Through Shadows

Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Ithilian Pine

And before the sun had fallen far from the noon out of the East there came a great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings beyond hope from the Lords of the West, crying:

Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor,

for the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever,

and the Dark Tower is thrown down.

quoted from The Return of the King; The Steward and the King; Book VI, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 25th March, 3019 TA

"I think we all agree that whatever it was that happened this morning, it does not hint at the Enemy's victory."

From under drooping eyelids, a mug of steaming peppermint tea in her hand, Éowyn watched the Steward presiding their hurriedly assembled council. The small room at the Houses was not as crowded as the first time she had sat there, but with old Lord Bahor, obviously a long-trusted counsellor, Marshal Elfhelm and Captain Arnulf, his second in command, and three other Gondorean captains whose names she had not bothered to retain in the sleepy haze of her mind, it nevertheless felt quite cramped.

She still found it difficult to comprehend what had happened, only some hours ago. Had it been the sign the Steward had been waiting for? It probably had, but how to read it, now that it had happened? Only listening with half an ear to the reservations and questions two of the Gondoreans were uttering, she let her mind drift.

She had not slept the night before, had not even tried to, lest she might be caught in her sleep by the Black Lord's crucial move, might miss the sign the Steward had told her to be waiting for. As a result, dawn had found her shivering with fatigue, and the wind and cold she had met with had done nothing to ease her discomfort. Her broken arm too had reacted to the cold, and she had found it hard to tolerate the dragging pain.

She almost chuckled, recalling the Steward's reaction upon seeing her. Old mother hen! And yet it had been such a nice and comforting feeling when he had draped that wonderful blue mantle around her, carefully fixing the silver clasp and making sure the icy fingers of the northern wind were kept at bay. And that hot something he had pressed her to drink had not been bad at all, she only wondered what it had consisted of. Milk and honey, to be sure, but it had been thickened and there had been some spices in it she could not name.

"I certainly agree that we should not grow careless, Captain Iorlas. I would rather we use the unforeseen encouragement that has come over the city and her inhabitants to continue in our labour with new strength."

Éowyn stifled a yawn. Again and again the Gondoreans had come back to the point that the feeling of joy that had swept through the city all of a sudden might be a trap. She herself had feared a ruse, a cruel magical trick, though the Steward had assured her that the feelings the Enemy could evoke were limited to fear and doubt, to painful longing that might turn into greed, causing his victims to lose confidence or turn ruthless. What had convinced her in the end had been the news Elfhelm had brought from the Riders' camp, and just as Iorlas opened his mouth again to reply to the Steward's remark, the marshal forestalled him, repeating what he had told Éowyn first thing he had seen her.

"Whatever happened, it is something that speaks of the Dark One's weakening. My men's reaction I might not trust, and I have heard tales about the way the cursed wizard at Isengard disturbed their clear judgement, but there is no force that deceives the senses of horses, especially of those that have Mearas blood in their line. And I tell you, Iorlas, that I have never seen our war-steeled stallions frolic like colts. But exactly that they did after having stood downcast for more than a week, only bound to this place by their Riders' love and firm will."

Éowyn grinned into her mug. Quite a long talk for Elfhelm, but if he would bother to open his mouth about one thing it was horses. The Gondorean still looked rather sceptical, but with a move of his hand the Steward ended the discussion.

"That truly is valuable news, Marshal Elfhelm, and eases my mind exceedingly. Now let us discuss what needs to be taken care of."

Having emptied her mug, Éowyn leaned back in her chair and let the men's discussion simply wash over her. Whatever they decided, it did not concern her, and she wished she could simply lay down on the bed behind her and sleep for the rest of the day. To imagine she had stood on the walls of the city hand in hand with the Steward, for all to be seen who cared to look! She should feel embarrassed, but not even the moment she had realised that they were holding hands had she felt anything close to embarrassment. She did not know how it had come about that their hands had clasped, did not remember who had reached out for whom, but she did not care. It had been right, a proof of their mutual trust. And had not the Steward signalled his confidence in her warrior abilities the night before?

