A/N: When I saw The Two Towers, I had to wonder: what if Arwen had taken a ship to Valinor before the War was over? It is my response to why Éowyn loved Aragorn, and why I do not believe she would have been happy in her marriage to him. The assumption in this AU is that Arwen left Middle Earth around the time Aragorn met Éowyn, Éowyn did fight as Dernhelm, but never struck up a friendship with Faramir in the Houses of Healing and instead became the Queen consort of Aragorn Elessar.
The halls of Minas Tirith were silent. As they always seemed to be in the early mornings when Éowyn awoke to an empty bed. Aragorn, carried off once more from a late night to an early rise by the affairs of the kingdom, left a space beside her in their bed that filled her heart with emptiness. Opening her eyes to see only the cold solitude of her stately Gondorian bedchamber, Éowyn pulled her blankets closer to her skin, willing herself back to sleep.
But sleep would not come. Finally Éowyn stirred from her bed, pulling a robe around her shoulders. Hearing the Queen's footsteps, three handmaidens came into the room, ready to dress her and tend to her every need. And this, Éowyn thought, is called a luxury. To her it was a daily torture, the prying eyes of the women watching her every move, scrutinizing this wild woman who had bewitched the King of Gondor. Their cold fingers upon her body, Éowyn felt like an animal being poked and prodded. Finally she was dressed. Staring in the glass, Éowyn did not recognize the stately woman before her. But she had become used to the stranger who stared back.
When she entered the hall she saw Aragorn surrounded by several of his closest advisors. These men spent more time with her husband than she did, and her bitterness towards them was barely concealed. Meeting her husband's eye, Éowyn managed a smile. The men rose and bowed to her. Éowyn had become accustomed to this decorous behavior, but could not help but feel that it was grudgingly given.
"Did you sleep well, my lady?" Aragorn asked, putting his hand on the small of her back and kissing the top of her head. His touch made Éowyn's heart flutter, even after all this time.
"Yes. I wish my husband could enjoy such restful leisure," Éowyn said coolly, eyeing the advisors who stood around her. Feeling the young Steward's penetrating gaze, Éowyn suddenly felt ashamed of such spiteful selfishness. Surely she could not put her needs as a wife above those of her husband's people.
"Perhaps our King does need more rest. We would manage well without you this morning, my liege if you and Queen Éowyn would desire a few hours of peace," Faramir said.
Aragorn paused and looked at Éowyn. His hesitation angered her. Did he not care to spend time with the woman that he loved? "I would, of course, desire such a respite. Unfortunately, my Lord Faramir, I have promised to inspect the soldiers' quarters this morning. But if my lady will wait until evening, I will gladly give my work a rest."
Éowyn forced a smile and nodded. Aragorn always wanted to attend to his duties to the fullest scope of his ability, and she supposed it was his right to do so. Turning away from the men, Éowyn walked towards the gardens, shadowed by two handmaidens.
"Your highness," one of the girls said, "Would you like us to fetch you your embroidery for the gardens?" With a wave of her hand Éowyn assented and sent the girl scurrying off in the opposite direction.
As she entered the gardens, the crisp early spring air blew Éowyn's golden hair in wisps out of her elaborately braided coif. She longed to have the wind blow through her loose hair once again, and the feel the freedom of galloping down the dew-covered fields. But this morning, instead, she would embroider.
Sitting on a stone bench, Éowyn threaded a needle. Her long ivory fingers felt stiff and clumsy with such precise work, and Éowyn was soon struggling with the delicate border design she was sewing. In desperation, Éowyn was about to shout out in anger when she noticed the bevy of women sitting just beyond her. Certainly a Queen of Gondor would not do such things. Looking back at her work, Éowyn fought back tears. Were these the hands that had slain the Witch King? Were these the fingers that had once gripped the blade of battle? The glittering ring on her finger brought her back to the day she had first worn it. How happy she had been that day, the consort of King Elessar. He had looked into her eyes, and she had felt the love of the man she respected above all others.
"You look like you are having a happy daydream," a voice said and Éowyn looked up. It was Andreth, the young wife of one of Aragorn's advisors. "It is the first time I have seen you smile in a long time."
"I find it difficult to smile when I am alone," Éowyn said softly, motioning for Andreth to sit next to her.
"I cannot sit in the presence of royalty, your majesty."
