Chapter 1: To sleep, perchance to dream.
Disclaimer: As ever, the Lord of the Rings is not mine. I do this for my own entertainment only, not for fun.
This is an idea I've been toying with for some time now. Ever since I first read it, I have loved Tolkien's story of Éowyn and Faramir. This is my attempt to fill out some of the details.
Thanks as usual to Lady Peter for looking over some of this story and making very helpful suggestions. Any remaining mistakes are mine, of course.
Warning: Rated M for strong language, mentions of past sexual abuse, consensual sex scenes, graphic descriptions of battle wounds.
When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a white flower standing straight and proud, shapely as a lily, and yet knew that it was hard, as if wrought by elf-wrights out of steel. Or was it, maybe, a frost that had turned its sap to ice, and so it stood, bitter-sweet, still fair to see, but stricken, soon to fall and die? (Return of the King : The Houses of Healing).
Béma, my shield arm aches. It is still splinted. To be honest, I do not mind the physical pain. It keeps me anchored, distracts me from the waking nightmare of my memories. It is the mental pain that I cannot bear.
It is two days since I woke from fevered dreams, dreams in which my whole body was consumed with agony, and my mind tortured to the depths of my soul. I was dragged back from a living death by the voice of my brother,Éomer, calling to me, grief stricken. And by the hands of Aragorn, the heir of Isildur.
What can I say of these two men? My brother, childhood companion and friend, who shared my grief and offered me comfort on the death of our parents, when we were but children. My ally through the darkest days when Grìma Wormtongue, Saruman's spy, held sway over Edoras and poisoned our Uncle's mind. And Aragorn, the Ranger from the North, such a recent part of my life, but so dear to me in such a short time. Aragorn, who brought me back from the brink of death. Aragorn, who offered me kindness and friendship. Yet to my shame, I spurned his kindness and friendship, for I wanted only his love. And the knowledge that I could not have his love drove me to embrace death in battle, but death eluded me. I came close, and would have rode on to further battles, except that now I am rendered helpless by my injuries.
Éomer and Aragorn have gone to war once more, and this time I have not been able to follow them. They have gone to certain death, and I cannot join them. I do not expect to see them again. We who are left can only count the days until their defeat, and the destruction of our world, crushed beneath the tide of the oncoming hordes of the Dark Lord.
All I can do is to lie and think on the events that led me here. There was a time in Edoras when I found release at last from the defiling attentions of Wormtongue, and the constant fear that one day he would take me by force. I found release in the restoration of my beloved Uncle, Théoden Cyning, to his right mind. And I found relief in the brief respite from the worries of my life, the agony of losing Théodred, my kinsman, cousin, almost as dear to me as my brother.
As we gathered arms and armour for the journey to Helm's Deep, Aragorn had come upon me practising with my sword, and had parried my strokes with his dagger. In the moment we stood, blades locked, I looked into his eyes, and I teetered on the brink, just in balance, but ready to fall at any moment. And on the journey, as we travelled side by side, deep in conversation, his ready wit brought laughter to my lips for the first time I could remember in months, perhaps even years. Then I fell over the brink, lost in a tide of feelings for him that I could not control.
For two days I had his company. His eyes were kind and full of humour, even in those dark times. His conversation fascinated me, comforted me, lightened my burden. He told me tales of chivalry, of high renown won in battle, of brave deeds, tales from the Riddermark in earlier times, from Gondor, dark tales from the ancient North, from long-forgotten Westernesse. He told marvellous, magical tales of elves, and tales of the courage and stalwartness of dwarves. For two evenings I had gentle memories of him. I would replay our conversations, remembering his words and the expressions that had passed his face as he talked. I allowed myself daydreams of what might be to come to lull me to sleep. Daydreams of conversation which turned from easy friendship to something more. Daydreams of gentle embraces, and imagined kisses, soft and innocent, of protestations of love.
And in the two nights, I dreamed dreams that were anything but innocent. Dreams of longing and desire. Kisses which were not soft, but hard and hot and needy, of tongues slipping inside mouths, of the taste of each other. Dreams of the feel of his hands, roughened from years of wielding a sword, hands which tangled in my hair, roamed over my body, sought out my skin under my clothes. Dreams where his lips followed his hands, leaving a silken trail of heat and desire over my skin. Dreams of naked, tangled limbs and bodies, covered in a sheen of sweat, melting into one and fracturing, shattering into millions of fragments of pure rapture. In the mornings I would wake, and struggle to keep the blush from my cheeks as I walked beside him, talked to him. And after these dreams, as I talked, I fought to keep control of myself, fought to damp down the feelings of desire which coiled deep inside me. Desire which no maiden should feel, no daughter of the line of kings should allow.
