Uncaged

By Fine Eyes

Summary: A sequel to Caged. Éowyn finally finds love in Minas Tirith, but not with Aragorn. An Éowyn and Faramir romance under dramatically different circumstances and with life altering consequences. AU.

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Author's Notes: 

This is a sequel to my AU story, Caged. You probably should read the first story before you read this.

A warning--- this is an Alternate Universe fanfiction. Things are going to be different. Characters will be put in situations that Tolkien never put them in, therefore the authors' interpretation had to take over at this point. The driving force in writing this fanfiction was this: what if, despite what had changed, destiny still brought Éowyn and Faramir together? To make the world 'right', would the characters do something 'wrong'? Keep that in mind as you read.

I wrote this story with a co-author over the course of a number of months. The story was the result of many e-mails and a whole lot of problem solving and the end result is this AU. We each wrote part of the story and then sent it to the other person to write the next part. In the end, the story reflects both of our writing styles and talents, and I hope you enjoy it.

***

Cold

The first stars began to appear in the velvet sky, and Éowyn began to think Aragorn was not coming. Standing upon the walls of Minas Tirith, she turned her eyes towards the east, waiting for the signs of his arrival, but none came. Disappointed and more than a little hurt, Éowyn turned back towards the city and began to make her silent way through the gardens.

Another midsummer day had come and gone, and Éowyn was alone. Aragorn had left over a fortnight before to visit Ithilien, and it now seemed would not return in time to celebrate the anniversary of their marriage. Éowyn had been waiting all day for the news of the King's arrival, but in vain. In the last few hours of quiet desperation she had gone to the walls, hoping to see him rushing home to be with her. On nights like this, after the expectation of being in his arms only to be alone once again, Éowyn felt she could not longer stand the silence. On nights like this, she was ready to ride to Edoras and leave her dreary responsibilities behind. But she never did. Instead she wiped away the icy tears that welled up in her grey eyes and swallowed the pain that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her.

The moonlight filled the garden with ethereal light. Moving among the blooms like a ghost, Éowyn focused on every blossom, every petal, as if attempting to gain strength and vitality from their natural beauty. Her skirts trailing on the stone walkway, Éowyn made her way to the center of the garden, to the place where Aragorn had first asked her to become his wife. It was now a sacred place to her, the one place she could go and feel the beating of her heart increase and the warmth return to her cheeks. And there she sat, a quiet smile upon her face, an ivory finger toying with the ring around her finger.

"I thought I would find you here." Startled, Éowyn turned around to see Aragorn coming up behind her. She had almost forgotten how handsome his face was in the moonlight, but she noticed also the fatigue and strain that were etched into his features. He placed his hands upon her shoulders and leaned down to kiss her, and for a few moments she felt as if his kiss could undo all of the pain she had ever felt. But as soon as his lips left her mouth the cold chill of loneliness returned and Éowyn felt as if a great distance separated them.

"For a moment I thought you were not coming." Her voice was filled with a bitterness she did not mean to feel, and Aragorn sighed.

"I am sorry. We were delayed in Ithilien for longer than I expected. But I would not miss this day for the world, you know that." Standing, Éowyn put her arm in his and began to accompany him back inside. There was no need for more words to be spoken between them. They had reached a point in their lives where mutual misunderstanding was the only way in which they operated and further debate was fruitless. Aragorn was her husband, not her love, and Éowyn had long ago begun to understand that. It was comfort enough to lean onto him in the growing dark of night and see the joy in his eyes as he held their son in his arms. It would have to be enough.

Once they were safe in their private apartments, Aragorn said, "There is something I have decided on the way back from Ithilien which I would like to discuss with you."

What is the discussion, Éowyn thought, if you have already decided? She nodded and sat next down at the table that had been spread with their meal.

His eyes searched her face and Éowyn had the distinct feeling that she was about to be hurt. "I am going to go to Annúminas to oversee the rebuilding of the city and also to visit the hobbits. I shall remain there for a number of months and should be back before the winter." His voice trailed off and he waited for her reaction. But Éowyn was still processing his words. Did he mean that he was leaving again? And without her? The questions must have shown on her face because Aragorn continued, "Do not misunderstand me. My greatest wish is that you would accompany me. But in your current condition… I do not think it would be wise, Éowyn."

