neat stitches. "My lady Lothíriel. How has this year gone with you?"
The thin woman turned and rose, suddenly very close. "It has gone well, lady Éowyn. Are your accommodations pleasing to you?"
"Yes, they are. Lothíriel, I have --" One of the pale arms wrapped around her suddenly, catching Éowyn before she could continue, and she found herself kissing Lothíriel, the other woman's tongue flickering inside her mouth in touches so much more delicate than Faramir's. So we will be as before: no words, nothing to soften the tight need. It is enough for me. Éowyn thought this, and she could not believe herself fully.
The painstakingly careful timing: this, Éowyn had missed, this tapestry of release and restraint, and she breathed deeply when Lothíriel drew away from her face. They walked hand-in-hand to the stately bedroom, like two maids in their innocence -- but I am no maid, and I lost my innocence the day that I realized my woman's fate was to watch, imprisoned by my duties, as those I loved suffered. Even now, by another mere woman, I consent to be led.
Éowyn looked about the bedchamber, the one that she had played in as a girl in her uncle's care. The room was brighter and less bare than she remembered it; bright tapestries covered the walls, depicting Rohan's history, and a little white and yellow finch flitted about within a little gilded cage in the corner. "So small . . ." Éowyn murmured to herself. "Why do you not give him more room?"
"He wants it not," Lothíriel shrugged carelessly. "All he cares to do is sing and preen in the sunlight. Look: he is too silly to tell between night and day." She covered the cage with the dark cloth she had embroidered, and immediately the twittering became quiet. "But enough of him."
She pulled Éowyn into a closer kiss, stroking her arms down her back in swift little flickers, and already Éowyn felt herself melting into the simple world of skin on skin. A twinge of guilt twisted in her chest when she drew away and murmured "Wait."
She reached up and pulled out the first of the pins that held up her long coiled braid, carefully securing it in the hem of her sleeve. After all the pins had been removed, Éowyn began to unravel the tight braid, pulling it free two or three twists at a time. Lothíriel wore her hair in a looser, straight braid, as befitted a wife alone in her household, but she did not unbraid the dark tresses as she watched Éowyn work, an intently observant expression on her face. "Does your hair constrain you so, that you always draw it loose when we join in union?"
Éowyn shrugged uncomfortably. "I enjoy the feel of it on my back." Lothíriel had not seen her in the time when it hung free of constraint, and Éowyn never spoke of that time or its memories. Éowyn knew that Lothíriel knew this; the knowledge echoed in the brief silence.
"Your hair is beautiful, much softer and paler than your brother's. I, also, enjoy its touch." That was that, and Éowyn wondered, as Lothíriel drew her to the bed and slipped her fingertips beneath her linen housedress, stroking in tiny circlets up her arms, whether Lothíriel sometimes did prefer her brother. By the time that those long, shade-softened fingers had reached the sensitive patch of skin inside her elbow, Éowyn no longer cared.
They lay together and touched skin against skin, renewing the methods of forgetfulness that had sustained them a year ago, and Éowyn discovered tears sliding down the sides of her face in between the gasps and muted cries. As she reached her climax, the pounding pleasure erased all thoughts for a few precious seconds, lingering as Lothíriel cradled Éowyn in her arms and lavished her with all the movements of delicate intimacy.
I am fortunate that we are both so skilled in deception, Éowyn thought, but instead she said, "You are good to me. Thank you."
Lothíriel never asked Éowyn to leave, and Éowyn never lingered too long; this was their tacit understanding, and this was what Éowyn did that night. Once their bodies had calmed and their breathing slowed, she turned and kissed Lothíriel lightly on the cheek. "I should go ere the night grows deeper. Sleep well, Lothíriel."
If Lothíriel watched her as she left, she did not know it.
The first moments after waking in Edoras were always strange to Éowyn; so used to dreaming happy memories of childhood and darker nightmares of her uncle's decline, it took a few moments to remember that this Edoras was no dream. She drew herself out of bed and began to dress herself in a plain white linen dress, adjusting the ties and folds of fabric with housework-softened fingertips. As she dressed, she thought of Lothíriel and of her own folly.