Customs, endless pointless customs! Éowyn thought, biting her lip. But to Andreth she said, "Then perhaps you will join me on a walk about the gardens?" Andreth nodded and Éowyn rose. Three ladies-in-waiting, who were evidently watching her every move stood up to accompany Éowyn while another one gathered up the needle work she had left on the bench. Éowyn practically winced at such a display, and said, "I will not be needing your services during my walk thank you." Under her breath she added, "I am not a child."
Andreth was a tall, raven-haired woman who looked very much like the other women of Gondor. Éowyn did not particularly like her, but she was one of the only women in Minas Tirith who would approach her, much less attempt to befriend her.
"I understand that you are lonely. But that is the sacrifice you make when you marry a man who is already married to his duties. And by you I mean myself as well. Perhaps you forget that my husband is at work longer hours than even our King."
Éowyn felt the soft rebuke deeply. Perhaps she had allowed herself to be too selfish and self-centered during the last months. She looked at Andreth and saw the cold, stoic demeanor of the woman. Is that what was demanded of the women of this land? Éowyn felt she could never ignore her heart--- it was the only thing that kept her alive.
"You are the highest lady in the Reunited Kingdom. It is only natural that certain things be required of you."
"Of course," Éowyn said bitterly. She knew it was true. But she had never thought she would have to sacrifice her freedom and even her love for a country that met her with cold resentment and suspicion.
"I hope I have not troubled you?" Andreth said sweetly, but Éowyn was tired of talking. She longed for the familiar speech of her family and friends. The respectful and formal tone of Andreth's dialogue left Éowyn cold and perhaps even lonelier than before. What she really needed was Aragorn's touch, his soft caress and kiss.
"I am afraid I am feeling a little tired. I think the cool air has disagreed with me. I think I shall go inside and rest."
"Perhaps you should. Do you wish me to ask someone to see to you?"
"No. I just need to be alone." Éowyn's harsh words surprised even her. The last thing in the world she wanted was to be alone. She wanted to be needed. She wanted…him.
She found Aragorn standing alone on the terrace of his study as the sun sunk below the horizon. Éowyn approached him quietly, watching him. He did not hear her drawing closer, and seemed to be a world away from her, consumed by his thoughts. Aragorn sighed heavily, and Éowyn wondered if she should leave him to his solitude. She was about to turn around and return to dress for supper when she heard his voice, very quietly, begin to sing.
Éowyn's heart dropped. She recognized the song immediately, for she had heard it many times before. Aragorn always seemed to sing it when he thought she was not listening or that he was alone. The song was that of Lúthien and Beren, and she knew in her heart that he sang it for the woman he once loved, the elf-maiden Arwen. He leaned against the stone wall, singing softly to himself and looking to the west, as if he was searching the horizon for Valinor. Éowyn could not be angry with him. She often wondered whether it would have been better for them both if Arwen had not taken the ship to the West and had instead married Aragorn, becoming the Queen in the place of Éowyn. Sometimes, seeing the faraway expression of her husband's face as she lie in his arms, she wondered whether he had ever truly loved her, or whether he had simply settled for her, realizing that Arwen had chosen another life. Whether he would ever be happy with her, or always pining for the love of another. But it was too late for such thoughts and as the day receded into night Éowyn could only listen to the forlorn voice of her husband, frozen and silent.
When the song was ended, Éowyn was startled to find that she was still standing there, listening. She finally approached Aragorn, and when he turned to her his steely eyes were shining with unshed tears.
"Aragorn…" was all that she could say. He looked at her, smiling, not knowing that she had heard his secret song.
"Ah, here you are. Did you have a pleasant day?" His casual manner irritated Éowyn. Could he not admit that he stood there, in love with another? Would they never try to understand each other, try to speak the truth to each other? But she knew the truth was too painful and too late. What did it matter now that Aragorn's heart belonged in part to a woman he could never have? Éowyn forced a smile and let Aragorn put his arms around her, content at least that part of his heart belonged to her.
The meal was sumptuous. But Éowyn had no appetite. She was actually feeling rather ill, and had to struggle to keep her aching head upright as she listened to what seemed to be an endless account of the reign of some steward by a man who looked old enough to have been there himself. What had happened to the idea of a private meal with Aragorn? Éowyn did not know how ten of Minas Tirith's most venerable citizens had been added to the party. But she could see that it pleased Aragorn to hear these accounts of his home's history. So she would try to be content. She would smile at the appropriate times, be polite and hospitable, and ignore the sinking feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach.