Confidence... Was it confidence that had moved him to tell her about his nightmare, that terrible dream of a black wave crashing down on living shores? Númenor drowning... What a cruel fate to be burdened with the nightmares of one's ancestors. And to imagine they burnt men at the altar of Morgoth...

A noise from the corridor woke her out of her revery. Running feet, booted feet and the unmistakable sound of armour, and then the door was yanked open after little more than a perfunctory knock.

"My Lord Faramir, there is something approaching. Some kind of huge bird it seems." The man in the Citadel's colours gasped, having run as fast as possible, armoured as he was. The Steward rose.

"One of the Nazgul?"

The guard shook his head. "No, my lord. Definitely a bird, but of a size we have never seen before. It seems to be making for the city, but it is still too far away to tell for sure."

His face stern, the Steward nodded. "I'll come to see for myself." He swiftly made for the door, the others filing out behind him, and soon they were climbing the walls, just at the spot where Éowyn and he had stood in the coldness of the morning.

It was much warmer now, the wind having turned west again, and the sun was shining. And there, still miles away, she spotted the bird high up in the air, huge, black against the sun, but no fear stirred inside her. No, that was not one of Sauron's creatures, though what it was she did not know. At her side Elfhelm shook his head in disbelief, staring fascinated.

"An Eagle of the North."

All eyes turned on him, and Éowyn blinked. She knew about the ancient tales of the times when her people had been living in the upper vales of the Great River, close to the Misty Mountains. Tales of eagles that would outfly the wind on wings that spanned for twelve yards and more, but those were tales, weren't they?

But as it kept swiftly coming closer, there was no doubt that it was an enormous eagle. Soon it was soaring over the city, descending in spirals and she could clearly make out its shape, the brown-golden colour of its feathers, the mighty beak and the impressive talons. And then it spoke, and she felt her heartbeat stop.


Minas Tirith, 26th March, Third Age

She woke, covered in cold sweat, her heart racing, but she could not remember anything of the dream that had troubled her. She shuddered, recalling the past day, the gigantic eagle, soaring over the white tower of the Citadel...The realm of Sauron is ended for ever... And she was condemned to life. A life she did not know what to expect of. Was Éomer alive? Was he wounded? What would he decide? What if he had fallen and she was the last scion of Eorl's House? ...Your King shall come again... So he had proved the truth of his claim: Isildur's heir... But the eagle had said nothing about the King of the Mark.

The dim light in the room spoke of early morning, and so she decided to get washed and dressed. It was enough that she had to wait days until news from the events at the Black Gate would reach Mundburg, she would not add to this wretched waiting by sitting idly till one of the healers showed up. Fighting with the nightgown that clung to her skin, she wondered what the healers would say if she simply refused to wear this monstrous garment and slept naked, and she could not help the grin that stole to her face. She managed to wash passably, and even slipping into the chemise on her own worked. With grim determination she stared at the cream-coloured kirtle folded neatly on the wicker chair. She needed to learn to dress with one hand. Who knew how useful her broken arm would be, even after mending, and if she was forced to live, she would do so with as much independency as possible.

Spreading the garment on the bed, she raised the hem, and rather than pulling the dress over her head, she crawled into it, slowly and cumbersomely, but it worked. The dress had no laces, just a clasp at the throat, but nevertheless she could not fix without help, so she just let it be and prepared to wriggle into the surcoat, when after a soft knock at the door Anwen entered, looking in on her way to her quarters. The young healer stared in surprise at finding her almost dressed, but then swiftly helped to fix all laces and fastenings. Bidding the girl a "Sleep tight!", Éowyn went for a stroll in the gardens, which she knew would not be frequented that early in the morning.

The air was fresh and cool when she stepped out from under the ambulatory, dew glistening on the clipped lawn. And then she spotted him, sitting on one of the benches near the main path, his long legs sprawled out, his arms hooked back over the backrest, his head thrown back as if to enjoy the first rays of the sun.

