The Star and the Shield - Eowyn meets Arwen for the first time

Eowyn touched Faramir's hand lightly under their cloaks. He didn't move out of the procession line, but he held her own hand. She was glad of its warmth to comfort her fluttering heart.
In a few moments, the Elves from Rivendell would come into Minas Tirith to greet the new King of Gondor. With them would be Arwen, Aragorn's chosen queen. Eowyn's heart gave an odd little hop as she thought of Aragorn. Angry and a little sad - didn't she love Faramir? Hadn't she promised to marry him? - she forced her thoughts back to Arwen. What would she be like, this Elven princess? Eowyn had heard that many called her "Evenstar," and that she was as beautiful as some dead Elven maiden or other. With a traitorous flash of something that could only be called jealousy, Eowyn wondered if Arwen had ever faced down as mighty a foe as the Witch-king.
Trumpets high on the towers of the White City blew, their clear notes piercing the air of the morning. Eowyn reluctantly let go of Faramir's hand as the great gates swung open and the Elves rode in. At their head was Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, looking both pleased and sorrowful. And beside him...Eowyn's throat seized up, and if she had not wanted to make a good impression, she would have tried to get the lump out of it. Arwen was beautiful, exquisitely so. Her dark hair fell all the way down her back, and her face was perfect and lovely. Eowyn looked away from her. No wonder Aragorn didn't want me, she thought bitterly, when he could have her.
Somehow she made it through the whole Elven procession. She was waiting for it to be over when the long, tedious business of assigning guests "hosts" to take care of them and show them around began. As if in a dream, she heard Aragorn call, "Lady Eowyn," and she obeyed his summons without thinking why he'd called her. Then she stood in front of him, Arwen at his side, and realized. A sinking feeling growled inside her.
"Since you are the highest-ranking woman here," Aragorn told her, "I would like you to be Arwen Undomiel's host."
Eowyn curtsied slowly. "As Your Majesty wishes," she replied, obedient. She threw Faramir an apologetic glance at having to leave him, and walked away from the gathering, beckoning to Arwen. The Elf followed her inside the palace and into Eowyn's room. Eowyn longed to have two whole arms instead of one whole and one broken, but she refused to let it show as she opened the door. Arwen followed her in. "May I sit?" she asked. Eowyn nodded, and Arwen sat gracefully. Eowyn turned away and opened a chest, removing her sword. She felt Arwen turn to watch her. Eowyn ignored her.
She touched the horses on the hilt lovingly. The last time she had held this sword, she had dealt the Witch-king the death blow. She swung it in one smooth stroke at an inisible opponent, and smiled at the feel of a sword in her hand again.
"I knew you killed the Witch-king, but i had no idea how good you were with a sword." Arwen's voice was soft and admiring. "I can use one if I need to, but not nearly as well as you."
Eowyn shot a glance at Arwen's hands, open on her lap. She was surprised to see mild calluses on them. She wasn't lying. The many hard spots on Eowyn's own hands seemed to throb simultaneously. Arwen was useful and beautiful.
And Arwen was also waiting for Eowyn to say something back to her. Embarrassed, Eowyn snatched at the topic she thought of first. "Are you a good sword fighter?" She despised the words "fencer" - it made the brutal work of swordfighting seem dandified.
Arwen smiled. "If I have to be," she replied. "I heard about your fight."
"And its inglorious end," Eowyn answered. Somehow it was important to put down her finest hour. "Merry wounded, my arm broken - "
"And the Witch-king dead," Arwen finished. "I saw him once. I am very impressed that you killed him."
"You saw him?" Self-depreciation vanished in favor of shock.
"When I raced all the Nazgul to the ford near Rivendell, with Frodo." Arwen's face darkened. "I had to call on the river to drown them."
Eowyn flushed. Arwen had faced him down, too, all nine of the Nazgul, and she herself had been sorely wounded fighting just one! Arwen wasn't impressed with her, she was merely condescending, Elf to mortal, impersonal and superior...Eowyn slammed her sword into its sheath and left the room abruptly.
She ran up to the battlements and paced them angrily, her sheathed sword clenched in her fist. Always second, always close to actually being someone...She had thought, when she killed the Witch-king, that she would be someone worthwhile. Now that - that Elf - had snatched away her glory and her love, and tossed her the crumbs that were left -
Her love? She no longer loved Aragorn, she loved Faramir!
Didn't she?
A shieldmaiden never cries. Then I am no longer a shieldmaiden, Eowyn thought as a few tears fell onto her cheeks. She didn't know anything anymore, not even her own heart! If she loved Faramir, why did her heart still leap when Aragorn spoke? If she loved Faramir, why wasn't she happy for Arwen? She turned around and found herself staring into Faramir's eyes. Ashamed and embarrassed at her thoughts, she couldn't meet his gaze.
Faramir touched her chin and lifted her face. "Eowyn, are you all right?"
She bit hard on the inside of her cheek to stop her tears. "No," she admitted shakily. Eowyn reached out and put her arms around Faramir, letting her sword drop to the stone at her feet. Faramir held her and pretended not to hear her faint crying. "What is it?" he finally asked. "Can you tell me?"
