1. Heavy frost up north
"Éowyn? Éowyn!" A hesitation- "M'Lady, rather,"
I looked out just as Merry nearly bowled into my waist.
"What is it, friend hobytla?"
"Well," he said; suddenly uncomfortable, it seemed. "If you've got a minute to spare-"
"I have far too many idle minutes, Merry."
"Then please would you come over and see owd Farri- um, his, his Stewardship; I mean, I think you might be better with this than me,"
Oh. It was the way he phrased it that gave me some guess as to why he sought me. Suddenly, at the thought of employment to relieve my boredom, I ached to have not spoken thus; I wished to return to my bed as per royal instruction (expired, sadly, but surely still viable)- I did not want to relieve my agonising ennui just yet.
"Please, m'lady? Éowyn?"
"Oh, very well."
"I wouldn't ask," Merry shuffled his woolly feet, near as big as my own. "But…well…"
"Why do you ask me then?" I said, as I went out into the passageway. "Because I am a woman?"
"Because I think you must have seen by now that much is what a woman is supposed to excel in is as mysterious to me as to you. I'faith, I did see you and your kinsman speak together- I barely can speak thus,"
"Yes, but, Éowyn, he's my cousin- I mean, I ask you because- well, you know his Stewardship better than me, you've been more involved with him than me- I mean the two of you are… are…"
"I warn you… choose your words carefully, Merry"
"You're… look I know that there's- the two of you- you've gotten involved with each other, that's all I'm gunna say. And I think he'd like it if he could see you, now,"
There was no answer for that, so I went without giving him one.
Invovled, I thought; it sounded innocuous enough, didn't it? Maids said it like it was something blissful- involved with each other, like they were proud, though I didn't see how it was anything to be proud of, those things that you got sucked up in whether you liked it or not, as if involved could happen some other way than being bundled together and forever stuck with one another's petty concerns, all I had wanted was a horse and arms or at the least a change of room and somehow I got involved, of course there were enough busybodies and gossips and ambitious toads who did aspire to be involved so they could say I'm involved I ought to know all about it, oh yes.
I hesitated; I had had an idea of what Merry had been telling me, but how exactly it had manifested itself I did not know. And what was I to do, then! Something that was not quite fear but worse than nervousness swelled and twisted low in my belly, which didn't help. Was I to see the Steward weeping? I could not imagine him weeping, hang though tears might seem to barely behind his eyes at times, surely he had not it in him to weep, yes I had seen my uncle and my cousin and Éomer weeping just as I had seen them roaring with laughter and shouting- the Steward had been a Captain, surely he had shouted from time to time? I feared if ever he laughed so that he roared with laughter as men do when it comes right from deep in their belly, for sure it would blast his slender frame apart? Ah, me; there was no way now but onward.
When I looked, it seemed that now I had finally arrived the worst was over; though something, something had happened, else what had become of that tall man with his quiet and courteous ways, his even model of manners, the living oil-and-canvas picture that had lead me in the solemn dance we made about the gardens, when it was time to give this lady her airing? What hurricane could have brought him onto his knees, bent near double, his face in his hands, what could have blasted his courtesy so that he did not raise his eyes?
The table on which he had come to lay the papers that he worked on, worked on even in this house, had been flung over, its neat edge-matched piles run to snow, snow such as makes all the land another world entirely. What did one do?
One should kneel lay a cool hand to the wet and fevered cheek and cup the man's face in gentle hands as the torrent of tears slows to a trickle and though the grief cannot be assuaged weeks of agony shall have their release and shame shall surrender to a binding tie as one shares in the victim's weeping ad infinatum o maid ad nauseam, indeed, but what did one do when the man was solid and real, and one's hand was ungentle, and one did not bear tender love in one's heart, not for him, not for him?
As such I was, so as such I did but kneel before him, and gaze stupidly upon him; I could not cup his face in a Shieldmaiden's hand, how could I? I could but lay it upon his shoulder, and that I did do, and he did raise his head to me; he was not weeping, no, he had been, his face was smirched and the skin about his eyes was flushed and swollen; and he saw me, and he sighed, and I think his lips did turn up at the corners. He said:
"Ah, my Lady," he said, he said: "You try to find comfort in daily things, try to keep busy, so you forget," (I? I? What daily busy things was I doing?) "But then sometimes…" He sighed and he flipped up his eyes, he cast his hands wide. "I suppose you have heard of the fate of my father?"
"I have heard that story, yes," I said. I had heard it, had seen in my mind that carven ivory flesh flare, sear, the mouth open in a scream to which there could be no answer, the face melt away, the open bones blacken til they crumbled away to nothing.
Another sigh, rattley this time.
"It seems everyone has, even strangers to whom one would not have thought rumour would have yet put out her branches; til only Faramir should be ignorant."
"Well, you know how they seek in this house to keep their prisoners subdued."
"Ah, Lady Shieldarm," he said. "They have not yet broken you, though, I see." And at that he laid his hand on my arm, and his eyes looked into mine, two pebbles in a stream; enigmatic, they call it, the way he looked; why must this man be enigmatic when the world was incoherent enough? He said: "Would that it be from time to time I had your tongue that I might make known my heart! But no, passion melts to verses, fury to endless speculation, ere the sword is even sheathed. Would it be at times I had as pure and bare a manner as yours!"
He looked about the paper-snowy room. "They told me of the true fate of my father but half an hour from now," he said; I saw his head droop, the trickle of water edging its way back into its course upon his cheek. He wept!