"Of course Aragorn, I do not have to explain to you our dealings with Thengel. I'm sure you know more about his temperament and history than I could ever tell." Hearing the name of her grandsire, Éowyn sat up straighter and turned her attention to the old man, who was sitting to the left of Aragorn. "Queen Éowyn, of course you know what service Aragorn did your grandfather, King Thengel."
She knew. She was proud that her husband had been of aid to her people, but this comment only reminded her of the age difference between herself and her beloved. 64 years had passed between his birth and her own, and he would outlive her by four scores of years and more. But she would never let anyone know that she thought this. She, like Aragorn, tried to ignore these facts. Smiling she responded, "Our King has been of great service to my people, and continues to be." Her people. She had never felt differently. No matter what lands she was now Queen of, the Rohirrim were the people closest to her mind and heart, always.
The conversation turned to the rule of Ecthelion II, and Éowyn's mind once again began to wander. Her daydreams turned to the fields of Rohan, and the shining hall of Meduseld. She would never forget her homecoming there after the War of the Ring. It was a solemn occasion as they prepared to bury King Théoden, her beloved uncle. But the joy and pride on her people's faces as they beheld their own Éowyn, the future Queen of Gondor, was unmistakable. What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs? Éowyn heard this in her head, and for once felt real joy as she thought of the glory she had brought to Rohan. Her valor on the field had made them proud, but her marriage to Aragorn had made her people respected. In her reverie, she almost did not notice that Aragorn was calling her name.
"Éowyn? Éowyn? Did you hear Lord Faramir inquire after your brother?"
Snapping back into attention, Éowyn looked at the other end of the table and met a pair of grey eyes. They were not her husband's, but the eyes of the Prince of Ithilien. Éowyn could see the kindness in them, and for once she did not feel she was being judged.
"I have not heard from my brother for the past month, but I am sure he would have alerted me if anything was less than perfectly peaceful in Rohan."
"Let him know the next time you send a messenger to him that I send my regards. I have had a few opportunities to speak with him at length, and I find him to be a very honorable and thoughtful man."
"I will do that," Éowyn said. She knew that Faramir was trying to make her feel included in the conversation, and she was thankful for that. By now she was feeling very drained so she looked down the table at Aragorn, and signaled to him that she was ready to retire.
"It is very late. If you will excuse us, it is high time we all were resting peacefully in our beds," Aragorn said, rising. After a round of goodbyes, he finally accompanied Éowyn back to their bedchambers.
When Aragorn finally entered their bedchamber, Éowyn could see the weariness on his face. She rose from her seat at the window and let Aragorn take her into his arms. Looking up at his face, Éowyn found herself once again awed by his kingly features, the powerful dignity that radiated from his steely eyes.
"I cannot reach you," she whispered, realizing the distance that had been driven between them by his high position. How could she ever be next to him if he was upon a pedestal, even in her mind?
Lowering his face to kiss her, Aragorn said, "I am here, my love." For a moment, locked in a kiss with her beloved, Éowyn felt happy. She felt contented. Unbraiding her hair and collapsing into bed, Éowyn smiled with an inner peace.
Tired and weary, Aragorn slid into bed next to Éowyn. She rested her head on his chest and felt his arms around her shoulders. It felt so safe in his arms. She wished she could stay there forever. Before she knew it, she was asleep.
Éowyn awoke suddenly. It was the dead of night and Aragorn was gone. At first, Éowyn felt angry and sighed heavily at the prospect of another night alone. Then she heard raised voices and saw lights moving in the great hall from her window. Something was wrong. Éowyn rushed to pull on a heavy robe and hastily pulled her hair into a tight knot. She was momentarily worried that it would not be fit for a Queen to be thus attired outside of her bedchamber, but when she heard mounted soldiers coming into the courtyard, she could not wait a moment longer. She ran from the room, grabbing a candelabrum as she made her way down the darkened corridors to the great hall.
When she reached the hall, she saw serving men and women scurrying to pack provisions into saddle bags and her husband and over a dozen other men looking at a map that was unrolled onto the table. No one even noticed her entrance, and it wasn't until Aragorn looked up at her and stopped speaking that her presence was headed.
