Title: Strength of Steel
Rating: PG-13 (at the moment)
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Length:5000 words (or thereabouts)
Pairings: Arwen+Eowyn (not until much later,) Faramir+Eowyn, Aragorn+Arwen
Summary: Eowyn is determined that she may have lost a battle with Arwen, but she will win the war, and she musters her strength to face the woman who conquered Aragorn. But what she sees is not quite what she expected
A/N: Important! This is not an AU, yet I must confess the timing is a little skewed (only a very little) and I have changed two small facts. (1) In the book necessity is such that Arwen and Eowyn would have met fairly early. For the sake of the story, they do not meet until after their respective marriages, indeed not until a visit is paid to Eowyn by the court of Gondor. (2) Eowyn's house would probably not have been so well repaired etc, but for the sake of comfort it is so. Yes I am a Tolkien purist and not ashamed to admit it, but sometimes small allowances have to be made.
Perhaps the worst way to meet the most beautiful woman in the world, whom is also the woman who is married to the man you thought you loved, is to sprawl at her feet wearing a gown of homespun grey, and with hair unwashed. To look up into eyes which are bluer than the sky, which belong to a woman whom the elves called the most beautiful ever to set foot upon the earth. The face of the Evening Star herself- Arwen Undomniel, and to find those eyes (such eyes!) filled not with disdain or laughter, but rather a genuine curiosity as to whom she is.
Eowyn snatched up the pile of linen she had been carrying and hastily made her apologies. Around her she could feel the cold dispassionate gaze of the Queen's attendents- one of whom's eyes were filled with what was not quite kind laughter, the other two remote as though they could not imagine whom this chambermaid must be. Even in the company of these beautiful beings, the Queen shone like a jewel prized above all others. Eowyn turned to flee, praying that she had not been recognized, though she was certain that Arwen did not care whether she was a scullion, or Princess of Rohan. She ignored the words that Arwen spoke, and fled lightfooted away.
When she was sure she was alone, she halted, and wept violently, passionately, a flood of tears beyond all reason. Why was Arwen here early? The arrival should have been tomorrow, and now she could not even put up a token gesture of resistance. Then a sudden bolt of resolve steeled her gaze, and firmed her spine. She would not be despised by anyone. She was a Princess of Rohan, and the wife of the Steward of Gondor, no-one could make her ashamed. Rising quickly, she called three gentle-woman to her, and instructed them to seek out Lady Arwen and her entourage and take them to her rooms, which had been prepared for days, and which were more than adequete- those at least she could be proud of. She told a soldier to fetch her the gate guards, and flew to her mirror. It was past four, and she told her maid to abandon choosing clothes and to bring up the cook. The cook and the guards arrived at the same time, and in the mild confusion Eowyn managed to sort things out quickly. The guards told her that the Lady Arwen had asked for no announcement, and when Eowyn had scathingly asked him, why on Middle-earth he had allowed her in then, he merely blushed, and stammered something about her beauty and grace. Snorting with contempt she dismissed the lot, and turned to the cook. "We were prepared for a feast tomorrow. Remain on standby, until I tell you whether it is necessary to do it tonight." She ignored the sympathy in the cook's eyes.
Eowyn rested her still aching head against the cool glass, and stared into the mirror, as she sought to repair the damage caused by her crying bout. Her maid braided her hair quickly and expertly, in such a way that its unwashed state could not be noticed, into a crown of gold upon her head, and she picked up an afternoon gown of pale green cloth. No accessories. She would do fine for a cursory talk with the Queen, but if the other woman decided the feast should be held tonight, then she would be in trouble. She gazed in the mirror, and touched her face with powder, then scowled and wiped it off. No. No artifice. Eowyn saw a plain woman clad in unflattering green, whose eyes were too large and tired, and whose face was drawn and ugly. Her attendant saw a woman who should be Queen.
A subdued knock sounded at the door, and Eowyn knowing it would be the maids asking for more orders, told whoever it was curtly to come in. She looked up as Aragorn's wife, let herself silently into the room, closing the door behind her. With one furious look, Eowyn gestured her maid to leave, which she did instantly. "My Queen," she said. "Forgive me," she spread her skirts in a deep curtsey.