It was entirely unfair to Faramir, and Éowyn knew this. From those first few days with him, talking in the garden at the House of Healing, she had known that Faramir was utterly spellbound. Never had she seen an expression like his, entranced but exquisitely reverential. In those days of darkness, it was not much, but it was enough for her; and she saw no hope in other quarter. Even so was it still. When they lay together, his eyes gazed at her as they might gaze in awe at a Vala, and if she ever uttered a request or desire, he would immediately endeavour to grant it. She knew that he loved her more immensely than anyone else ever could, and she was grateful, so grateful that it became easy to call the gratitude love.
Lothíriel, though, was nothing like Faramir in spirit, though her eyes and face and hair were so like his. Éowyn had long ago realized that wondering whether Lothíriel also felt guilty would be useless; she would say nothing, either of Éomer or of Éowyn, save the soft, clichéd flatteries. She called Éowyn beautiful, strong, tender, majestic, and although Éowyn had heard the words before, they always sounded like evaluations from Lothíriel, not worship. Éowyn liked that. She liked the way that Lothíriel knew what she wanted -- quiet halls for needlework during the day, warm arms and wet lips to welcome her at dusk -- and neither gave nor asked for any more.
These habits had all become familiar a year ago, when Éomer had sent Lothíriel to stay with her cousin while he led a campaign to root out a band of orcs from North Rohan. Éomer had spoken highly of the lovely maid from Dol Amroth, but when Éowyn first met her, she realized that all his descriptions had vastly undervalued his southern jewel. She knew not whether Lothíriel preferred her touch or merely accepted it while Éomer was not available, whether their marriage was blissful or political or embittered, but she did know that when Lothíriel kissed her underneath a blossoming myrtle, she did not pull away. Lothíriel had Faramir's grey eyes and his slender, tall form, but she also had something that Faramir did not have: an emptiness about her, a detachment from her surroundings and companions that remained even when the two women made love quietly in Lothíriel's chamber. Throughout that summer, the women walked together in the vales of Ithilien and lay together in the darkness of their halls, yet when Éowyn recalled those months, she could not remember a single word that had been spoken between them.
Nevertheless, before she could reminisce over-long, she was dressed, and she began to focus on the day ahead of her. The kitchenmaids told Éowyn that Lothíriel was in her chambers, but Éowyn did not go into her room before leaving the Golden Hall. Her first visit was to the graves of her uncle, grandfather, and cousin, the burial mounds at the end of her ancestors' line. The time of year was not right for the blossoming of the simbelmyne, but a few flowers lingered, especially on Théoden's grave; Éowyn knelt and picked one, stroking its white petals. Still the blossom's fragrance, sweet and far away, reminded her of the day of his burial, of the songs that were sung and the light that had returned to the land through him. Théoden Ednew: the king reborn. Songs had been sung of her, too, but they had not praised her valour. They had sung of her beauty, of her love, of the magnificent prize that Faramir had won -- but never of her valour. She had wept in bitterness and defeat for many nights, and when Faramir had asked her what sorrow marred her cheeks, she told him that she mourned long for her uncle and king.
The simbelmyne fell to the ground as Éowyn watched the grave, and had anyone seen the pale, thin maid, they would have thought that great indeed was the love she bore her uncle. It was many minutes before Éowyn turned away.
On a field a short walk from Edoras, near to the burial mounds of the kings, wildflowers grew in all seasons save winter. To that field Éowyn walked next; she had spent many a childhood morning gathering flowers there, amid the hum of bees, and she was not disappointed. The field shimmered with dots of crimson, gold, white, and blue, filling the air with the sweet green scent of the grasslands. Grinning in delight, Éowyn threw herself down into the sun-warmed grasses. Close-up, she could see the details of each tiny flower, and she could remember the tales her grandmother had told her about each one: firesword, good for the fever, which grew only where a man's blood had been spilled; elf-lace, first brought to Rohan by an elf awed by the unearthly beauty of Queen Vidumavi the Fair; Eorl's Heart, so hardy yet beautiful that Eorl displayed it at his feasts instead of cultivated roses. Every flower had a story, and most had a use; Éowyn absorbed herself in the simple task of picking a large cluster of them. The sun rose overhead, warming her shoulders, and it was high noon when she returned to the Golden Hall.
Lothíriel had already taken her lunch, so Éowyn placed the flowers in a curved glass vase and ate a simple meal of freshly-baked bread and creamy milk. It was a commoner's lunch, she knew, but the forests of Ithilien did not allow for cattle, and Éowyn had missed the taste of cool, thick milk. The food disappeared quickly, and Éowyn allowed herself to visit the one place in Edoras that she had loved most: the armory.