Approaching him, she noticed that his eyes were closed, and a closer look at the profoundly relaxed figure in front of her convinced her that he was sleeping, a faint smile playing around his lips. In striking contrast to his normally impeccable appearance he looked slightly dishevelled, and she could not help the thought that somehow it gave him a rakish charm. His hair was ruffled and his tunic askew, the unfastened laces of his shirt emphasising the impression of general carelessness. And it was clearly visible that he had not shaved. Intrigued, her gaze traced the outlines of his potential beard. There was no stubble yet, only a distinct shade along his jawline and around his lips, but it was enough to give her a hint at what he would look like with a beard, and she could not help thinking it would be quite an improvement to his features.

She shook her head. She would never understand why Gondorean men painstakingly scraped every single hair off their faces, and even less how Gondorean women thought these naked baby bottoms attractive. But then Éomer had told her that Gondorean women even removed their body hair... Her gaze followed the bluish shade on the Steward's chin down his throat, where the open shirt confirmed that men did not do that, even in Gondor. There was a curly dusting of black hair reaching as high as his collarbones, highlighting the paleness of his normally covered skin and making her realise how weather-beaten and tanned his face was.

With his hair falling back, she spotted a broad but short white scar, probably indicating an arrow that must have grazed his throat just below his left earlobe. Lucky dog! If it had nicked him just a little deeper, it certainly would have cut the carotid. How many more scars did he probably have, adding to this one and the arrow wound he had got on the Pelennor? His face at least was unscarred, and for once there were no dark circles under his eyes, just the shadows his jet-black lashes cast on his high cheekbones. There certainly were women who would kill for such lashes. All in all his features were rather handsome, the sharp-bridged nose forming an enticing contrast to the softly curved lips. She moved closer, focussed on his lips, when suddenly she saw them twitch. Looking up with a start, she found the Steward's eyes open, glancing at her with undisguised mischief.

"What a nice way to wake," he drawled, "to open one's eyes and see one's dream continue."

Éowyn rolled her eyes, and the Steward reacted with a low chuckle. He sat up, motioning to the empty space on the bench beside him.

"Please sit down and keep me company, my lady." His speech slurred slightly, leaving her in no doubt that he was fairly drunk. She sat down, and he reached out to her, and for a moment it looked as if he would touch her, but then he withdrew his hand. "I shouldn't," he said sheepishly, "I probably reek of wine."

Éowyn's lips curved in a sarcastic grin. "You are not the first man I have encounter who smelt of booze. Though I wouldn't go so far as to call it a typically male scent."

"And what would you call typically male? In terms of smell, I mean." Whatever and how much he had drunk last night, it obviously had not done too much to blunt his wits, but it seemed to make him slightly reckless, and Éowyn could not but admit to herself that she quite liked this more playful side of him.

"Typically male?" She frowned with mock seriousness. "I don't know, my lord. But whatever it is, it certainly has a whiff of horse to it."

The Steward chuckled. "I should have expected that to come from a Rohir. But to tell you the truth, Gondorean nobles take great pains to smell impressive and the merchants of Khand and Harad have always made immense profits supplying the markets of Gondor."

Éowyn nodded, remembering the tangy, exotic perfume Boromir had used. Sandalwood and something she did not know, something hot and enticing. And one time he had gifted a perfume to her; a finely-worked flacon made of green-golden glass, holding a liquid that smelled almost cloyingly of lily of the valley. Probably a scent Gondoreans thought fit for young girls. She had given it to Frithuswith to use in the linen cupboards as soon as Boromir had departed and for weeks on end all maids at Meduseld had smelled of lily of the valley. The memory brought a grin to her face. "Yes, I have seen, or rather smelled, some examples of Gondor's obsession with perfumes, but I doubt their usefulness. For example I cannot imagine your Rangers shrouding themselves in clouds of fragrances. It would give them away as any foe would smell them for miles even against the wind."

He snorted with laughter. "No doubt." Still grinning, he shook his head. "But then Ithilien has her own typical smell. Pines, juniper and all kind of herbs you can imagine: peppery spearmint and sweet lemon balm, oregano and thyme, rosemary..."