Arwen's cheeks coloured, and she curtsied herself. "Forgive me Lady Eowyn, for such rudeness as to arrive early. I beg of you not to change any arrangements." Eowyn murmurred some polite denials of trouble, and waited for Arwen to explain why she had come early. Then rememembering her own manners, she hurried to the next room, where a cheery fire was built up, and comforting chairs lay scattered about, and gestured for the other woman to sit. Arwen sat, as gracefully as she did everything else, and Eowyn took this moment to survey her rival. Or rather the woman who had beaten her. Tall. Taller than Eowyn by at least a handspan, and slim as a willow wand. She wore no crown, but her dark hair, and that tumbled down her back in a fall of night. She was clothed in a blue gown of material that swirled around her slender form, picked out with silver threads, and by the standards of all the beautiful things that had ever been made, she was exquisite. Oh how Eowyn hated her. But she concealed that hatred behind lowered eyes.
"Would you like tea?" Eowyn asked.
"I would love that." Eowyn stood and walked to the door, where she was sure her maid lurked, and with one look sent her scuttling to look for tea. Then she returned and waited for Arwen to speak. The other woman seemed nervous. "You must be wondering why only I am here. Aragorn will arrive with the rest tomorrow as planned. But I wanted some time to talk to you. Woman to woman," her eyes did not falter before Eowyn's sharp gaze.
Eowyn grudgingly replied. "You are always welcome your majesty." Arwen's smile, indicated she knew the real thought behind that carefully worded pleasantry. Her gaze seemed to strip away every layer of Eowyn's soul, the dirty corners and crevices which no-one could see, and which Eowyn hid even from herself. She seemed to know that Eowyn was virgin still, untouched by Faramir even upon their wedding night, that she had flinched from her husbands touch, and cried herself to sleep. She knew that it wasn't because Eowyn had been scared. She knew that Eowyn was scared of nothing except perhaps the gentleness and trust that Faramir offered. Eowyn blinked and looked away holding her head high. She had never paid attention to her tutors, but even so she was sure that elves could not read minds. It was her own guilty conscience that imposed this odd sense of knowing. But as she looked straight back at Arwen, and took her measure coolly, she knew with a sudden certainty, that Arwen was afraid herself. Afraid of something that went beyond Eowyn's limited knowledge of her and the King's courtship. It screamed out of her eyes, and in the way those elegant hands clutched the tea-cup. And she knew, though she knew not how, that Arwen had come here for comfort perhaps even for hope.
She did not need to speak her discovery, instead she stood, then sank to the floor in front of the fire, careless of how the gown trailed. With no hesitation, Arwen sat as well, and together they stared into the flickering fire. They had reached understanding to a degree, and somehow Eowyn knew that with time more would be revealed. Hours went by, without a word being spoken, and their eyes drooped closing slowly. Eowyn was woken by a scream. They were both lying on a rug, covered by blankets by some assidious servant, and the fire had died down. It was dark outside. Arwen was hugging herself, her lower lip trembling. And suddenly the most beautiful woman in the world was no more than a frightened child. Eowyn did what came instinctively, and drew the dagger from her belt, but there was no danger. She turned to Arwen. "What is it?" she demanded.
Arwen's eyes were huge. "I saw a darkness and it called my name. I don't know where I was, but I was all alone and when I called for my father there was no answer. Then I saw him in the distance, but there was an impassable river between us, and gradually he disappeared leaving only the darkness. I opened my eyes and realized I was here."
Eowyn was hard put not to smile. "It was only a nightmare Lady Arwen."
Arwen's eyes were non-understanding. "What do you mean?" Then her gaze lightened, and she looked shamed. "I am sorry. I had forgotten. The way humans sleep is different from the elvish way."
