1. Women's Work
Author’s Note: This is my answer to the “Behind Closed Doors” challenge. I enjoy writing Faramir and Éowyn, and wanted to get inside Éowyn’s head a little, if I could. This is only my second LOTR fanfic and the first without smut. In a story about prostitutes, even! :) I hope you enjoy!
Éowyn, Lady of Ithilien, set her hands upon the rough-hewn wood of the corral and eyed the horses rambling within, trying to make a decision. She had already chosen two mares from another pen, and a stallion from this one. Her heart swelled with pride as she looked upon the horses. It had been only five years since the war, and already the stock was improving upon its greatness! Things were going well in Rohan, and she did not need missives from the King Elessar or her brother to tell her so. She could see it with her own eyes.
The problem lay in choosing only five. “The roan, I think,” she decided, pointing at another likely stallion. Beside her the horse-dealer nodded and made a mark in his book. Éowyn pointed again. “And the white gelding.”
“Yes, my lady!” The dealer, short and bald, beamed at her with obsequious glee. Éowyn knew why. She had chosen very expensive horses. She could have written her brother and gotten them in trade, but wasn’t it her duty as a Lady of Gondor to pour money into the local merchants’ pockets?
“Send them to Emyn Arnen first thing in the morning,” she told him, and sighed inwardly as he bowed and scraped before her again. She knew how she must look to him, arrayed in white silks and green velvet and with fillets of silver in her hair-- not to mention hugely pregnant—traipsing through the dust of a horseyard in Minas Tirith with her maid in tow.
She’d wanted to climb the fence and feel with her own hands the horses’ legs and to check their teeth. But she’d gotten so fat so fast with this one that even though she was just over six months along with child, she looked and felt like she was about to burst. Not only could she not climb, but it would have been dangerous to be among the strange horses. Still, she was satisfied with the animals she’d chosen. There were many things her husband entrusted her with, but first among them was the evaluation of horseflesh.
Not that she’d seen her husband much, lately. Delegations of ambassadors from the East and South filled the Citadel, and he was needed there to help the king with his negotiations. She only saw him at night and rarely even then, because he worked long hours and she became tired so easily. She would also be giving birth less than three months from now, and Éowyn knew that any day she would be carted off like delicate luggage to Emyn Arnen to finish her confinement. And she would go alone, because her husband would remain here unless and until urgent word was sent to the City, calling him home.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had not eaten in at least an hour. Home, then?—at least to their temporary home in the city? Nay, she decided, because then she’d have to stay there until it was time to dress and join Faramir at the Citadel for dinner. And she intended to enjoy all of her allotted time out and about as much as she possibly could.
Her stomach spoke to her again, and what it told her was this: that being around horses again had reminded her of simpler days and simpler fare. That the only thing to satisfy her now would be ale, sweet and dark and cold, and bread and cheese.
And who was she to deny her stomach? Éowyn gave a brief guilty thought to her three-year-old son, Elboron. He would be missing her.
No, he wouldn’t, her stomach told her. He was playing with a veritable army of city servants’ children, and had forgotten her very existence.
“Where can we find a good ale-house?” she asked the merchant. “Something simple, mind. My purse is empty after dealing with such a shrewd trader as yourself.”
The man’s cheeks turned a euphoric red as he worshiped her with his eyes. He directed her to a tavern around the corner, which he could tell my lady entertained company not to her standards, but served very good ale.
Behind her, she could hear her maid Elleth’s stomach rumble as well. Éowyn smiled. The girl was a true sister of the North and knew how to appreciate the finer things in life.
The Raven’s Nest, it was called, and fronted onto the white street with its back perched against one high city wall. Inside it was cool and blessedly dark.
Éowyn chose an unoccupied table in the back where it was dimmest, so she could luxuriate in anonymity. The barkeep who waited upon them was respectful but not cringing, and the ale was all that was promised. Éowyn approved.
As the daytime glare of the white city faded from her eyes and the ale soothed her, Éowyn took a look at her surroundings. Several men, merchants perhaps, clustered at tables near the windows, and two finely-dressed ladies nearby giggled in some private conversation. They were very pretty and maddeningly slim, with upswept hair and dark, animated eyes.
The women seemed to become aware of Éowyn’s gaze, and stopped their snickering to appraise the newcomers. Unlike other ladies of the city, who knew to a nicety how to cast down their eyes in respect, these two stared at her in bold silence. Apparently not recognizing her, they looked away and reanimated themselves with their own amusing confidences.
