Blood Remembers
by Victoria P.

Éowyn stares up at her brother. "Must you go?" She says nothing more, but wills him to change his mind.

"Théoden King has spoken," Éomer says bitterly. "And though he may accuse me of treason, I've not yet refused an order from him."

"But Wormtongue--"

He reaches down and traces the line of her jaw with his fingertips. "You must take care, Éowyn. Wormtongue has ever had his eye upon you. I should have seen it sooner."

She takes his hand, presses her lips to his warm palm. "He is nothing, Éomer. It is you I am worried about. Please, take no wild chances. Come home to me safely."

"I will." He lifts her hand and returns the kiss. "Look you to the king's welfare, Éowyn, and be wary of Wormtongue's malice."

She watches him ride away, leading his men down the hillside, shivering not from the brisk wind that blows through Edoras on this fine spring morning, but from a chill foreboding.

She knows one day he will not come home, or he will come home mortally wounded. She refuses to believe it will be any time soon. It is simply the coming war that fills her with this dread, and she wonders if any of them will survive. Hope is a rare commodity in Rohan, and hers is riding north, into danger.

She remembers when they first came to live at Meduseld, two frightened and motherless children. Éomer had held her hand then, as well. They had slept curled around each other, for comfort more than warmth. He cradled her against him and whispered soft words while she cried. She hasn't cried since. She was a princess of Rohan, a leader of her people, he told her, and he repeated it until she believed.

She believes it now, and vows to keep watch over the king. Gríma Wormtongue may have the king's ear, but she will keep him from doing more harm to her people.

She wanders back through the stable, greeting the horses with affection. She remembers hiding in here during storms, awaiting Éomer return from patrol. One day she was late; she rushed past the riders as they entered the hall, to find Éomer standing still as stone, save for a slight shaking of his shoulders, face buried in his mount's neck.

He was fourteen, she ten. He had killed his first man that day. Orcs he had slain aplenty; since early that spring he'd ridden out with Théodred, but that day he had had to administer the killing blow -- the merciful end -- to one of his wounded comrades.

She held him as he sobbed, soaking the soft wool of her dress. They spent the night curled around each other in the sweet hay; they sneaked back into the hall early in the morning, no one the wiser.

The stalls of the _mearas_ have long been her refuge, and she recalls another day, not as long ago, when again Éomer had come to her there, blood hot from victory and too much mead.

She had left the hall during the feast, sure in her heart that he would not miss her, and angry about it. His men had had a great victory and all of his attention was focused on them. They drank and ate and leered at the maidens who fluttered coyly about them. She wished again that she could ride out with them, and cursed the fate that trapped her in a woman's body. If she were a man, she would always be at Éomer's side, never be second in his eyes, never have to smell another woman's scent on his skin and feel a sharp pang of jealousy that there was someone closer to him than she.

She wasn't strong enough then to resist; even now, she pushes the thoughts away, though the passage of years has muted desire.

Éomer followed, found her sulking in her refuge. He knew her better than she knew herself, though she'd forgotten in her irritation.

He was proud and full of joy at the prowess of his men. He wanted to share that joy with her, to tease her out of her black mood. He took her in his arms and spun her around until she was dizzy, and before she knew what he was about, his lips were pressed to hers, hot, urgent and tasting of mead and pipeweed.

She'd responded without conscious thought, to the heat of his body and the slow, sweet pressure of his mouth against hers. And then realization of what they were doing sunk in, and she pushed him away. She rushed out, hand clasped over lips that had betrayed her, betrayed them.

For the first time since their arrival at Edoras, they slept in separate beds. Though in truth, she slept little. She missed his solid warmth at her back, the soft, steady sound of his breath in her ear.

They circled each other warily for three days -- three long, grey days that dragged endlessly. She hated being away from him; it was bad enough when he was out riding patrol and she was left behind with the women. To be separated by their own folly and shame was worse. She spent the dark hours of those nights apart tossing and turning, wondering what she could have done to avoid the separation, this feeling of having torn out her own heart and thrown it away.

It felt as if a part of herself were missing.

Finally Éomer came to her, heartsick, dark circles under his eyes mirroring her own haggard appearance. He attempted to apologize, his words pained and stilted, and she stopped him.

"We were both at fault," she told him, moving to embrace him. He held himself stiff in her arms, and she knew that he would shoulder all the blame if she let him, and she could not, any more than she could stay angry with him, stay away from him. She tapped his chest, hard enough for him to know she meant it. "We were both at fault," she repeated sternly. "Don't torment yourself any longer. I forbid it."

That earned a slow smile from him, and the first awkwardness was past. It took some time for them to be fully comfortable again -- every touch was fraught with anxiety -- but when the day came for him to ride out for a week's patrol on the Eastfold, they were once again sharing the bed in his dark, cramped chamber in the west wing of the hall.

The thought of being parted drove them closer together than before. She shivers now at the thought. She wishes she could go with him into exile, but her duty is to her king -- to her people -- and she must remain. Someone has to counter the slow and steady poison Wormtongue drips into Théoden's ear. With Théodred dying...

She shakes off the morbid thought. While Théodred yet lives she has a chance to sway the king to remember his duty. When -- if, she chides herself -- if Théodred dies, she fears Wormtongue's hold on Théoden will be absolute.

She wraps her arms tight across her chest to ward away the chill her thoughts bring on, a vain attempt to hold onto her forlorn hopes.