But though young and a maiden, I was not naïve. No woman of the Riddermark, no matter how young, could be ignorant of the mechanics of begetting children, surrounded as we were by the horses we bred. I was four and twenty, and most women my age would already have been married and borne their first child. At seventeen I had fancied myself in love with one of Théoden Cyning's guard, a rider in his Royal Eored. But I had done nothing more than exchange kisses with him. Éomer and Théodred had seen to that. The irony of the situation did not escaped me, even at seventeen. They guarded my honour with unceasing vigilance, while they themselves wenched their way round both East and West Fold.
By twenty, my Uncle the King should have been looking for suitors for me from among the young sons of his Lords and Marshals. It is not the way of the Riddermark to arrange women's marriages, so I would have been allowed to choose a man I found kind and comely from among them. But then Grìma Wormtongue rose to power within Théoden Cyning's council, by the simple expedient of ensuring his rivals met with unfortunate accidents or were subject to orc ambushes. He cast his evil spell over the King, and turned his evil, lustful eyes towards me. Seeking me for himself, he got Théoden to veto any suitor who might have been considered appropriate. As his attentions became more marked, he allowed himself more and more liberties with my person, his wandering hands marauding, grabbing parts of my body in passing. I found myself without allies or protectors at court. As Théoden's mind disintegrated, I spiralled further and further into utter despair. There seemed nothing I could do to stem the inevitable. Wormtongue would get his way, and the fact that it was against my will, that everything about him disgusted me, that his pawing hands turned my stomach, all this would only add spice to the eventual rape as far as he was concerned.
At my wits' end, I pleaded with Théodred to bed me. If I had to be defiled by Saruman's worm, at least I could lose my maidenhood in a manner of my choosing. But Théodred would not. He said it would debase me and him, a coupling without desire or passion, born of desperation. And furthermore, he was adamant that such a coupling would border on incestuous, because we had been brought up together and he thought me as much his sister as his cousin. A mere week later, Théodred was dead, slain in an orc raid, a raid almost certainly orchestrated by Grìma. The Worm even tried to corner me as I laid out my cousin's body ready for his burial. Only Éomer's timely arrival saved me. And then Grìma contrived to persuade Théoden Cyning to banish Éomer from Meduseld, accusing him of warmongering. My fate seemed sealed.
But the fates had not ceased toying with me. They gave me brief respite, only to dash my brief happiness on new shoals. First, Aragorn and his comrades arrived in the company of the Grey Pilgrim. Gandalf restored Theoden to his right mind and cast Wormtongue from Edoras. If I am honest, my thoughts turned to Aragorn almost from the minute I first saw him, seeing him as my rescuer in my darkest hour. Small wonder then that I fell in love with him. And I had my two days of happiness on the journey to Helm's Deep. But then in one fateful instant, I asked him about the jewel he wore round his neck, and all my hopes crumbled to dust. His face lit from within by love, his eyes reflecting the memory of her beauty and wisdom, he told me of Arwen Undomiel. How could I, a mere mortal, compete with an Elf Maiden said to be the image of her foremother, Luthien Tinuviel, the fairest child of Eru Illuvitar ever to walk the paths of Middle Earth? Aragorn took the paths of the dead, and I, with no hope left to me, took the path I hoped would lead to my death.
But I live, still. And so I lie in this narrow bed, in a small, cell, staring at the ceiling. A single candle gutters on the shelf beside the bed, but I cannot bring myself to blow it out. I am of the proud line of the kings of the Riddermark, but I fear the shadows of night. Aragorn drew me back from the brink, but the black breath still lingers over me like an evil miasma. Yet at the same time, I am tired, so very tired. I crave sleep with every fibre, every sinew in my body. But my mind resists what my body desires. To sleep is to dream, and my dreams cause more pain than my physical injuries, more pain than my memories of terror and lost kin, more pain even than the knowledge that Aragorn does not love me. And more than pain, they terrify me. I, who slew the Witch King in my waking life, cannot slay him in my dreams. My dreams are a place of terror beyond imagining.
I cannot sleep, nor can I bear to lie in darkness. But whether I will it or not, sleep claims me, and my thoughts slip from the grasp of my conscious mind.