Éowyn was surprised but not angry. Apparently, she thought, she had grown soft and used to the respect of the people of Gondor. She leaned to whisper in Elleth’s ear. “I wonder-- who are those ladies?”
Elleth seemed to choke on her ale for a moment before swallowing and answering in a low voice. “None that you need to know, my lady. Nothing but common prostitutes. Soldier’s whores.”
Soldier’s whores! Éowyn eyed the women with new interest. She had seen camp-followers, in Rohan. They were usually rough and tired-looking women, who sold their bodies to the men at night and followed the marauders during the day, picking weapons and other valuables from battle-corpses. Éowyn had pitied them. “Not courtesans? But they are so richly dressed! Look at their jewels!”
Elleth didn’t speak, but mimicked dropping a jingling bag of coins into an outstretched hand.
Éowyn shook her head in awe. “Gondor! It is too hard to tell the whores from the ladies.”
Elleth choked on her ale again before giggling at this confidence from her mistress. When the barkeep returned with bread, they both ate in silence.
As food and yet another mug of ale seeped through her system, Éowyn grew more relaxed and more curious. Camp-followers! Even in Rohan, wherever the Riders went an army of servants went as well, cooks and sutlers and prostitutes. Many a woman kept food in her pack by giving a soldier one last night of happiness before he rode into battle and possible death-- often many times over with the same soldier, and the same peril. Éowyn had ridden into battle once, and she’d wished there had been some comfort for her at the bleak prospect of death.
Éowyn’s mind shied away from that turn of thought, and back to the women. Of course, the army of Gondor had ever been different from that of Rohan. It was richer, larger, and apt to elaborate field headquarters that were more like small cities than camps that could be torn down in an instant when battle called.
She had also seen plenty of courtesans in Minas Tirith. They were richly dressed as well, it was true, but they usually kept to their own homes and waited for patrons to come to them. They didn’t sit in taverns, ogling the men.
Éowyn suddenly realized how she herself must look. She had her maid for respectability, but the White Lady of Ithilien was expected to dine with the king, queen and all their court tonight. Éowyn motioned to Elleth and rose to leave, but stopped when she heard one of the women speak.
“There is nothing for us here. Let us pay a visit to the barracks on the third level. I hear the Prince’s White Company has returned! They will want other company than their own,” she said, and giggled.
The other one spoke more quietly, but Éowyn stood motionless with her back to them, straining her ears to hear more.
“Not the soldiers! I am tired of soldiers.”
The saucier one laughed at her. “Oh, but their Prince is so fair, and ‘tis said he is generous! Perhaps you will catch his eye, for you are looking very fine.”
The other girl tittered in reply. “Perhaps I might try, at that!” And they left.
Éowyn could feel Elleth gripping her arm, motioning her to leave, but she didn’t move a muscle except to tremble with fury. She didn’t know whether she was angry at the women for gossiping about her husband so, at her husband for a possible infidelity, or at herself for even entreating the prospect. Even with rational thought clouded by rage, she knew it was probably all three. And the nerve of the women! As if the Prince of Ithilien would consort with common trollops.
Elleth shook her arm more forcefully. “My lady! They are but ignorant whores. Their words mean nothing…”
Éowyn seethed. Now she was not only angry, but also humiliated that her maid had heard and knew the reason for her mistress’s agitation.
“What?” she ground out in as bright a voice as she could manage, and moved towards the door. She wanted to march after the women and teach them not to mock her. But that would only cause a common scene—a street show for the folk of Minas Tirith to gawp at and gossip about—an embarrassment her husband did not need from her at that moment. “I was merely thinking that I needed to get home, so that I can change for dinner with the king. Did you have a gown in mind for me already?”
Elleth seemed to nearly faint with relief, but still her eyes were troubled. “Of course, my lady!” The maid chattered all the way back to their city lodgings, but her words fell upon deaf ears.
Éowyn knew her temper had ever been one of her failings. She was quick to anger, and loath to abandon it. So it was that she was still seething as her husband greeted her at the entrance to the Citadel’s great dining-hall. A part of her knew she was being foolish. But why would the women have talked so, if there was not some small truth to support their words? Éowyn knew she herself did not present too appetizing a morsel at the moment. And had not Faramir been gone much lately?