The horses whicker and nuzzle her; she pets and feeds them, taking comfort where she can, in their soft, silky coats, the cool damp of their noses against her hands and face.

She blinks back the hot tears that prick at her eyes. Seeking comfort is dangerous for one such as she, and she has forsaken it, preferring to live without rather than fall into the trap again. Even against her will, even after all this time, her body responds to the memory, aching for his touch. Her fingers knot into the horse's mane; she leans against the mare, closing her eyes imagines Éomer's strength is shoring her up, the warmth of his body driving the cold away.

Her nightmare had woken him. He whispered soft words in her ear, stroked her hair gently, so unexpectedly tender for one accustomed to riding to war. "Éowyn," he said, "wake up. It is but a dream that haunts you." She shivered then, and burrowed into his solid warmth, desperately seeking comfort, wrapping her arms around him. She needed to feel his breath against her skin, hear his heart beat beneath her ear.

"I dreamt you were dead," she whispered, feeling her heart race in fear she'd never show in daylight. She ran her fingers over the arch of his cheek, the bow of his lips, and followed her hand with her mouth, reassuring herself that he was still alive.

Éomer responded ardently to her caresses, deepening the kisses she pressed upon his mouth. His lips upon hers, his hands restless on her body -- his offer of comfort against the chill shadow of her dream. Her heart still raced, but not from fear. She remembers the sensations he roused in her -- heated urgency warring with delicious lassitude -- and feels her body respond, even in his absence.

She lets the memory wash over her.

His hands touched her in places no man had ever touched before. His lips sought hers and the gentle good night kisses they'd shared over the years transmuted into something harder, darker, more urgent. His tongue slid into her mouth as she gasped at his hands on her breasts. She yielded to him, parting her lips and her legs at his request. There was a hitch in his breathing when she touched him; she reveled in her power to give him pleasure.

He whispered her name in honeyed tones, "Éowyn, my love, my own," and she caught her breath at the fire in his eyes when he looked at her. Other men had looked at her so, but never before or since has she felt a matching fire.

She knows, she knew even then, at the moment of consummation, that what they did was wrong, against the laws of heaven and earth, Elves and Men. But when Éomer hilted himself in her body, beyond the sharp pain and muted pleasure, she felt right -- whole -- for the first time in the year since they'd quarreled. What had been missing was returned, and she took it gladly. She raked her nails down his back, thrust her hips in fierce cadence with his, reaching for something wonderful just beyond her grasp.

He told her she was strong and beautiful, and she believed him. Together they were a finely honed weapon destined to save Rohan from her enemies. Together they would produce the finest warriors the Mark had ever known. Together--

Then he spilled his seed inside her, and she knew bitter shame. She feels it again now -- a different kind of heat, burning her from the inside out, and not the blissful heat of desire, but the stinging pain of hot iron against skin, sour and poisonous.

"Éomer," she gasped, pushing at him, bile rising in her throat. "Let me go."

He released her immediately, his breathing ragged, the horror of realization dawning in his eyes.

"Éowyn," he said, shocked, as the depth of their transgression sank in. He collapsed against her, weeping. She comforted him as best she could, stroking his hair, letting him gather the strength to leave, knowing that she would never find consolation herself. Her eyes remained dry. No words of apology would she let him speak; she allowed no hint of recrimination between them. When he left her, she knelt over the garderobe and emptied her stomach, even before washing away the evidence of their sin.

She stripped the bed, taking the bedclothes to the river herself for laundering, before the sun rose.

She moved into the women's quarters that hour, and, hardening her heart, avoided all speech with him. He came to see her that morning, but she turned her back. She refused to speak to him that day, and the next, and the next after that. Rumor raged through the keep at their falling out, but still she rebuffed him and would tell no one why.

For seventeen long, lonely days, she repudiated him. Until the morning her courses came.

They had broken the most basic law, committed an unspeakable act, but she had been spared the punishment of bearing a child from their illicit union.

That day, she greeted him by name, but stopped his words with a gesture. She was not yet ready to forgive herself, and she knew if she let him speak, let him beg forgiveness, she would relent. She had been weak, and in her weakness she had caused Éomer to falter.

Long months it took to rebuild their ease with each other, both feeling the heat of impure desire in the presence of the other. Éomer increased his time away from Edoras, patrolling ever more diligently against the incursions of the East.

Éowyn found some measure of bitter satisfaction through growing friendship with the women she'd scorned before. She became skilled at suppressing desire, at walking away when it threatened to overwhelm her. Éomer left many a meal unfinished, stalking from the hall in a foul temper to ride hard over the land; she redoubled her efforts to master the sword, training with Théodred or Háma whenever her yearning for Éomer became too much.

They worked hard to regain their previous ease around each other, and to avoid questions about what had caused the change between them.

Eventually, they found the balance, and lived on the knife's edge for a time, until it became normal to see, to speak -- to touch -- without seeking more intimate contact.

Éowyn remembers and shivers.

She loves her brother, and knows he loves her. The years have passed swiftly since that night, and no other man has yet stirred her blood to such passion. She believes none ever will, and is reconciled to a life alone. It is fitting for a shieldmaiden of Rohan to seek honor rather than love, to desire to ride to the defense of her people, rather than sit at home, tending the hearth. She knows that duty will force her into the latter, and she fears she will never be more than a nursemaid, first to the king and then to children of her own, if Rohan survives the war that looms on the horizon.

She silently begs the gods of her people to bring Éomer home safely, and to protect them all from the coming storm.


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