"That sounds more like a kitchen garden than a wild mountainside."

"They call Ithilien the Wild Garden of Gondor, though the name is a contradiction in itself. But it truly is beautiful." He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, she was not sure what their expression meant. "Yes, Éowyn it is beautiful and I hope you will come one day and see it with your own eyes, now that the Enemy is overthrown and we will have peace ."

She did not know what to answer without causing disappointment, especially as that part of Gondor seemed to mean so much to him, but before the silence could grow uncomfortable, the Steward spoke again. "But it truly is some kind of kitchen garden, too. One day, when setting up an ambush, a small group of us had to lie in some patches of herbs for hours, and when retreating to our hideout, we all smelled intensively of sage and parsley. The men joked that had we fallen victim to some orcs they would have found their meat already flavoured."

Éowyn snorted at the crude joke. Warriors of Gondor and the Mark were not really different, and nor were their jests. "I doubt the orcs would have cared about any flavouring. But truth be told, I have never imagined the Rangers of Ithilien to smell of pot-herbs."

"And of what did you imagine them to smell?"

Confused by the huskiness of his voice, she hesitated. He was clearly far from sober, but then she had never shrunk from dealing with anyone, drunk or not. And was he not a man that could be trusted? For a while she pondered and then she said: "Of resin. Pine resin...and of earth. That smell parched soil emits when hit by long-desired rain."

He heaved a deep breath that almost sounded like a sigh. "Earth and rain. If you come to grace Ithilien, it will smell like that. And I will build you a bower of pine branches and guard your sleep and the pale gold of your hair will glisten like the rising moon."

She gulped, totally baffled. Béma's horse, how drunk was he after all? Was the Steward of Gondor getting romantic, or was she simply misunderstanding his purpose? And how far would he go if she did not stop him at once? She had certainly heard drunken men utter worse than his yearning remark, at the feasts in the Golden Hall, when ale and mead had flowed generously in the days before the Worm's influence had spread over Meduseld like mildew over a garden. But that had always happened openly, in the company of others who would have intervened had the man in question got too forward.

Not that she did not know how to stop a man in his tracks for good, but she felt reluctant to rebuke a good and honourable man who she knew would behave with perfect demeanour were he not in his cups. And that he was drunk was certainly more than understandable. Was it not a lord's and warrior's duty to celebrate a victory so important to the fate and future of his people with his men? And aside from that, his remark, though it certainly was odd, was far from insulting or lewd... Too late she realised how awkward the silence had become while she had been pondering. Looking up, she found the Steward staring at her, unsuccessfully trying to hide his embarrassment. Why had she not acted faster! Pretending not to see his embarrassment, she rose.

"Let's walk, my lord, and make use of the time when we have the paths to ourselves."

He obliged, and she noticed that though his walk was steady and he did neither sway nor stumble, it lacked its usual grace. In silence they walked down the main path, and only when they had reached the herb beds at its end and turned towards the inner wall, did he address her again.

"I'm sorry, my lady, but I'm afraid I had more than just one cup too many, though that is no excuse..."

"Who have you been drinking with?

He shrugged. "Oh, a cup of wine with the lords to toast the victory, some more cups to celebrate with the soldiers at the Citadel, but what finally finished me off was that arrack I had with Amrothos."

"Arrack?"

He nodded. "A hard liqueur from Dol Amroth. They purchase it from Umbar, or rather through Umbar, for as far as I know it comes from somewhere in Far-Harad."

"Umbar?" Éowyn was at a loss. Did not the corsairs hail from there, and was not the port of Umbar one of the headquarters of Gondor's foes?