Her mind turned these dark thoughts over and over. Seeing him smiling in the doorway, looking very handsome in his green and black, only sent her heart and brain churning all the more. He was an object of desire to other women—when had she forgotten that?
Faramir wore a smile as he took her arm, but it faded as she acknowledged him with only a cool incline of her head. “Greetings, my lady,” he said, the inquiry in his grey eyes making the statement a question. He narrowed his gaze and stared at her all the more, as if trying to read her thoughts.
He had ever been good at that, and sometimes it drove Éowyn insane. Her face assumed its mask of ice, of untouchability, a defense she had learned long ago. But he only looked more closely.
Finally, he spoke. “What have I done?”
Having a clever husband was rarely a chore, but this was one of those times. “Why do you ask such a question?” she spat, the words like brittle chips of frost that fell between them.
“Because, my love, I have learned to be wary when you look at me so.”
“Ha!” she choked out in a falsely bright tone. “Be as you wish, then! I cannot convince you otherwise.”
He merely gave her a another quizzical look, then left her alone. She knew that look, and it made her all the angrier. It meant he thought she was being unreasonable, and would not speak to her again but would wait for her to come to her senses.
To come to her senses, like a child! She would never speak to him again, if only to prove him wrong!
Éowyn fumed, and sat mostly silent during dinner, only answering questions when she was addressed directly. She eyed the other women present, knowing which had husbands who were unfaithful, silently ticking off their names on a private list of Man’s infamy. She had never imagined herself among their number.
Of course, some of the women were as inconstant as their men. Éowyn had always thought them poor, hungry creatures, ever searching for happiness in strange beds and not finding it.
Even now Éowyn’s own husband ignored her, apportioning his wit among the rest of the gathered company and leaving none for his wife. She had made it clear she did not want him to speak to her, but now she resented the silence he had granted. Was she not carrying his child? He should have been more attentive, and should have tried harder to ease her obvious distress.
At the thought, Éowyn felt stupid-- jealous and weak and feminine. But something could be done about that. Of her three objects of anger—the whores, her husband, and herself-- the last two had already felt the brunt of it. As for the first—well, she could go to the barracks herself, tonight, huge belly and all, and teach them not to offend the Lady of the Shield-Arm!
The nearly interminable dinner was just ending when King Elessar approached.
“So, Faramir, Éowyn, will you stay for music?”
Faramir answered first. “Not tonight, my liege, for I have things to discuss with the soldiers of my company. But I thank you, and will see you early tomorrow!”
“And I must return home,” Éowyn grated out, and after curtseying to them both, fled the Citadel.
The watch was calling the hour of ten as Éowyn arrived at their city home. She checked on her sleeping son, then ran to their room. She wanted only blessed sleep, to drown the boiling anger that felt as if it were steaming out her eyes and ears. Going to see the men, indeed!
Elleth fussed around her with a worried look, but Éowyn shooed her out and undressed herself. She climbed into bed and lay on her back, pulling the cool pillow over to soothe her hot face. She fell asleep almost instantly, as if her body was worn out with rage and was in wholehearted agreement with her desire to find oblivion.
Éowyn did not know how long she’d been sleeping when Faramir entered and laid his hand on her shoulder, waking her. She shrugged off the caress and turned away without speaking, and Faramir left with a sigh. She listened to him go but found she could not regain the blissful forgetfulness of slumber.
Her sleep had seemed to quell most of her anger, leaving her with feelings she could not describe, even to herself. She lay there and let her mind touch upon the events of the day. She wondered idly if Faramir had been to the barracks, and if he had been generous. And who could blame him if he had? His wife was as big as a horse, but moodier.
Had she truly never thought Faramir might have done such things? Surely he had done them before he met her. Did that bother her?
She knew it didn’t, because she was no hypocrite. She herself had thought she loved another man before Faramir, a man she would have followed to the death.
With that thought a realization struck her—she had been foolish. She had let her temper lead her ever on and on from one conclusion to the next, until she was wroth with it for almost no reason. Over nothing more than a couple of silly whores and their games. This child she was carrying had addled her brain.
Her husband was all that she could have wished for. He was kind, clever, a good father, an attentive lover, and he had never treated her as less than an equal. And he had too much dignity to do other than honor her. He wasn't perfect, but neither was she.
At that moment the watch called out the hour of eleven. Éowyn heard it, and was struck anew with shame. She’d been laying in bed feeling sorry for herself for at least half an hour. Her husband must have come straight home rather than have had the necessary talk with his men. And it was all because of her and her indiscriminate moods.