The hall remained cool and quiet in the early afternoon; each rack of swords, spears, and bows shone immaculately, the weapons sharp and untarnished. Éowyn was pleased to see that Rohan had not neglected its strength, even in peacetime. She picked up a short sword from a rack, weighing it and stepping through the dancing postures that her swordmasters had taught. Keeping the movements smooth, confident, and swift required more effort than Éowyn had remembered, and she was sweating by the time she finished all twenty-one motions of the Eagle Blade -- the same practices I used to glide through each morning, she thought ruefully. At least I can still complete them correctly.
Carefully she returned the blade to its sheath, refusing to sit down to catch her breath; instead she walked to one end of the hall, filled with foreign-looking mechanical devices. They appeared to be the arrow-shooting machines which the orcs had used in the Great War, and, after picking one up, Éowyn could see that they were indeed modified bows, fitted with shafts of wood to guide the arrows while requiring less skill. Éowyn shook her head in disgust at the orcish contraptions, but as she traced its metalwork with her hands, she realized that such crude weapons could be deadly, even in the hands of untrained commoners. The future of our people lies with such things -- I would not that it were so.
Éowyn did not linger after that in the armoury.
Lothíriel's chambers were bright and pleasant when Éowyn returned to them; the gilded cage stood in the middle of the room and its finch twittered loudly, prompting a smile as Éowyn approached it. "May I play with him?" Éowyn asked.
Lothíriel looked up from her needlework. "I would not advise it. He will try to escape if you open his cage, and if he escapes, he will die in this climate foreign to him. If you wish, you may feed him, though."
Éowyn nodded, retrieving a small handful of seeds and holding them up to the bars of the cage. The little finch fluttered over and pecked at the seeds happily, and Éowyn did not wince whenever he pecked her hand instead.
"Thank you for the wildflowers," Lothíriel spoke after a time. "They are very beautiful, although they have already begun to fade. It was kind of you to bring them."
Éowyn smiled and knelt beside Lothíriel, pouring the remaining seeds into their container beneath the cage. She kissed Lothíriel on the cheek and tried to look over her shoulder at the fabric she was embroidering, but the other woman turned, gave her a warm, half-scolding smile, and placed the black cloth down beside her chair. She looked out the window at the sunset-colored sky. "Will you join me for dinner tonight?"
"It would be my pleasure."
Rising gracefully, Lothíriel wrapped her arm around Éowyn, guiding her toward the dining hall. A smile danced across her face, and the two had a pleasant meal together, lightly exchanging descriptions of Ithilien and Rohan. The evening felt comfortable, that was what Éowyn told herself; it felt like two lovers who could interact and flirt and tease with joy. When the final course was finished, Lothíriel looked about for servants, then, seeing none, leaned over and planted a quick kiss upon Éowyn. Ripe autumn fruits had never tasted so sweet.
Their lovemaking that evening was slow and gentle, neither one demanding or taking what was not given freely. Lothíriel's body was cool and giving beside Éowyn, each curve perfectly smooth, and Éowyn felt like a sunburned country lass in comparison. When they lay together after their climaxes, Lothíriel journeyed over Éowyn's body with her lips, kissing each pale freckle with smiling lips. Laughing in light happiness, Éowyn flipped Lothíriel the other way, wrapping herself around the woman in easy relaxation. In the hollow between Lothíriel's shoulderblades, Éowyn pressed her nose and lips against the satiny skin and breathed in deeply. "You smell beautiful," she whispered.
Lothíriel laughed lightly. "Of what do I smell?"
The blonde woman thought for a minute, kissing Lothíriel's back and absent-mindedly tracing her fingers over her stomach. "You smell of soft, secretive things - cats and dark velvet drapery. Like a gull almost-invisible, flying at midnight."
The muscles in Lothíriel's stomach tightened slightly under Éowyn's fingers. "I have not seen a gull for three years."
"Will not Éomer let you visit your father and brothers?"
Lothíriel's laugh shook her hair in jagged ripples. "Nay; I knew this to be my fate, as it was Morwen's before me. It would be improper for the king to abandon his country or the queen to travel alone, and the men of Rohan are bound by duty and honor and tradition, no matter how kind their hearts. Did you not know this, oh shieldmaiden turned housewife?"