Had I a broadsword or dagger I would have plunged it into the man that knelt weeping before me, cleaving his bones after all his even 'my lady's, all his learning of the tongues of men and elves, all his courtesy and kindness and gentleness, for his enigamaticness when he seemed to know me better than any had before from the first, for all his handsomeness so odd in a man so courteous and gentle- I would have cloven him apart across the ribs and neck that this man who seemed to me as a painted figure should weep, and that I should be involved when he did, oh that that hansomeness that I did not see should be cut to pieces, oh that that feeling I thought this man could not bear could be stopped, stopped, my error rinsed away by his blood! What did it matter, in these days as the end of all things drew near?
He wept! He wept! My friend so warm and kind and gentle, my friend I was so lucky to have, my friend who told me I was beautiful beyond elven tongues to tell, who spoke of how he would not loose me now I was beside him, my friend far better to me than I deserved, that I had become so involved with, yes, he wept!
Oh, I would not grieve with him, I would not grieve with him, a porcelain man- Oh why did he not beat me and rip me up with his hands flesh torn from sinew that I did not grieve with him? What did it matter, what did it matter, as we waited for the end of all things, if he killed me? Why should he not do so? What was to do? What could ungentle Éowyn do? I put my hand on his. He raised his face to me; well what was I to do? Of course- to lay my hand to his cheek, which I did. Foolish Éowyn, she got it wrong, didn't she? She cupped his cheek in her hand and murmured soft words, yes, but how long was it before she was stroking not his cheek but his beard, foolish girl, as if he were a dog; well it seemed to soothe him, stroking his dark beard that was not as spiky as I had feared; and then my thumb that had been stroking the hair of his lip transpired to be stroking his mouth, that was not the way, I knew, but he stopped crying for me, so why should I not put my fingers to that soft pink mouth, well maybe I knew why when he caught them and he kissed them- how could a kiss be so much softer and at once so much firmer than all the other kisses of my uncle and brother and cousin? Oh yes he had embraced me, well was that not what I had come for, for to take him in my arms? And if he pushed his fingers into my hair, well then I was doing the same to him; it was no harm was it not? For he was not my love, no, I was in love with Lord Aragorn, what did it matter that I should embrace a friend so, it did not change my love for another; only by unwilling accident had I become involved here, it was not for long, as we waited for the end of all things, and clung to each other against the cold blowing from the open tomb, what did it mean, as I did not will it and did not intend it, for I loved a man far away, though he would never love me in return, and did not look for my mouth to become involved with another; my love would never love me, so how could I be inconstant to him, for I did not love this man who held me so close to him, I had been told a thousand times in my youth that love was not the same as desire, it was not love, the mere pleasure that was coursing through me, it had just been circumstance of being caught together in our similar state, that we had got involved with each other, involved at the mouth, that tongues had got involved; caught up together, wrapped up against the chill of the descending shadows within and without, why I did but pity this man, yes, I pitied him; and I would show him some tenderness, for it did grieve me, as one would cut off locks of one's hair for the dead, so I would show him, I would make some gesture of my sorrow for him, yes, for I would to share that pain by involving myself with it, yes I would, I would make him a gift, a gift of my calf exposed to him as we knelt together and laid in his hand, so that it might comfort him to hold it, and it did, there, at the end of all things, I could comfort this man, this good man, this virtuous man, who would be comforted by my beauties, yes, it was pity upon him that I gave the skin of my leg to his touch, for he would treasure it much more than Lord Aragorn ever would; at the end of all things, what did it matter, if hands became involved so, tongues, thighs, breasts became involved, as we were caught together, involved at the groin, hard to get much more involved than that- Mayhap it was just as all well that the end of all things was nigh.
Poor man- why did he look at me so- all as he panted against me?- it was not men who feared lying with women- why that look of panic?- for he did not stop gasping and whimpering- no, he kept on prodding me so- prodding?- there were more words, I knew- to lie with another- to take another- to give one's body to another- to give body to another- to make love- to rut- to copulate- to know another- to have relations- to swive- to be intimate- were we intimate then?- hard to tell, really- yet how could we not be?- we who were caught together- in the end of all things?- and such as we were- no wonder those words failed- not one of them fired me- made me awake to something real- made it seem that all was changed-
(virginity is not to be maintained for itself but to make sure that the male is the father of the female's offspring. it is about the engendering of rightful heirs. with such large properties at stake no male will bond with a woman of doubtful morality. a woman who agrees to consummation before marriage shows her low principles to her lover. he will never be sure she will not succumb to another if her infatuation with her own husband slackens. thus the male will doubt that his heirs are his rightful body heirs… Honour is the principle why both will not succumb. honourable Faramir will not induce Eowyn to consummation and honourable Eowyn will not entice him to more than chaste kisses and fondling.)
no, no, at the end of all things, what could be changed that would have been otherwise the same? What would have been the same without the shuddering in the loins and the warmth and trickling, if I still had been upon the floor in this room anyway? He had stopped weeping, so what was there to say? No cause to sit gawping at each other if there was nothing to say; and as such there was no compliant- and no thanks, or compliments, and I was not such a woman as would know of the courtesies in such a social situation; other than to drop one's skirts as one left, which I duly did.
He said: "Éowyn-!", and I did turn, yes I did, but he said nothing- spread his hands, his mouth miming non-words, so I shrugged at him, and left him to it.
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