So she would have to apologize and prove him right, after all! She got up and pulled on her robe.
Éowyn found him in the fire-lit study next to their chamber. He sat in a big chair, but not comfortably; rather, he perched on the edge of the cushions, leaning over a book that lay on a dragged-over table. She watched him for a moment as he rubbed absentminded fingers over his temples, as if to ease away a nagging tension.
Fresh heat coursed up her cheeks. She’d been the cause of that tension.
She moved quietly to stand over him, and finally he looked up. He eyed her steadily but said nothing.
Éowyn broke the silence. “I am sorry.”
A look of relief played across his tired features. “Come,” he said, and gestured her to sit. She made to kneel on the floor, but his hand caught her arm. He scooted back into the plush to make room for her, then patted his thighs.
Éowyn turned and heard him release an “oomph!” as she plopped her bulk onto his lap. She smiled and leaned back to settle her head on his shoulder.
They were both still for a few moments, and then Faramir spoke. “What vexes you?” he asked.
“A fair question. But I am vexed no more.”
He waited, silent, for her to continue. Again, Éowyn could feel the heat return to her cheeks.
“I will feel like a child if I tell you.”
“You are no child,” he said, and patted her belly with a fond hand.
Éowyn thought he was much too reasonable, sometimes. “Whores. I was vexed about whores,” she said, finally.
“Whores!” he said, and Éowyn could hear the laugh in his voice.
“Whores, in a tavern. Soldier’s whores.”
“In a tavern? ”
Éowyn waved this off as unimportant, and told him of her encounter with the women. “They did not look like camp-followers, at least what I have been used to. So haughty!” she finished.
“You did not think I would dishonor you so,” he said, and jiggled his knee beneath her to show his displeasure.
“No,” she said, and left it at that. A small womanly part of her had learned what not to tell her husband.
Faramir was silent for a few moments. Éowyn had just begun to wonder what accusations were running through his thoughts, when he spoke and showed he’d been thinking of another matter entirely. “I know the women you speak of—their type, anyway. They are sad creatures, and deserving of our pity.”
Éowyn didn’t reply. They hadn’t looked like sad creatures to her.
“Only think,” he continued. “During the war, many such women found husbands. No man wants to think of going to battle with no one to come home to. But times of peace and plenty bring with them their own evils. These women make their money as they will, but soon, age will steal away their youth and beauty, leaving them with no source of coin. They may resort to begging, or worse. And the children…”
The mother in Éowyn blinked at that. “What children?”
“These women have ways of preventing children, but there will always be some, with such an occupation. I cannot force soldiers to marry where I cannot prove their fatherhood, and thus many of them are abandoned for lack of food, or by mothers who die of disease. There were enough orphans created during the war that there are still too few able to care for them.”
Éowyn sat up and stared at him. “You have had this problem, here, and yet you never told me about it?” She shook her head in disgust, then leaned against him again. “Children, abandoned…”
“You have had worries and work enough,” he pointed out, again rubbing her belly.
And Éowyn had, both with her own child and the work she’d begun in learning to be a healer. She’d searched out plants with healing properties from afar and brought them to her garden at Emyn Arnen, and had worked with the king and queen to resuscitate the study of herb-lore in Minas Tirith. But there were other wounds of war that needed healing besides those caused by sword and arrow. “I can do more. I will do more,” she said, making a decision in her mind. No child should be left without a home. Not in the White City, or the Tower of the Sun. From being predators, the whores had become women again, like her, at the mercy of men for their livelihood.
“Do you propose to find husbands for the women?”
“Nay,” Éowyn snorted. Sometimes he wasn’t so clever, after all. “Who is to say that they would want them? No, I cannot stop prostitutes from performing their given work, and would not presume to try.” But she could try to see that they had help, and that their children had homes with or without their mothers.
“Mmm. My busy wife,” Faramir breathed into her hair before nuzzling her shoulder with his lips. Apparently this conversation was turning his mind to fleshly matters.
Éowyn sighed and let the little shivers of pleasure roll over her. “After this child is born. I will see what I can do…”
“I will miss you when you are gone,“ he said, sliding his arm about her waist and moving his lips to her neck.
“Will you?” she asked on a sigh of purely feminine pleasure. Then she said no more, because she had little enough time left to enjoy herself.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.