Éowyn winced and said no more, lifting herself carefully from Lothíriel's nude form. "It grows late, and I plan to rise early tomorrow. Good e'en, Lothíriel." She began to dress herself in the layers of white linen.
"May your sleep be restful as the night embraces you." The formal greeting was spoken without any emotion, but as Éowyn began to hurry out of the bedroom, she turned to look once more at Lothíriel. She glowed in the moon's radiance, dark strands of hair drawing a living pattern over shimmering skin; yet to Éowyn her eyes seemed many leagues distant.
"I shall see you in the morning."
When Éowyn visited the kitchens to break her fast, she passed Lothíriel in the Great Hall, quietly sewing. The queen did not look up, but spoke quietly. "A messenger came in the night. King Éomer will return on the morrow."
Éowyn tried to restrain the venom from her reply, with partial success. "I am sure you eagerly await his return." She refused to look back, and on her way out to the stables after eating, she avoided the Great Hall. Soon, however, the sight and smell of the stables was enough to revive her, along with the crisp morning breeze that blew through their windows. The pungent blend of hay and sweat and manure had permeated Éowyn's childhood dreams, wafting through the windows as she slept, and still it was enough to evoke long days of carefree riding. Éowyn found Bramblemoth and hugged her neck for a moment, burying her face in his coarse, dark hair. "You, at least, I can trust," she whispered, and when he responded with a puzzled whinny, she smiled. "Today, my friend, we will ride faster than the flashing sun." Her practiced fingers bridled and saddled him quickly, and soon the two of them set off onto the wide plains of Rohan.
That day, when later recalled, was the loveliest day in many years. The wind was cool, but still far from winter, and the sun radiated from a sky of perfect round blue. Éowyn remembered her old strength as she rode, fast and hard, pushing Bramblemoth until both were panting and covered in sweat. She explored the hills and plains, laughing as she rode, and the wind was their only companion. At lunch she ate bread and wine from the saddlepack, resting beneath a cluster of ancient trees, and she doubted that any human hands could feel as lovely as the touch of the breeze, cooling her wet skin. Once she and Bramblemoth had eaten, drunk, and rested, they set off again, riding as fast as the mare's legs could gallop. It was easy for Éowyn to absorb herself in the motions of riding, easy to laugh breathlessly and dismount with a jump, lying on her back and gazing up at the sky. This, she thought, this is happiness. In that moment, the only movements in the world were the up-and-down rhythm of her chest and the wide, easy circles of a hawk flying far above.
Éowyn knew not how long she lay there, forgetting herself in the vast blue vault; eventually, though, the western edge of the sky became tinged with the sun's yellow, bringing along a colder wind. The features of the land were better-known to Éowyn than her own body's, and it was an easy task to guide Bramblemoth back to Edoras: easy, but not without regret. Still, the joy of that day shone over her face, and she felt a relief in her limbs that glowed in memory of youth.
The euphoria was fleeting, however. Éowyn felt the smile sliding from her face as she rode Bramblemoth into the stable and saw Lothíriel waiting for her, clutching her needlework with calm face and pale knuckles. On the deep black fabric, Éowyn could finally see Lothíriel's design, a cunningly embroidered crest in silver: the running horse of Rohan with the swan of Belfalas floating above, wings outstretched. For one isorienting moment, Éowyn was unsure whether the swan was descending upon the stallion or rising away from it.
"Will you join me tonight?" Lothíriel broke the silence, and Éowyn shivered.
"First, let me care for Bramblemoth." As she went through the familiar routines, removing Bramblemoth's bridle and saddle, rubbing the horse down, and providing her with clean water, Lothíriel stood motionless, watching. The two women said nothing until Éowyn was finished and the dusk had faded into deep twilight.
When Éowyn turned back to Lothíriel, the silver stars on Lothíriel's dress shimmered beneath the veil of her hair. Éowyn's throat felt dry. "You look as beautiful as a maiden of the elves."
Lothíriel smiled slightly. "Ah, you jest. Queen Arwen is ten times as fair. You, though -- you are beautiful. You are alive." Éowyn could see the cloth trembling between her hands. "Éowyn, know you why I tell you so often of your beauty?"
"Why, my lady?"
"Because I cannot forget. Every night this past year, I have breathed in Éomer's hair and thought of you. If I could, I would despise my cousin for owning you, but I know better than to want what I could never keep. Still -- does Faramir still treat you with honor?"