I find myself back in Edoras. I have found my sword, wrapped in oiled silk within a carved chest. With a shimmering, musical sound, it sings to me as I draw it from its sheath. It feels heavy in my hands, but my wrists remember the strength they had when I used to spar with Théodred on the practice grounds. I swing the sword, bringing it through the patterns the swordsmaster used to make us execute, day after day, week after week. A figure of eight, controlling the blade with both wrists, a parry, swivel on the ball of my foot, maintain my guard as I turn, another pass as I step forward onto my left foot, tracing out an arc with the point as I return the blade to its position guarding my body, before raising it to parry an imaginary enemy. But the percussive sound of metal on metal is all too real. I am drawn from my trance like state to find Aragorn's dagger blocking the movement of my blade, his grey eyes fixed intently on mine.
In the dream we are not in the public space of the Golden Hall, surrounded by others gathering their weapons and preparing their armour. We are sparring in private, in my chamber. And Aragorn does not drop his blade after our eyes have met. Instead he keeps it in place, then forces me onto the back foot. With another wordless song of steel, the blades slide past one another until the hilts lock together, our knuckles grazing against one another. I take another step backwards. Aragorn is taller and stronger, and forces me to retreat until my back is against the wall. All the time, his eyes never leave mine. They are intent, unblinking, yet strangely without emotion. I breathe heavily, as though the fight has been a vigorous one, but I know that it is his proximity that makes my breath labour. He brings his other hand up to mine, and closes it round my sword hand. He lets the dagger fall to the flag stones, then uses his right hand to uncurl my fingers from round the hilt. With a sound like a clanging cymbal, my blade falls to the stone floor. He laces his fingers through mine and presses my hands to the wall at either side of us.
Still his gaze holds mine. He releases my left hand, and his fingers ghost over the surface of my dress, moving upwards to my face. They trace slowly over my cheek, then along the line of my jaw. I can feel the callouses from years of battle and hardship. His fingertips trail down the side of my neck, along my shoulder, then back along my collar bone. It is strange, but in this dream I feel no desire. There is a stark contrast to my earlier dreams of passion, which somehow linger as memories in the background. Even within the dream, this contrast puzzles me. I am oddly detached from my body. My mind seems to float free from emotion, somewhere above the scene, a dispassionate observer even as his fingers reach the laces on my bodice and start to unlace it. This dream has nothing of the heat and desire of those earlier ones. Yet its very coldness seems somehow more sinful, more sordid than any of the naked wanton ecstasy of those earlier products of my fevered subconscious.
His hand caresses my skin along the top of my loosened bodice, then eases the fabric down to release my breast, fingers teasing my nipple till it hardens. But even as I gasp with the sensation, his features start to dissolve, like molten wax, or like smoke and flames dancing in a fire. They melt, then reform, and I am staring into the narrow, slit-like eyes of Grima Wormtongue. His hot, fetid breath wafts across my face, strands of his greasy hair stick to my cheek, his sweating, filthy hands are everywhere, running across my body. I push at his chest, but worm that he is, he is still too strong. I cannot force him away. Bile rises in my throat and I retch uncontrollably.
And suddenly I am in the middle of Pelennor Fields. But I am not wearing my armour. I am wearing the same dress, laces undone, bodice slipping from my shoulders. I stand my ground, weapon raised, all the time aware of the skirts restricting my movement. The Witch King stands tall on a slight rise in the ground. His black robes flutter around his form, the hood cast forward, no sign of a face within. His dead steed lies crumpled behind him, leathery wings battered and torn.
My hair blows in the wind, strands whipping across my face. As I hold my sword, it shakes in my hand. My concentration is broken by the realisation that my breasts are still exposed. I try to pull my bodice back into place, but as soon as I let go to draw my sword, my sleeves slide back round my biceps, impeding my arm movements. The Wraith swings his morning star, bringing it crashing down towards me. I try to move, but the heavy folds of fabric encumbering my legs get in the way. I throw up my left arm to deflect the blow, but in the dream I have no shield. My arm is smashed beneath the weight of the iron ball and its viscious points, blood spurting bright and crimson from its shattered form. In a last desperate effort, as I feel my life blood ebb from my veins, I jab the sword towards the black void where the wraith's head should be.
As my sword point makes contact, the black hood falls back, the dark mists obscuring the face evaporate, and the features of the creature I have killed become visible. A straight nose, a well defined jaw, covered in a short beard, blue-grey eyes, dark hair curling to touch his collar. It takes me moments to make sense of what I am seeing, then I realise that I have driven my sword into Aragorn's throat.
Cover Art: Alix van Zijl on Aramis, jousting in the tiltyard at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, August Bank Holiday weekend, 2013. She was placed second in this round of the competition. Her armour is a copy of Milanese armour, circa 1470. Image used with Alix's kind permission.
I notice that Thanwen, one of my favourite authors, is also writing a fic about this! I can't wait to read it, but sadly will have to hold off till this one is finished, as I want to write my own version of this, without subconsciously borrowing from anyone else.