At first I was faintly embarrassed that the Warden so clearly knew of my love for Eowyn, though I knew it was foolish. The man had been in attendance at my birth, after all, and had seen me many times in the years since, so knew me better than any in the city, save Hurin. And his insight nearly rivaled my father’s, so of course he knew I had fallen in love while convalescing in his own Houses.
But all that fell into nothingness as he came to the reason for his visit; Éowyn was ailing, and the healers feared that she was succumbing to the Black Breath again. The thought made my blood run cold, and there was no question that I would do as he asked, and come speak to her.
When I came to her the next morning I saw that her eyes had grown hard again, her face pale. The frost that I had seen in her on the day we first met had returned, and I cursed myself for allowing it to happen. I had seen warmth in her as we talked in the budding green of the garden in those days of waiting, had seen the generosity her heart could offer, yet had allowed myself to be caught up in work and duties, and let it all to slip through my fingers.
Well, I was here with her now, and maybe… Maybe I could bring that warmth back. I had to try at least, even if it ended with my having made a fool of myself. I have been a fool for lesser things, after all. Yet she took so long to answer my invitation to walk in the gardens that I began to fear I was already too late. But, to my relief, she eventually agreed to accompany me, and we walked together along what had been our normal path through the well tended beds.
When we were on the walls once more, I stood in silence for several minutes, preparing my thoughts before initiating the conversation as I had seen men in Dol Amroth prepare their lungs with deep breaths before they dove deep in search of oysters.
“Éowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cair Andros, where your brother awaits you?”
Not the way that I would have liked to start such a conversation, but I knew that she was direct in her speaking, as all her people were, and so I tried to speak to her in kind. Even so, her response was to ask me to speak plainer. So I did - too plainly.
In my eagerness to press my suit, I pushed too hard, asking her to show her heart to me before I had given her cause to. I, a respected scholar, for whom skill with words had become a shield while reporting to my father, had blundered when being able to express myself was more important than it had ever been before, when I was fighting for the life and future that I envisioned for us.
Taking a moment to for another deep breath I looked out over the walls again, though I did not truly see anything. In my mind I scrambled to find another tack to try, another way to reach her.
I could not rival the king. Rank aside, I had seen the command of men that he had, the air of royalty that I had no hope to match, even if I wished to. So I had to make her see me as a reality that she could have, rather than an image of greatness that would be forever out of her reach.
“Look at me, Éowyn.”
I had not meant it literally, but had meant to ask her, beg her, to turn away from the image of a man she believed she loved to see me instead. But she lifted her eyes from the destroyed fields below to meet mine.
My men had often said that I could read their thoughts by looking at their faces, and I suppose that in most cases this might almost be the truth. I can certainly tell if they are hopeful or fearful, eager or hesitant, if they are telling the truth or attempting to deceive. Often I had used this skill to know how to encourage them before a battle, or to determine when discipline was needed. But I could not make out the expression in her eyes. They were like ice that reflected back a grey sky laden with snow. But I thought that perhaps there was a flicker of hope in them.
So I laid my heart bare to her, lowering all the walls that I had first built to guard myself against my father’s harsh words, and later from the horrors of war. I spoke of her valor and renown, of how I found her so beautiful that I would not be able to describe it adequately even in the languages of the elves. The words simply poured forth, and almost before I knew it I had stated baldly that I loved her.
She did not look away, and looking in those grey eyes I thought I saw a change, a slight cracking of the ice. I pressed my advantage by explaining that though I had once pitied her sorrow it was not pity that I offered her now, but love. Love that would endure even if all sorrows and care were taken from her, and she was blissfully wed to my king.
When she still did not look away from me, I dared to ask again if she did not love me. Now she did look away, and I felt my heart fall at the thought that I had again pushed too hard. But, if I had it was done. I had pled my case as best I knew how, and all I could do now was wait. And hope.
Those minutes that she took to consider were the longest of my life. She looked out over the walls, so I could not see her face clearly enough to try to decipher her thoughts.