Éowyn's had went instinctively to her abdomen, where she had until recently carried a child. A dull pain in her heart began to grow, as all of her fear and disappointment began to resurface, hitting her like waves upon rocks. "Aragorn, I…" her voice was a weak whisper, and she had neither the will nor strength to continue. Her eyes, now filled with tears, searched her husband's face for the comfort she so desperately needed. He put his hand over hers, and Éowyn felt the coldness of his ring upon her skin. The tears retreated back into her eyes, and she willed herself into a state of numbness once again. She did not want anyone to see her vulnerability, least of all the man who she respected and revered above all others.

"Éowyn, please try to understand." She would have liked to say the same thing to him, but it was neither the time nor place. Her duty now was calm acceptance, realizing that Aragorn was right and that she would be better off safe in the stone coldness of Minas Tirith.

"When do you leave?" she asked, the hard edge returning to her voice.

"As soon as Lord Faramir arrives from Ithilien to take over my duties." Aragorn continued to look at her as if he was afraid she would do some harm to herself, and his concern made her angry--- not at him but at herself. Why could she not perform the one duty he expected of her as his wife? She realized suddenly that her meal was cold and that the hour was late, and her mind longed for the comfort of sleep.

"Will you come to bed, my lord?" Éowyn asked, knowing the answer in advance. There were very few nights that Aragorn did not have some pressing matter to attend to. Éowyn was often asleep when he slipped into bed next to her, and still sleeping when he slipped out in the mornings. She could not find fault in him as a ruler, but she did not find him beside her where she needed and wanted him to be. She did not even wait for his answer to say, "Then I shall see you tomorrow, for I must retire." She rose from her seat and he stood up. Taking her hand in his, he drew her close and kissed her forehead.

"Happy anniversary," he said quietly, sensing that the night had held little joy for his wife.

Éowyn made a pathetic attempt at a smile, before realizing that it had been only four years ago that she had been the happiest woman alive.

***

Éowyn gripped the wall with both hands, as if afraid she might fall over the edge. Or jump. But the cold, unemotional thoughts in her head assured her that any emotion Aragorn had stirred up the previous night was now safely repressed, somewhere deep inside of her. The sun beat down upon her as she strained her eyes, watching with silent patience much as she had done the previous night, only this time for someone else. Lord Faramir was expected from Ithilien at any moment, coming to Minas Tirith to relieve the King of his duties during his stay in the North. Éowyn had come to watch for him, partially to get away from the preparations that seemed to be perpetually taking place back in the city, partially out of curiosity. It had been almost a year since Faramir had left the city for Ithilien, and with him Éowyn had lost the only person in Minas Tirith who seemed to look upon her with real understanding. She had never realized how warm his glance was upon her until it had left.

She saw the first riders of the party making their way to the city long before she could make out which one of the company was the Prince, sitting atop a grey horse, outfitted in riding attire. Trumpets rang in her ears as the call was taken up of his arrival, and her heart suddenly began to flutter with excitement. Not entirely understanding the mixture of joy and apprehension she felt in her heart, Éowyn began walking briskly back to the hall, where she knew her husband would meet the Steward as soon as he arrived.

Her footsteps echoed in the corridor leading to the great hall. She could already hear the jovial laughing of Lord Faramir mingling with that of her husband.

"Ah, Éowyn," Aragorn said as she approached them. He put his strong arm around her shoulders, and looked with wonder at the smile upon her face. Éowyn did not exactly know why she was smiling; guessing only that the sunshine had lifted her spirits. "Lord Faramir has just told me of the beautiful woman he spotted standing upon the walls when her rode into the city. And now I see her for myself." Éowyn's eyes met Faramir's and for a moment she reflected on the grave tenderness that she found in them.