"Éowyn, what are you doing…?" Aragorn's voice trailed off as he noticed where his wife's eyes were resting. Éowyn stared down at the map, reading the word Rohan that was written across the top.
"What is going on?" She said, her voice weak.
"A band of orcs, well organized and armed, have been riding through the Eastfold, burning villages and killing those who live there. By all accounts they are headed towards Edoras. We have just had word from King Éomer that the situation has gotten out of control and he needs our assistance," Aragorn said, and his words hit Éowyn like a ton of bricks. She felt faint, and sat down in a chair that was in front of her. After a moment, Éowyn regained her composure.
"I am going with you," she said, and the room went silent. Aragorn began to say something, but paused and met his wife's gaze. The men looked to him for a response, but he continued to look at her. The silence seemed to stretch for hours, but it was only in reality a few moments before Aragorn spoke.
"Please leave us," he said quietly, and the people in the room filed out into the adjacent room, carrying their work with them. The map was left on the table, and Aragorn stayed standing over it.
"Éowyn you know very well that you cannot go." Éowyn had perhaps expected this response. But she had certainly not prepared herself for it. Tears welled up in her eyes, and anger burned in her heart.
"And why not?"
Aragorn sighed and looked down at the table. She did not know whether he was disappointed, angry or conflicted. She could not read his emotions. "It is not your place. You need to stay here."
Was that all he was going to say? Suddenly Éowyn wondered if she even knew the man who stood before her. She had always thought that he of all people supported her. "Aragorn I must help! They are my people! I will not sit here helplessly while they die and my country is destroyed. Surely you understand!"
"But I do not. Your place is here. A Queen of Gondor does not go into battle, no matter what the circumstances. Éowyn you may yet be carrying our child! Do you think I will watch my wife ride into battle knowing I could have shielded her from it?"
In her anger, Éowyn could not believe the words she was hearing. "I do not need to be shielded, Aragorn. And I am not just a vessel for future heirs." She could not help but feel the pain of his observation. Her failure to provide an heir had been on her mind almost constantly in the previous weeks. Her tears flowed freely now, but they were hot tears of pain and anger, not of self-pity.
"Éowyn you must be sensible! You carry the hopes of our people with you. You must now protect them." Aragorn's voice was stern and raised. Éowyn felt she might scream to hear her own husband telling her to be sensible when she had felt that reproach from everyone else for the duration of their marriage.
"Your people! Your hopes!" she screamed at him. Their voices echoed in the empty hall. "Ever since I have married you I have made sacrifices for you, your people! This has never been mine! They have never wanted me! Let me for once do something for my people! Let me DO something! I will not sit here and sew for the rest of my life Aragorn and if that is what you expect of me you are mistaken." The bitterness was overflowing in her voice. Aragorn stood in silence at the end of the table, only footsteps away. But it felt like miles. In the silence that followed, Éowyn wiped away her tears. "I either go to this battle as your wife and Queen or I go as the Lady of Rohan. But I am going."
"You cannot. And if you cannot see that, I am sorry. But I will not allow you. Éowyn, it is the best thing." He approached her and kissed her on the forehead. But his touch was like ice and it chilled her to the core. Yet he still had power over her, and in a moment Éowyn resigned herself to his decision. She knew, and it was painful thought, that he would never understand her. She didn't know if she understood herself anymore.
Éowyn wanted to feel safe again as she embraced Aragorn. But she only felt alone, as her tears dripped onto his velvet tunic. He kept whispering that he loved her, and she knew it was true… but not enough. Not enough to see that she was dying there, caged and shackled to the duties of the Queen of Gondor.
There was a soft knock on the door.
"Enter," was all Aragorn said as he withdrew from his lady's arms.
"My liege, the men are ready. They await your orders to ride." It was Faramir peeking his head into the room. Éowyn closed her eyes, awaiting the inevitable.
"I will be there in a moment. We will ride out as soon as I have addressed the soldiers." Éowyn felt his hand on her cheek, but turned away before his lips reached her mouth.
"I am sorry," was the last thing he said before he closed the door behind him. Éowyn collapsed in tears on the floor. She hated her own weakness, but above all, she felt trapped. She heard the movements of ladies in waiting entering the room, ready to escort her back to her bed. She now knew what it meant to be Queen, and she no longer desired it…she would never be free.