At last she started to speak, though she did not turn from looking over the walls. When she spoke of the shadow having departed, I felt my heart constrict with hope, and I found I could barely breathe as she continued. Then, finally, she turned to me.
The smile on her face was almost shy. Shy! From this bold shield maiden! But then she looked up and met my eyes again, and my heart leapt into my throat. Her smile grew in boldness as she looked at me, until it dimmed the brightness and warmth of the sun overhead.
“No longer do I desire to be a queen.”
My knees went a little weak as my heart came close to bursting. I laughed with the sheer relief of it, as a man sometimes does at the end of a fierce skirmish. I think she might have recognised it for what it was, for her smile become a grin, though there was sympathy there as well.
I gave a small shake of my head before I was able to reply. “That is well, for I am not a king!”
Once more I grew bold, and pressed the bounds of propriety by taking her hands in mine as I shared my dream of building a garden together in Ithilien. I lifted one hand gently, kissing her knuckles lightly before addressing her by the name I had long used in my thoughts of her; the White Lady.
She gave a small laugh of her own at that, and now her eyes danced with mischief as she teased me about those would might say I should choose a woman of Númenor rather than a shieldmaiden of the north.
She was absolutely right; there would be some who would say just that.
Well, if people would talk about us, I would have it be for something of more import than her homeland. So I pulled her closer to me as I answered that I would have them say what they will. Freeing one hand, I raised her chin a little with a crooked finger, lifting one brow in question as I did. She looked away for a moment, looking over the walls as if considering the ramifications, but then looked up at me again and grinned before she gave a faint nod.
I kissed her then, in the sight of any who might look up at us, so that all who saw would know that she was mine, and I was hers. There would be talk, I knew it well, but I could not bring myself to care, not with the warmth of her lips against mine. And the warmth of her smile when I lifted my head.
When we found the Warden in his office, and I announced that the lady was now healed, he gave me the most baleful of looks for a long moment before spreading his hands and commending her to my care. It was only his comment about her brother that brought me up short.
Éowyn, wonderful woman that she is, answered quickly and smoothly, and with a remarkably straight face, that she had come to find this House to be the most blessed of all dwellings, and would remain there if the Warden would allow it. I barely held back a chuckle when the Warden gave a long suffering sigh before giving his leave.
I offered to escort her to her chamber, and offered her my arm as we left the office. It was not until the door had been closed behind us and we had walked a few feet away that she dropped her hand from my arm and took my hand again. A giggle bubbled up in her, and I could not help but laugh as well as we walked down the empty hallway. She leaned her head against my arm as we walked, still laughing
When we reached her door we sobered, and stood there in silence for a moment. I ran my thumb gently over hers and spoke quietly. “I would that I could spend the day with you.” I smiled, and used the fingers of my free hand to gently brush a lock of hair from her cheek as I used another endearment for the first time, “my love.”
She returned the smile, and tightened her fingers around mine. “I would that you could, as well.” But then she sighed, and nodded her acquiescence. “You have duties to do, I know. And I understand. Truly.” She gave a soft laugh. “Besides, I have to find some one of the healers who will be willing to take me on as an apprentice while I am here.”
With a laugh, I answered, “I am sure you will find many willing to take on an assistant such as you.” I took her other hand in mine, and lifted it to brush a kiss across the knuckles. “Perhaps you could keep your early mornings free for me? We could break our fast together…”
She turned our joined hands and brought mine to her lips, almost mirroring my gesture, and the touch sent a lick of fire running down my arm. But her smile as she lowered our hands was warmer still. “I would like that.”
How I wanted to kiss her again, and now I could read her face well enough to know it would be welcomed, but instead I released her hands and offered her a small bow. “Tomorrow then…”
Walking away from her was surely one of the hardest things I had done, but my heart was eased when I stopped at the corner of the hallway and saw she was still standing there, watching me go. She lifted a hand in farewell, and smiled. Returning both, I walked on, and soon found myself whistling as I made my way back to my office.