Eowyn merely nodded and stood. Reaching out a hand, she pulled Arwen upright and tugged her towards the door. "I will take you to your chamber. I should not have been so rude as to delay you from your rest. Your day must have been tiring." Arwen made no answer, merely followed. The chamber was well lit, and beautiful, a bridal chamber. The room was large and well appointed and furnished in blue and white. Heavy blue velvet curtains masked the windows, and the walls though stone were covered with intricate tapestries. Ancient carpets on the floor were heavily patterned and soft, the product of one trade delegation from the East centuries ago, and kept assidiously repaired. A small spindly table stood near the flaming fire, with steaming tea cups upon it. Above the fireplace was a bowl of dried rose petals which faintly scented the room along with the umistakable scent of beeswax, and a minature bronze of a horse. But the centre piece of the room was the bed. Mahogany posts secured the bed's canopy which like the curtains was a deep blue, but scattered on the underneath were silver stars worked into the fabric so to glance up was to look into the night sky. Curtains fell about it again worked with traceries of silver embroidery. The coverlet was pure white and covered the sack of goose down and feathers that made up the blanket, over a mattress of similar materials. It was warmed by a pan of coals, and these Eowyn thoughtfully removed. Arwen was still blinking rather stupified at the sight, and Eowyn curtsied low. "I bid thee goodnight."
Turning she quenched the candelabra's that burned candles of pure beeswax leaving one candle alight, then silently left for her own room, which was rather less magnificent, though still well furnished. She had chosen it for the location not the comforts. Bred in Rohan, bodily comforts which seemed to matter more to Gondorians defied her understanding. She had chosen a room which looked out on two views. One was half the size of the wall, and panelled with glass. The other one was smaller, but open to the elements, with shutters that could be closed during storms. It was empty of everything apart from the large marriage bed, similar in design to the one Arwen now occupied, but with no embroidery on its covers. Above the bed hung a sword, and again on the walls were tapestries. The floor had no rugs but just simple stone flags. Both her and Faramir's dressing rooms were next door. Eowyn blew out the candleabras and undressed in silence. Faramir had not returned.
The next day her softer feelings towards the other woman had disappeared, and it was with grim purpose in her mind that she woke the next morning. She smiled as the scent of crushed mint and lavender drifted towards her. Alyssa anticipated her needs so well. A bath first, and then to battle, in a rather different way than she had ever battled before. She scrubbed hard and fast, ignoring the fact she had lost weight and that her bones were rather closer to the skin than was usual, then wrapped herself in a towel, and poured the water over her head. Alyssa combed out the knots, teasing them gently with the comb, until her hair resembled a golden cloud. She dressed again plainly in a grey gown. Tonight would be her tonight. Until then she would lie low, and watch.
She hastened down the stairs and to the kitchen. Three ladies had arrived with Arwen, so she ordered a light repast for five. She must join them even if only for a short time. Practically the whole court would arrive with Aragorn, and there would be a grand feast tonight. She supervised the preparation of smoking hams, white bread, crystallized honey, jams, fruits of the season, a pat of butter, rashers of meat and various delicacies for the delectation of Arwen and her companions, and the setting of the table with white cloths and silver cutlery, as befitted an intimate ladies breakfast. She watched the cuts of meat which were soaking and roasting in preparation for tonight, and the labours of the cooks in the making of fantastical pastry confections, with the mixing of confits and compotes, and herself mixed the glaze of honey, bacon grease and cloves that covered one of the whole pigs. Alyssa appeared at her elbow, to tell her the ladies had awoken, and that the breakfast table was laid and ready.
Eowyn played the part of the gracious hostess, and poured tea. The conversation was polite pleasantries roaming around the topics of the weather and furnishings, and Eowyn took this opportunity to covertly survey her company. There was actually only one elf apart from Arwen. She was introduced as a woodland elf, and her hair was dark brown, and her eyes were as green as spring. She was clothed in dark green meshed with yellow, and Eowyn was almost sure she saw a knife protruding from her boot. She was obviously no kindred of Arwens, there was no family resemblance, and she seemed both sturdier, and less mystical, almost plain by comparison to the Queen's ethereal beauty, though by any mortal lady's side she would have been both delicately built, and outshone most beauties.