"The hour of my departure finally arrives. I had left complete instructions for you with my advisors, Faramir, and I have no doubt that I am leaving my duties in very capable hands. If you would accompany me to my study, I would like to show you just a few things that I need you to see to while I am gone." The two men began to turn towards the door before they realized that Éowyn was still standing there. Aragorn leaned down to kiss her, and as his lips met hers Éowyn was suddenly aware of Faramir's eyes upon her. The kiss felt like ice.

"Goodbye, my love." Aragorn still held her in his arms, but Éowyn heard his voice as if at a great distance. A strange feeling had entered her heart that Éowyn could not identify, nor could she ignore. Her eyes met Faramir's before he turned to leave the room, and Éowyn refocused on the face of her husband.

"I love you," she said, but her voice sounded hollow, and when she finally withdrew from Aragorn's embrace and watched him follow Faramir down the corridor, she felt the chill in her heart slowly changing to doubt. And for the first time in many years, a tear trickled down Éowyn's cheek.

***

Long days had passed, and finally it had been a fortnight since Aragorn had rode out from Minas Tirith. Éowyn could not recall how she had passed the many solitary hours that had led her to where she was, sitting silently among the lilies of the garden. She did know that the sun had set many hours before, and the darkness that enveloped her made her feel calm and at peace. Her mind, clouded for so long by the pain of regret, was suddenly clear and untroubled, and she breathed easily.

Strange that it should take abandonment to make my bitterness melt away, she thought, amazed at the bizarre behavior of her emotions, but not unhappy with the change.

"May I join you?" a voice said, and as she raised her eyes she saw the Steward of Gondor standing before her, the moonlight shining through his hair and lighting his face in ethereal light. Éowyn was about to rise when he lowered himself to the ground, making a seat for himself next to her on the grass. She smiled at his informality, and almost did not know what to make of their close proximity to each other. It was as near as she had ever been to him, and she could not ignore the energy his closeness created.

Minutes passed in silence, and soon Éowyn had shifted her focus to the full moon in the starry sky. She could feel Faramir's eyes upon her, but she was not made tense or anxious by his stare. Indeed it made her feel peaceful to have his kind gaze directed toward her.

"This garden was planned by my mother, Finduilas," Faramir finally said, quietly and almost to himself. "She loved lilies. I often think that it was this garden that kept her alive all those long years." Éowyn could hear the sadness in his voice, and could recognize that same sadness in her own heart. There were no words she needed to say to tell him that; she sensed that he had long ago began to know and understand the loss and pain which she experienced.

"I have often wondered if you would share her fate." The words seemed to come from the night itself, and Éowyn felt as if she had heard them many times before in her own heart. Finduilas of Dol Amroth was like a ghost that haunted Éowyn. Perhaps it was her spirit that had often led her to the gardens in times when she felt her overburdened heart would cease to beat. Éowyn turned to face Faramir and found his eyes staring back at her, shining in the reflected moonbeams of the clear sky. The graveness in his features, while serious, was very different from the sternness of Aragorn's looks.

"Do you remember her well?" Éowyn asked.

"I remember her smile, her touch… her love." His voice was full of memory, and Éowyn was suddenly brought back to memories of her own mother. She could still remember Théodwyn's smell, the way it felt to touch her soft skin.

"I often wonder where I would be were my mother still alive. Whether I would have made the same choices." Perhaps I would have better known my heart, Éowyn thought, but she could not bring herself to say it. Despite the honesty between them at this moment, Éowyn still guarded her heart.

Faramir sighed and leaned back, his full face turned towards the sky. "There are many things in this world which may have been different, and many things which we would change. But I would not trade these stars, this moon, this night for all the jewels on the earth." Éowyn returned his penetrating gaze, and for a moment lost track of all time. Suddenly they heard the footsteps of a sentinel guard upon the path, and the moment was forever lost. Rising almost in the same moment, Éowyn and Faramir looked at each other once more before moving slowly in separate directions, Faramir towards the tower of Minas Anor, and Éowyn to the silence of her bedchamber and a deep dreamless sleep.