Seeing her lack of understanding, the Steward started to explain, his hand moving somewhat uncoordinated through the air in his attempt to underline his opinion. "Most Umbarians are rather merchants than corsairs, though I am convinced not a small number of them are more or less prepared to change their trade according to the opportunity. The princes of Dol Amroth have kept their own trade connections well out of Gondor's official political affairs, up to the fact that they quite deliberately closed their eyes to the busy smuggling that was going on between Umbar and the Falas, as long as it was restricted to unsuspicious goods and there was some profit in the business for themselves. They are pirates, all of them. Down in their heart of hearts all those fine coastal lords, those Thólinasses, Radhruins, Adrahils and Imrahils are nothing but cutlass-swinging pirates, and Amrothos is the worst of all. I know, I will curse him and his liqueur as soon as I will start to sober and face the mother of hangovers." He grimaced in anticipation of a probably splitting headache, before he continued with a wry grin. "Yet I can count myself lucky that he did not serve me the rotgut the sailors call "Bosun's Bane". But I think I had better send my man to Imrahil's housekeeper, as she knows the only remedy that really works for hangovers."

Éowyn could not help a corresponding grin. "Then I wonder, why she has not made a fortune out of it yet, my lord. Men will always drink too much and always suffer the next morning."

He sighed. "That is only too true, my lady. But the remedy cannot be prepared much in advance as the potion keeps its virtue only for a short time and she would not let anybody know the recipe."

"What a pity. It would have been a true success in the Mark." Unbidden her own remark propelled her back to her thoughts when waking. What would the Mark be like when she got back? Who would return, and how many of those who did would be whole and sound? And would Éomer be amongst them, or had his kingship lasted only little more than a sennight in foreign lands?

In an attempt to get over her gloominess, she turned to facts. "When do you think we might get detailed news from the Black Gate, my lord? The eagle spoke of victory, but not of its price, and nothing was said about anyone's fate except for Gondor's king."

For the first time that morning the Steward's face showed the usual graveness. "I'm truly sorry for that, Lady Éowyn, for I only too well understand how you must long for news of your brother. But I'm afraid it will take at least two days for a fast rider, even if the road is safe."

She found it hard to let the wave of sympathy that surged through her not show on her face. He certainly knew what it meant to wait for news about one's only sibling. Boromir had always spoken favourably of his younger brother and given what she had seen herself and heard from Merry there must have been a strong bond between Denethor's sons.

As if having read her thoughts, he suddenly asked: "My lady, did you see my brother Boromir when he passed through Rohan on his way to Rivendell last year?"

Slowly she nodded. "I did, but only fleetingly, as they stayed only one night at Edoras before travelling on to the Westfold, and at the evening meal in the hall nothing but commonplace remarks were exchanged for fear of disagreeable eavesdroppers."

The Steward looked surprised. "They travelled to the Westfold?"

She nodded. "Prince Théodred and your brother, my lord. They had met days before at Aldburg, where Théodred had gone to consult with Éomer. Since Gríma Wormtongue had managed to put Lord Éaldred, my uncle's former advisor, into disgrace and we could not be sure who to trust, Théodred had made it a routine to go there under the pretence of checking on the herds of the Eastfold and the Emnet. That was even twice useful, as Éomer was not received well in the Golden Hall."

"Éomer was in conflict with his uncle?"

"No, not really. Rather with my uncle's counsellor. But Gríma had the king's ear." She shrugged. "My brother certainly is his father's son and inherited much of Éomund's violent temper. He hated my uncle's traitorous counsellor from the bottom of his heart, and that hatred was mutual. As much as I missed Éomer, I was glad that his duties bound him to Aldburg and the Eastfold and I preferred him to come as seldom as possible to Edoras, for I feared that Gríma the Traitor might find a way to provoke him to rash action, and Théodred shared my fear. Fear that proved only too justified, for in the end Théoden King had my brother arrested for drawing his sword against the Worm in the king's hall, where all use of weapons is forbidden. But that was after Théodred had been slain at the Fords of Isen."

Still the thought of her cousin's death caused a lump to form in her throat, and she swallowed, before continuing. "So those were the reasons why your brother found Théodred at Aldburg. Boromir talked to no one but Théodred about his plans to seek the hidden valley, and they decided to make it look like one of Boromir's regular visits. They travelled together to the Westfold, and there Théodred gave your brother a horse he deemed more suitable for rough terrain than the high-strung destrier Boromir rode. Then your brother travelled north, while Théodred and his guards went on with their annual inspection of the fiefs, leaving everyone back in Edoras to believe that Boromir was accompanying him. Only when weeks later the gelding he had provided Boromir with came back riderless did my cousin tell me about everything."