The lady to her left (Arwen sat on Eowyn's right,) was young as well and beautiful. Black hair almost as dark as Arwen's was swept back in a crest from her brow, and her eyes were black as shadow. Her nose was high arched and proud, the nostrils almost flared. The lips were firm, and her skin flushed over the cheekbones. Animated her face was, and spirited, her dress was flushed rose. It was obvious however that she was but a minor noble. Eowyn could not have told how she knew this, but it was like looking at a horse and knowing if it was of good breeding or not, and the ladies beauty was almost more of a peasant than a gently bred lady. Probably from a minor holding, where there were few servants, and they would all have to work come harvest time. To compare her to the Queen was to compare one of the Easterner's finely spirited horses (some of which had been captured, and used as new bloodlines for Rohan stock,) to a sturdy hunting mare.
The third woman provided a contrast. Of middling years- certainly much older in appearance than the others gathered, her face was lined, and her hair grey and pulled back tightly, with small strands curling out, and she was dressed sedately in a brown gown. Motherly was the only word which could be used to describe her. Eowyn then glanced at Arwen, noting despairingly that no matter what she wore she was still breathtaking. She merely picked at the breakfast, then escorted the ladies to the solinarium, where the few books the castle had were housed, and the most comfortable chairs. She noticed that all four ladies had come supplied with needlework, and judged it would do well enough to leave.
Hastening back down to the kitchen, she made sure everything was in the right stage of preparation, and then went on a tour of the rooms, each of which had been aired, and supplied with fresh bedding and candles. The soldiers barracks had been cleaned as well, and there was a group of washer woman hard at work in the main hall. A soldier hastened to her side, and told her that the expected people were coming. She looked for herself, and sure enough a large group of people approached on horseback. She stared wildly around her, and Alyssa as comforting as always was there with a fresh gown, to replace the gravy spotted one, and to brush her hair quickly. Eowyn had still not got used to idea of someone doing these tasks for her, but she had to admit it was a weight of her mind, to know her capable maid had her appearance in control.
Faramir greeted her first with a kiss on the cheek, and then Lord Aragorn bowed low. She curtsied deeply to him, but was saved from having to say anything by the arrival of the other vassals, and of Lady Arwen herself, who similar to Eowyn was greeted with a salute on the cheek by Aragorn. Servants led all the people to their alloted rooms, and Arwen was taking Aragorn.
That night, Eowyn stood in front of the mirror with purpose in her mind. She bathed quickly again, taking care not to wet her hair, and then stepped into the delicate dress held out for her, admiring it even as it was fastened. Silver cobweb bodice clung tightly to her, and the skirts were similar silver foam, over red lace. It was so fragile it could be damaged even by a stray sharp fingernail, and Eowyn sucked in, as her maid pulled the strings that forced her already slim form, into the required shape. Silver shoes were slipped on, and a necklace of garnet. Eowyn's ears were not pierced so the accompanying earrings were useless, but with remarkable ingenuity Alyssa managed to tie them on somehow, so really they looked quite perfect. She pondered her hair- down like a shieldmaiden of Rohan would wear it, or in an elegant twist. She decided that it would be worn down, but that the silver circlet would hold back errant hairs from escaping. Finally she touched her lips with coral, and her eyes with kohl, and for the thousandeth time cursed Arwen's dark hair and its natural drama. When she finally looked up from her ministrations she gasped. The woman in the mirror was a stranger to her. In her oval face she could see for the first time, what a properly brought up young maiden would look like. She realized with a queer dull ache, that she was eighteen. Only eighteen, and yet she felt forty. She stood, her natural balance enabling her to walk in the unusual shoes. She turned to meet her maids eyes, and found awe, and it was that which bolstered her to take her place at the table. She was late, and they were waiting for her. She straightened her back, and with small slow steps walked down the hall, oblivious to the gasps she provoked amongst the assemblage, the raw envy in the eyes of the women, and the untamed want in the mens.
