Fourth Age 29
It was unjust.
Perhaps she should have learned long ago that the world often failed when it came to justice. How could she not have absorbed that lesson well, given all she had witnessed in her youth?
Yet as Éowyn leaned into her mirror, examining the lines on her face, the gray streaks in her hair, she could not help but feel it was unjust. On this day, in particular, the sentiment struck hard. For it was her fifty-fifth birthday, and guests at a party in her honor mingled in the great hall. Her children, her husband, the nobles of Ithilien, and indeed, the King and Queen of Gondor, all waited for her to join them in celebration.
It had not always been so difficult. She had accepted the end of her childbearing years without regret and had learned to cope with the minor aches and pains of growing older. She had even begun to accept help mounting her horse, for as long as she could still ride, seeking aid to mount and dismount did not trouble her.
No, it was not the limitations of age that bothered her, and even her appearance, which many would consider young for her years, would not be so distressing, if only...if only those she loved the most, save her children, had not kept their youth while she grew old before their eyes.
The first time she and her husband had spent the night in the King and Queen's bed, she had barely reached her thirtieth year. She had never thought that such moments, so full of joy and passion, might continue over the years. Yet they had, as frequently as their busy lives permitted she and Faramir to be in Minas Tirith, or the King and Queen to visit Ithilien. The emotional bond between them had grown stronger with time, and it was something she had cherished, second only to her own relationship with Faramir and her love for her children.
Arwen understood her as a woman, in a fashion no man, no matter how much she loved him, could ever match. Her caresses were a soft, delicate breeze, a counterpoint to the heady onrush of loving a man. Aragorn was the hero of romantic lore come to life, gentle yet intense, demanding and giving at the same time. Both of them awakened something different in Faramir, too, something less inhibited, more bold, yet no less generous and loving. And watching her husband under Aragorn's touch was almost unbearably pleasurable. But these days, she dared not remember those moments too often, for the memory brought only regret for what she no longer possessed.
She had always known that Arwen would retain her youthful appearance, and that Aragorn would age far more slowly than other Men. But she had not known that Faramir, too, bore so much of the blood of Númenor; though he was twelve years her senior, he now appeared to be ten years younger than she. How much longer would it be before he was mistaken for her son?
That was not the worst of it. She would die long before him; he would be left behind, as he had been by his parents, his brother, his comrades, most of his childhood friends. He would live for years and years once she was gone, delivered into the earth, turning to dust. How many more years could he have shared with a wife, had he married a woman of Númenorean descent?
In the past years these thoughts had become ever present, a sorrow that descended around her like a veil, blemishing all the other joy in her life. Faramir knew of her fears about aging, of growing old without him, though she had not voiced the deeper fear of leaving him alone and abandoned once again. He did all he could to show his love for her. She was secure in that love, and she could deny him nothing, not even her bed, though her uncertainty had grown as each year passed. Did he truly wish to make love to her, or did he do so because he felt he must, or because he pitied her?
She still desired her husband, still enjoyed Faramir's touch on her body, though her skin was no longer as smooth and firm as it once was. But the idea of sharing a bed once again with Aragorn and Arwen was unbearable. The thought of lying, unclothed, among them, an old woman among those still young, was almost painful. She had begun to offer excuses as to why she could not journey with Faramir to Minas Tirith, but instead sent him to the City alone, to share Aragorn and Arwen's bed without her presence, but with her blessing.
Yet she missed them terribly. She missed the lovemaking, the shared pleasure, but more than that she missed the emotional connection, the palpable bond between them. Their impending visit for her birthday -- which she had tried to forestall -- had provoked weeks of anxiety. It had been more than two years since she had last seen Aragorn and Arwen -- and since they had last seen her. Would they feel obliged to invite her to their bed, and what excuse could she possibly offer?
She sighed and stopped brushing her hair. Faramir preferred it loose and free, but she pulled it away from her face and bound it tightly, into a style more suitable for a woman of her age.
She grimaced when she heard a knock on the door; it was either her maid, coming to fuss over her, or Faramir, wondering when she would join the celebration downstairs. "Come in," she called.
But reflected in the mirror was neither her maid nor her husband. "My Lord King," she stammered, rising and turning towards him.
His very presence still had the power to unnerve her, for he was as appealing as ever. A stranger, unaware of his ancestry, might take him for a man of fifty years rather than a Dúnadan well past one hundred. It was unfair, she thought, that age only served to make some men more desirable. The sprinkle of gray in his hair was elegant, and the lines around his eyes reflected wisdom and understanding. The marks of time had enhanced the beauty of his youth rather than tarnishing it.