She needn't tell the Steward about Théodred's haunted face, his deep grief when he had told her, as he probably would not understand what Boromir had really meant to Théodred. For a while they stood in silence, each one deeply lost in thought, until suddenly her head jerked up with surprise at the Steward's whispered remark: "Your cousin must have been devastated, and yet I am happy that they at least had some days together before Boromir went away."

He was not looking at her and she used the opportunity to stare openly at his agitated face. Had not Théodred told her Gondoreans despised love between men, even thought it a prosecutable act? He turned to her, a sad smile playing on his lips. "Éowyn, my brother had been living for the few days every year he could be with Théodred since his very first visit to the Mark at the age of twenty-one. He told me about it when he came back, unable to keep his feelings bottled up."

He grimaced. "I have to admit I was shocked at first and convinced that Théodred was to blame, that he had corrupted my brother and dragged him into a mire of immorality and dishonourable conduct. Fool that I was! But I had never been given to rash decisions and young as I was, I doubted the truth of prejudices, and so I said nothing, but watched."

He heaved a breath. "And I saw their relationship develop over the years, saw my brother's feelings grow deeper in such a way that it frightened me as I sometimes feared for Boromir's sanity. And for his life, for it seemed to me that in his attempt to prove himself worthy, to pay his duties to the House of Hurin and to Gondor, he became ever more reckless. And as much as his valour was admired by his men and the people in general, there were those who feared he might end like King Earnur, especially after his wife and son had died of the fever raging at Pelargir six years before."

She still remembered Théodred's stunned face at the news, and only after a while was able to come up with a rather lame remark. "It certainly is a pity that your brother had but one child in the ten years of his marriage. "

The Steward laughed mirthlessly. "If there ever was a loveless marriage it was the one between Boromir and Cuileth of Pelargir. It was politics that forced them together, my lady, politics and their fathers' pride and ambition. Both of them were only too happy to quit each other's company after having fulfilled their duty and produced an heir to the House of Hurin. Boromir spent as much time as possible with his men, and Cuileth went for prolonged visits to her family at Pelargir. My brother told me repeatedly what a sweet and lovely lady Juthwara was, and how he envied his friend to have found a true confidant and trustworthy consort. He was most shocked and grieved when he learned of Juthwara's death in childbed."

"It was not Théodred's fault that she died!"

"Théodred's fault?" The Steward looked utterly surprised. "That has never come to my mind. Who says so?"

"Nobody, my lord," she hastened to confirm, scolding herself inwardly for blurting out like that. He was Gondorean, how would he understand? But seeing the doubt in his eyes, she felt the need to explain. "Folklore in the Mark has it that a child born weak is the result of too little passion at the begetting."

The Steward frowned. "Nonsense. Boromir's son was born a strapping lad, and I dare say..." He stopped, his eyes widening as realisation set in. "So they blamed the death of his unborn child on Théodred for..."

"No." Annoyed with herself, she shook her head. "Nobody does. He did what the Eorlingas expected of him: He tried to fulfil his duty to his House and his people." Hesitating, she shot him a sceptical side glance before she continued. "A relationship like the one between Boromir and Théodred would not be frowned on in the Mark, my lord, but seen as a kind of ultimate friendship between warriors, though knowing the different attitude in Gondor, Théodred was more than careful to keep things discreet, and I doubt that anyone except his guards and close family knew. So I am sure that nobody even considered any fault on his side, especially as the deep sympathy between him and Juthwara was obvious."

"But then..." Inebriated as he was, he did not manage to construct the usual polite mask, and his torn feelings showed clearly.

Éowyn sighed. There was no help, she had to tell him. "He blamed himself, my lord. Saw himself as the murderer of his wife and unborn child, though he never talked about it."

"And how do you know?" His doubt added a cutting edge to his voice, making her realise how clear his mind still worked despite his intoxication. She heaved a breath. She had started this, and there was no use in stopping halfway.