Ever the perfect gentleman, Aragorn stood and moved her chair out for her. She murmurred a thank you, and slid in. Her breathing was a little constricted, but she was determined to get through this. She saw confusedly that to her right sat Arwen, and to her left Aragorn- beyond him was Faramir, and at the far end was Legolas, while to Arwen's right sat the woodland elf lady. With a muted gasp, she reviewed the seating arrangements, and cursed. Because she was not here, they had made a social embarassment of the seating, creating such a centrepiece that it looked as though Aragorn and she were king and queen. She could do no more than glance at Arwen's costume, seated as she was, and at that moment eating commenced. The talk was general, but the remarks Aragorn made to her, became cues for flirting. Nothing obtrusive or obvious, nothing indeed that could be misconstrued. Faramir looking on, wondered whether she even knew she was doing it. Course after course came and went, -the meats, venison with a pepper base, pork marinaded in the honey and clove liquid, beef roasted in its own juices, with bitter leaves to set off the taste, a whole swan filled with bitter parcels of lamb and herbs, partridge stuffed with onion and garlic stuffing, and all manner of delicates that came and went before her vision. The fish course- turbot fried in an unknown spice from an Eastern caravan of goods, grilled cod, almost raw salmon, the soup course, finely chopped vegetables. The wine's were varied, sweet, rich, fruity, strong, delicate, spiced, and ale and mead were also passed. It all swam before her eyes. The cheeses thick and pungent, aromatic and tastefilled. And then the sweetmeats, pastry sculptures of almost any mythical creature dreamed of, tarts filled with the sweetness of jam, a bowl of cream that fell in whipped peaks, the raspberry cake, layered with cream, the Rohan specialities that Eowyn herself had baked- honey filled pastry parcels baked, the treacle drizzled cakes filled with preserved apples. Eowyn had never attended such a feast before, had never believed that such a meal was possible. Yet only morsels passed her lips, and her conversation was almost mechanical. When all was cleared, and the dancing began, she dimly realized that she and Faramir, Arwen and Aragorn were expected to start the dance.
Her husband's arms went around her, and she danced well in time to the music, gradually coming out of her daze, and enjoying the motion of moving so lightly through the air. Then he let go of her hand, and she seized Aragorn's for the next figure of the dance, as Arwen danced with Faramir. Again the parting of hands, and Faramir and Aragorn stood back, as Eowyn and Arwen joined hands then curtsied as they moved. For the first time Eowyn assessed the dress, her rival wore. Blue again, Arwen seemed to like that colour, but this time dark blue. Her hair was up, but she wore no crown nor circlet. Scattered through her hair were a number of gems like stars in the sky. Eowyn compared them objectively, and even she had to acknowledge that Arwen might be the most beautiful woman in the world, but for tonight at least Eowyn was giving her a fight. Then they both curtsied to their partners, and waited for the dance-proper to begin. Legolas was there, his face familiar to an extent, more as an adjunct to Aragorn than because she had spoken much with him. He took her hand, and slowly moved her around the floor. His face was cold as stone, and twice as impassive, and because of this Eowyn was taken by surprise by his first question. "What are you doing?"
"What can you mean Prince Legolas?" she replied, genuinely puzzled for a moment.
"The little game you play with Aragorn and Arwen. Perhaps you do not realize precisely what you are trying to do." She made no reply, her face almost as cold as his own, and he took that as his cue to continue. "Aragorn has loved Arwen, and she has loved him since the first time they met. They have waited longer than you would think possible for this union, and you cannot entice him from her. You would merely shame yourself in trying. You cannot imagine, cannot grasp how much Arwen has given up for him. What could you give that she could not?"
She turned her head away, and the words spiraled through her head. I could give him my freedom. My love. As though he had read her thoughts he continued speaking. "You are beautiful Lady Eowyn and brave. You are human, flawed and exquisite, yet you cannot rival her. It would grieve me to see your heart broken, shattered on the rock of their love. You deserve so much, but perhaps you do not see what I see." He smoothly turned her until she was faced with Faramir who was dancing with Arwen's elven attendent. Legolas's breath was cool beside her ear, as lightly he held her waist. "A handsome husband, great renown, a castle, mayhap children. Are these not enough for you?"