"Éowyn," he said, smiling as he approached and took her hands in his own. "Since when do we stand on formality outside the court? It is good to see you, for it has been too long." He kissed her hands and then leaned forward to kiss her cheek. She tried not to stiffen at his touch, but failed.
He drew back at her reaction, guiding her to sit as he dropped to one knee before her. She almost protested this breach of decorum, but the words died in her throat as she met his gaze.
"What is wrong, dear Éowyn?" he asked softly. "Your friends are here and wish only to celebrate with you."
She dropped her eyes and bit her lip, trying to deny the tears she felt threatening. "I am sorry," she said. "But it is difficult for me to view this as an occasion worthy of celebration."
He cupped her chin in his hand, tilting her head until it met his eyes. "Yet it is, for your life is much to celebrate, for who you are, and for all you have done."
She did not reply, her eyes closing once again, as his calm, steady voice pushed against the barriers she had so carefully wrought. "Faramir spoke with us, the last time he came alone to Minas Tirith." Aragorn said.
She felt color flood her cheeks. "Aragorn, please," she begged. She could not bear his sympathy, his pity.
He took her hands again, his gaze steady. "You are a beautiful woman, Éowyn," he whispered, leaning forward to brush a gentle kiss against her lips. "The passing years are nothing for which you should be ashamed. You have endured many losses, and you have performed deeds of great renown, with much valor," he said, echoing words exchanged between them long ago.
Remembering herself as the young shield-maiden, so fiery, so full of determination to prove herself in battle, she could not help but offer him a smile, however wan.
He smiled in return. "Arwen and I still love you, and would still have you share our lives, and our bed. I beg of you, let go of this fear, this dread. Do not deny yourself the joy in the years that are yet before us."
His words rang with truth and sincerity, yet the deeper fear would not be so easily banished. "It is not only for myself that I fear. Faramir...I have not spoken of this to him," she said.
He nodded, agreeing to keep her confidence, and she continued, "He will have many years without me, I think, many years alone." The tears she had pushed aside before would not be denied now, for speaking of this aloud, this dark worry she had harbored alone for so long, broke through all the walls she had so carefully built around herself.
"Éowyn," Aragorn said, lifting a hand to brush away her tears. "None of us know what the years may bring. And he will not be alone, for you have a family now, children, and soon, grandchildren."
She nodded, "Children are a great blessing, but they are different, are they not? Though they love us, they have their own lives."
"They are different," Aragorn agreed. "But I offer you this promise. As long as Arwen and I live, Faramir will never be alone, and we shall always love him dearly. He will have our companionship, and our love, for as long as we live. Nor will you be alone, Éowyn, no matter what the future may bring. This I swear to you, upon all that I hold dear."
"Aragorn," she whispered as he embraced her, his strong arms offering support and comfort, which she gratefully accepted. She believed him, trusted that he would do everything to hold to his promise. Some of the weight she had been carrying lifted with the knowledge that Faramir would never be alone. The gray hair and all the rest, seemed somehow less important, more like...vanity.
He kissed her again, with more passion than a kiss between old friends, yet without demand. "Keep us in your life," he said. "That is all we ask, that you share your burdens with us, as dear friends must with one another. As for the rest," he said, "We will leave that up to you, though it would bring us great joy to share your bed once again." He kissed her neck, aware of her sensitivity there, and his lips curved in a smile as he felt her respond. When he pulled away, his eyes held nothing so much as mischief.
"I think, my lady, that the passions of youth have not deserted either of us just yet," he said.
She smiled in return, then took his hands. "Perhaps not, my lord," she replied in kind. The uncertainty had not deserted her, and she pushed aside images that threatened, images of her gray hair and lined face next to her fair companions. There was too much joy to be found in the life she had before her, and she determined to grasp it while she could, as the fiery young shield-maiden would have.
She leaned forward and kissed Aragorn, and this time it was her mouth that opened, seeking, asking, and she felt her desire returned. Not pity, not sentiment, not familiarity, but desire that could not be feigned. "Perhaps not," she repeated, slightly out of breath, after the kiss finally ended. "But perhaps, first, we should join my guests...I understand there is something of a celebration going on."
He smiled and stood, reaching for her hand, but she gestured for him to wait a moment, and turned toward her mirror again. She released her hair from its bonds, letting it spread across her shoulders. Returning the King's smile, she took his hand, and they left her chamber together. She was overdue, perhaps, but finally ready to enjoy her guests and the occasion of her birthday.
Author's Note: This story was originally written for a timed challenge on LiveJournal. Feedback of any kind is very welcome. Thanks for reading.