"He was drunk, my lord, and he was not aware I overheard him."

He did not answer to that, and again they walked in silence until they reached the old pine at the end of the path. "Let's sit over there and pretend for a while that we are in Ithilien." Motioning to the tree, the Steward crossed the lawn and sat down, his back against the trunk. She sat down at his side, and leaning back, she noticed that their shoulders almost touched, and yet, caused by the bending of the trunk, they sat in an angle that made them look in slightly different directions. A strange kind of melancholy seized her, and resting her head against the pine, she closed her eyes. Two more days...and then? How much more difficult would it be to face life, the numbing boredom of duty than a clean death and peace and quiet. And yet... Her hand felt the grass beside her, still wet with dew and when she heaved a breath she tasted the resinous tang of the pine. Perhaps...

Brusquely she opened her eyes. She truly was getting pathetic. There was no use to think about whats and ifs; she would do what had to be done. From the ambulatory a small group of men came out into the garden, slowly making for one of the alcoves. A side glance at the Steward showed her that he too had closed his eyes. His head slightly tilted, he seemed to have fallen asleep. Voices from the main gate signalled more men coming, and with a pang she realised that she did not want anybody to see him like this: Sitting propped against the tree he loved so much, sleeping it off. Crouching beside him, she touched his shoulder, surprised at how fast he woke.

"You had better lie down in your bed, my lord. You certainly need some more sleep, and the garden soon will be crowded."

He simply nodded and rose, and in silence they walked towards the Houses. Only when they stopped in front of her room to take leave of each other, did he start to speak, his voice little more than a coarse whisper.

"I have to thank you, Éowyn, for this morning you have helped me to acknowledge a truth I have known, but up to now tried to suppress. I have never spoken to anyone about my brother and Théodred the way I did to you, for apart from the necessity to keep the core of their relationship secret, I would have lacked the words. I would have resorted to expressions like "close friendship", "brothers in arms", knowing that these words covered but part of what they were for each other... Lovers."

She could see how much effort the use of the last word cost him, despite all his insight and understanding, but the contempt flaring up in her mind was immediately quenched. He was trying. Trying seriously to overcome an opinion that had been established in him from early childhood... Was trying to overcome it for the sake of a brother he loved. He deserved better than scorn. Following a sudden impulse, she reached out, touching his lower arm. "My Lord Faramir, believe me, whatever laws and traditions kept them apart in this Middle-Earth, they are together now, feasting in the Hall of the Warriors and riding the ever-green plains of Héahwang."

He took her hand, and she expected him to kiss it in courtly politeness, but to her utter surprise he pressed his cheek into her palm, like a child, longing for his mother's caress, before turning her hand and kissing her knuckles. "Thank you, Éowyn, White Lady of Rohan. I cannot tell if you are right, but you have eased my heart more than anything and anybody these last twenty years."

His voice was thick with emotion, and he did not let go of her hand. Feeling unable to pull it away she looked at his thumb, stared at the polished nail, while she felt its calluses rasp over her skin, as the Steward stroked her knuckles in tiny circles. But when she raised her head to avoid the unnerving contradiction of these sensations, their eyes locked, and for the first time his eyes were not just a reminiscence of men she had held in her heart and lost, but his and only his, and she felt able to meet their grey depth without grief.

Annotations:

Héahwang: (Old English/Rohirric) héah: high, holy ; wang: plain, meadow

My invention. With all due respect to the Nordic idea of Valhalla, I just cannot imagine any Rohir being satisfied if the otherworldly premises do not provide any places fit for a good hack. ;)

Eärnur: The thirty-third and last King of Gondor. He disappeared into Mordor, having accepted a challenge to a duel by Sauron. After his disappearance, the Stewards ruled in his name for many generations.

"Eärnur was a man like his father in valour, but not in wisdom. He was a man of strong body and hot mood; but he would take no wife, for his only pleasure was in fighting, or in the exercise of arms." quoted from:The Return of the King, Appendix A, by J.R.R. Tolkien


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