She did not know how she knew what to say what she did. "And what of you then? Are you happy Prince Legolas. You too have won renown in your own right, you are the son of a king and so therefore you are rich. I am sure you love some beautiful elven girl, and will have children." Bitterly she threw his words back in his face, and satisfied watched it blanch beyond his accustomed pale hue. "You see Prince Legolas. We strive for what is beyond us. My head knows I should be happy with a handsome and kind husband," whom I can't bear to touch she thought silently, "with the prospect of children to come," which sickens and fills me with horror. The thought of something alien and foreign living within her body, thickening her shape, turning her into nothing more than a broodmare, sickened her beyond belief and she tasted bile in her mouth, but she continued. "Oh how happy I should be."
He gazed at her sombrely. Then struck the final blow. "Is it even Aragorn whom you want?"
The dance came to an end and they bowed and curtsied respectively. Legolas moved away, and took Arwen's hand in preparation for the next dance, while court gentlemen sought to secure the honour of Eowyn's hand for the next dance, until Aragorn begged the honour as kindly put it. They did not talk as they danced, and she looked over his face, every inch of it, seeking to quantify her feelings. His hair was dark as his brides with a sprinking of grey, his features strong and wise, eyes open and candid. Laughter lines around his mouth were plain to see, and written round his eyes as well. His body was stalwart and strong, and for the first time Eowyn wondered what it would be like to lie with him. She was no child, she knew what happened when a man and a woman lay together, knew there was supposed to be pleasure for both, and yet she could not imagine herself doing it. Her body was... she did not know why it shrunk from the thought, and even from Faramir's gentle kisses.
Her thoughts turned to her husband. Handsome, gentle, kind Faramir, who had never once reproached her over her unwifely conduct in the marriage bed. Who had held her as her mother might have held her in the depths of a fever, through long nights of healing. Patient and loving, and she hated herself for not being the wife he deserved. She smiled at Aragorn, but he was not looking at her. His face was puzzled and thoughtful, and when she followed his vision she realized he was frowning at Legolas, who was standing near the wall, pointedly ignoring the group of young ladies around him. He looked back at her, and managed to summon a smile. "How art thou lady?" he asked formally, and Eowyn cast her eyes down.
"Well my lord, and you?"
"I also am well, and much refreshed by the great hospitality you are showing us. My lady begs me to pass on her compliments to the cooks, and says it is long since she tasted such a fine meal." He smiled at her mischeviously. "She never told me she didn't like the food in Gondor!"
Eowyn smiled back politely. "It is my honour to offer you my home your majesty."
Aragorn was silent and then continued. "My name is Aragorn, Lady Eowyn." He smiled at her expression as he gently lifted her from the floor. "Do you like the Queen?" he asked suddenly.
Caught off guard, Eowyn fumbled for an answer. "Very much my lord." What else could she say- I hate her for having you?
His whole face was suddenly happier. "I am very glad. She has expresed a great liking for you, and it is good that she is forming connections. I have a large boon to beg of thee Eowyn." He paused and carried on. "I must be away some months, scouring out the remnants of evil that still lurk. Naturally my bride cannot accompany me, but I am loathe to leave her in Gondor, amongst people who though they love their Queen, cannot provide the companionship she needs. I ask of you, if she could remain here amongst your household until such a time as I return?" Then quieter. "I would that she were not to be left so short a time after the sundering of her kin, but the need is great. May I ask your assistance in this matter?" He had stopped dancing and held both her hands firmly in his as he asked.
Like a dream, Eowyn heard her voice. "Of course... Aragorn. It would be both an honour and a pleasure, and I shall look after her as well as I can." She had no defences against the pleading in his eyes.
So it came to be that when the household of Gondor returned, and the respective minor lords and ladies scattered to their holds, that Arwen remained within the house of Eowyn.
Well I hope that you enjoyed that, and I would really appreciate some reviews, especially constructive criticism! Thank you for reading