Eowyn took a shaky breath. "Not yet," she replied, firecely grateful for Faramir's comforting arms and his love. I am not worthy of him, she thought, and hated herself a little more.
Faramir held her at arm's length, brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "If you ever feel ready, you can tell me, and I'll do whatever I can to help."
Eowyn blinked her tears back hard. "Thank you," she whispered. A memory sprang to her mind: she was looking out from these battlements, and Faramir was telling her he loved her. "...Were you the blissful Queen of Gondor," he had said, "I would love you still." What had she done to deserve that love? Nothing. She had moped, she had railed at herself, and she had gone crying after someone she couldn't have. If Faramir could love her so unrestrainedly, the least she could do would be to deserve that love. She would attempt to settle her turmoiling heart. She withdrew her hands from Faramir's, smiled at him, picked up her sword, and returned to her room.
Arwen was still there, still sitting. Eowyn dropped the sword on top of the chest. "I'm sorry I left," she apologized.
The Elf smiled at her. "No hard feelings."
Eowyn took a deep breath. The moment had come. "Don't say that yet. Not until you hear why I left."
Arwen's smile wavered a little, but she regained her Elven poise. "Say on."
Eowyn swallowed the lump in her throat and plunged in recklessly. "Did you know that I loved Aragorn?" Arwen's lips parted in shock. "Not anymore, I think. I promised myself to Faramir, but since you came, I...don't know quite who I love."
A very uncomfortable silence fell. Arwen broke it. "Is that all?"
"No. I wanted to - to die when Aragorn wouldn't take me with him to the Paths of the Dead. That was why I rode out, why I fought the Witch-king. I thought that life without him was not life worth living." Eowyn broke off abruptly. Arwen's eyes were wet. She was crying! "Lady Arwen - "
"Keep going," Arwen whispered, barely audible.
Eowyn swallowed again and spoke on. "Then I met Faramir. He showed me that there was life beyond Aragorn. I came to love him, and I wanted to marry him. But then you came." It poured from her suddenly, like a flooding river. "You came, and I loved Aragorn again, or maybe I never stopped loving him, or maybe I'm deluding myself now. But the fact is, I'm not happy now, and I don't know who I love or why. I now Faramir loves me, and I know I don't deserve it. And Aragorn loves you, not me, and - " Eowyn shut up before she could babble any more.
"I know part of how you feel," Arwen said unexpectedly.
"You do?"
The Elf's face was touched by sadness. "Yes. Do you think it is easy for me to love him? One day he will die, and I will live on for ages beyond him, and finally life will be too bitter without him, and I will die. I know this, I knew it when I made my choice. You have no idea how I've envied you, ever since I heard of your battle. You, a woman, went out to war and killed a powerful foe, and even after all knew, they still honored you. While I - " here Arwen gave a bitter laugh " - must stay in Rivendell, sewing Aragorn's banner - when I too longed to be with him. You, at least, spent more time than I did with him during the war. Have you any idea that I envy you?"
Eowyn found it hard to breathe. "You envy me?" she repeated dully. "I longed, once, to be you, promised to him, his one love - "
Arwen stood up and took Eowyn's hand. "We both envy each other, don't we? But you would not want to be me. I am leaving all my kin by becoming Aragorn's queen, and I will have to wander Middle-earth all my life after he dies and wonder if I made the right choice, now that he is gone. My gain has not come without misery."
"Nor mine!" Eowyn retorted. "You think I'm so glorious, but in reality I was made to stay at home all my life, although I'm a good fighter. Killing the Witch-king was the first time I'd ever put myself in mortal peril. Sometimes I can't believe I'm still alive!"
They shared a laugh, then Arwen said, "Do you still want to be me? I don't know much about Faramir, but any kind of love is not worth throwing away for a hopeless dream. Please believe me." She sounded almost shy. "I have been hoping to meet you, hoping that we could be friends."
I thought she had a perfect life, Eowyn thought. I never realized what she'd be giving up. And she probably thought my life was perfect.
She's right. Aragorn is wonderful and brave, but he doesn't love me, and Faramir does. And Faramir is everything Aragorn is, but he loves me. I asked him if he wanted his people to say, "Look, he had to marry a wild northern woman," and he said he did. Joy soared in Eowyn's heart. I do love him! Unrestrainedly, as he loves me. She looked at Arwen, thought of her and Aragorn, and felt nothing but happiness for them and herself. She smiled at Arwen, a huge, overjoyed smile that filled her face. "We are friends!" she said in response to Arwen, and threw her arms around the Elven princess' neck. Arwen returned the hug warmly.
That night at the welcoming banquet - the first presided over by a king for an age in Gondor - Eowyn sat beside Faramir. She watched as Aragorn and Arwen were formally betrothed with all the ceremony of Gondor, and she rejoiced for them. May you be as happy as I will, she thought.
Faramir covered her hand with his. "Are you all right now?" he asked her.
Eowyn smiled at him. "Oh, yes," she answered. She leaned over and kissed him, not caring if anyone saw. When she pulled away, there seemed to be a sort of paradise dancing in his eyes. She fairly glowed with joy.
Faramir grinned. "Calm down, my wild one. There'll be plenty of time for that in the future."
"Oh, yes," Eowyn said again, her eyes shining the paradise back into his.
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