Éowyn closed her eyes, and the corners of her lips tightened. "He has never done otherwise. His love for me is deep and abiding, and he hesitates not to show his affection."
Lothíriel nodded. "I am glad of it. You deserve no less." When Éowyn opened her eyes, Lothíriel was undoing her braid, letting the dark hair fall in careless, tangled locks. Suddenly words began tumbling from her lips, quietly and rapidly. "When a man makes a sword or raises a horse, it is his own, unless he chooses to give it away. I have no choice. The banners I sew, the tapestries I design, they are not my own; they are Rohan's, Éomer's. Never have I owned a horse, though I know well how to ride. And I am Éomer's wife, but he is Rohan's king. Éowyn, from my youth I knew that the purpose of my life was to join my father's kingdom to another, and now that I have fulfilled that purpose, I have no other. I have nothing to own and nothing to give. I would that it was otherwise." Lothíriel's voice was still soft, but her eyes had not met Éowyn's throughout the exchange.
Éowyn tried to respond, but her face seemed incapable of either words or tears. Finally she clasped Lothíriel in a tentative hug, stroking her back and pressing her lips against her neck. Feeling no response, Éowyn softly kissed up to Lothíriel's cheek, then tilted her head to kiss one eyelid and move to the other.
Before she could reach it, Lothíriel snapped her face away, twisting out of the hug and staring at Éowyn, cold-eyed. "You offer me gentleness and comfort. How dare you? You know, you above all others, that gentleness and comfort are the prisons that suffocate me! I do not wish for your gentleness, and I am sick of all comfort. All I want is freedom -- or if not, then to forget. All I want is to call something my own." She pulled Éowyn around and pressed her into the doorpost of the stable, simultaneously slipping her tongue into Éowyn's mouth and her hand between her legs, stroking the flesh beneath the fabric. Éowyn's eyes widened, and she responded with equal force, entangling her fingers in the woman's dark hair and pulling her ever closer against herself. When she paused to gasp out words, they emerged forceful and fierce. "You wish for this? Then I will give you it."
The short walk from the stables to the royal chambers gave Éowyn a moment to think of her actions, how very good it had felt to finally to push back instead of giving or acquiescing. Her breath still panted when the oak door closed behind them and the two women looked at each other, suddenly still. In the corner, the little finch still chirped quietly in the twilight. Lothíriel covered its cage with the embroidered cloth, and the silver crest brought silence.
"So," Éowyn said softly.
"So," Lothíriel replied. "Éomer will wish for my company when I return."
The silence snapped, and they fell upon each other, pulling off clothing and gripping flesh with frantic, shaking fingers. Lothíriel pushed Éowyn into the bed, harder than she ever had before, and something in the moor winds blew through Éowyn in harsh fierceness as she gasped loudly. Need and regret and desire all dissolved into desperate pleasure, and Éowyn found herself kissing Lothíriel over and over, kissing as if her lips could leave a permanent stain. They came, and the world froze in its frenzied dance, and all language was forgotten.
Outside the window, through the slowing gasps of breath, Éowyn heard the fluttering of an owl.
Time drifted as Éowyn lingered in the bed, feeling the cool night air dry the sweat from their entwined limbs. Lothíriel held Éowyn carefully, almost gently, while Éowyn's pale blonde hair spilled over and around Lothíriel's breasts, making them shimmer in the moonlight. Éowyn's left hand was buried in Lothíriel's hair, and her right hand pressed against the hollow of her back.
As dreaming overtook the darkened room, she touched the woman's shoulder with a drowsy, wet kiss. "I love you, Faramir," she whispered sleepily, then widened her eyes at the mistake, turning to see Lothíriel's reaction.
A small, indecipherable smile drifted over the other woman's lips. She did not move. "I love you too, Éomer."
And it was enough.
The myrtle is native to Mediterranean Europe, which is close to the climate of Ithilien (as I imagine it). Its flowers are white and very beautiful. Its leaves are aromatic, but they are quite bitter.
Bramblemoth is, like Bramblewand her mother, a modernization of Old English, in this case "blackberry mouth."
This story is not a specific sequel to "Elven Eyes, Human Hands," but it fits into the same world.
Dedicated to Pinguino, for l33t h0571n6 and everything else.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.