Through Shadows

Chapter 29

Chapter 29

Snow Peas

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,

Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

quoted from: The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers, Book VI by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 4th April 3019, Third Age

"Oh, how beautiful!" Tordes' voice was little more than a whisper as she looked with open admiration at the little phial Éowyn had handed her. Made of blue glass, it displayed different shades of the colour from glowing dark to cerulean, depending on the thickness of the glass. Around the tiny vessel, from its round lower part to the narrow neck, ran a spiral of gold, ending in the gilded glass stopper of the phial.

"Just a drop, they told me in the shop," Éowyn reminded her. Tordes nodded, and tipping the phial to wet the stopper, she told Éowyn to turn.

"This should be placed where the blood runs close under your skin, my lady. Let me apply a drop on your carotid."

The touch of the cool glass felt strange and Éowyn wondered if such a small amount of fragrance could really be smelled. She frowned. What had got into her that she cared at all? And yet she could not deny that she felt excited, wondering if the Steward... if the Lord Faramir would recognise the ingredients he had judged to be a mirror of her character. How childish! And yet, would not everybody be delighted to learn that their advice was heeded, taking it for an encouragement? And did he not deserve any encouragement that could be given with all the responsibilities that lay on his shoulders?

Smiling, Tordes put the stopper back on the phial. "That truly is a wonderful fragrance, my lady. And it will not clash with the lemon oil I used for your hair."

Éowyn nodded, touching the pinned up braids over her ear. Following a sudden impulse, she held her hand, palm upwards, out to Tordes. "Just put another drop on my wrist, will you?" She felt relieved that the woman immediately complied with her demand and then reached for the shawl, Éowyn had decided to wear that morning. Thus Tordes had probably not seen the blush rising into her cheeks. Grimacing at her own foolishness, Éowyn let the woman put the soft shawl around her shoulders and then headed for the door.

In the corridor she paused for a moment and heaved a breath. She had to compose herself. It simply would not do to enter the garden skipping like a frolicking filly. Stealthily, she raised her wrist to her nose. Yes, the scent was unmistakably there, and he would certainly notice it when kissing her hand. Smiling, she stepped out into the ambulatory, envisioning with happy anticipation how his eyes would light up.

She knew that something was wrong the moment she spotted Beregond standing between the columns. Seeing her, he saluted. "The Lord Faramir bid me to express his regret for not being able to be present, my lady, and to supply you with anything you wish for to break your fast."

Éowyn swallowed, trying hard not to let her disappointment show. Contradicting his soldiery bearing, Beregond's face clearly showed his awkward feelings and she did not want to add to them. Her expression as nondescript as possible, she said: "I certainly understand that being Steward of Gondor in such unsettled times, the Lord Faramir has to see to his duties."

"My lady, it is not just any duty, but the Lord Radhruin berthed at the Harlond well before sunrise and sent word to the Steward that he was severely wounded and would like the chance to see a healer before being transported up to the city but had urgent need to talk to the Steward."

Despite her dampened mood Éowyn could not help a smile at Beregond's bristling defence of his lord. No, this man would never make a proper servant. But right he was to stick up for the Steward. Did she not know herself that the Lord Faramir would not have gone and left her behind had things not been urgent? The thought of being left behind was nothing she enjoyed, but it sobered her enough to push her emotions to the back of her mind. Smiling, she addressed the man. "That I do not doubt, Beregond. But I am also convinced that there are more important duties for you to see to than waiting on me at breakfast. Tell the Lord Steward I thank him for his kind consideration, but I think I will have breakfast later in my room."

"Not even a cup of tea, my lady?" Beregond's voice gave away his unease.

Realising, that he did not want to completely fail to conduct his lord's orders, Éowyn inclined her head. "Yes, a cup of tea certainly will be nice. I'll take it in the alcove as soon as you've prepared it."

Bowing, Beregond headed for the Houses and Éowyn walked over to the wall. Feeling the wind would do her good and certainly clear her muddled thoughts. Radhruin of Pelargir... And eager to talk to the Steward. Thoughtfully she tapped her front teeth with her knuckles. So certainly there was important news from the coast, from Pelargir or perhaps even from Tolfalas. And with the man being wounded there must have been some fighting... A clash with fleeing corsairs? Faramir had told her that some of them had managed to escape their destruction at Pelargir. But would news of that really come that late? Probably not. Unless the Lord of Pelargir had purposefully withheld crucial information. In which case Radhruin would act against his father's plans. Éowyn frowned. Not entirely unbelievable, given the information she had got from Faramir about both men's characters and ambitions.

Slowly she walked along the parapet. If Radhruin was loyal, and Faramir had not doubted him in the least, and more so if he was Amrothos' friend and had an eye on his friend's sister it would certainly make sense if he cared for Tolfalas' fate, the large island not only being something of an outer bulwark of Gondor but also the Princess Geliris' homeland. And if captains at sea used their ships similar to éoreds on land as Faramir had explained to her it would have made sense not to attack the island directly on the way to Pelargir but rather go for the more important town first, especially as it would free the way upriver towards Minas Tirith. But certainly the corsairs would have left some ships behind to make sure that nobody left the island to attack them from the rear.

Éowyn shook her head. Even with what Faramir had told her about warfare at sea she did not know enough to judge the situation. She would have to wait for her next meeting with the Steward to learn about Radhruin's tidings. How ridiculous that the moment such important things happened her own concern seemed to be what to wear at tomorrow's feast.

Frustrated, she let out a long sigh. The Lady Saelind had been most understanding and entertaining, but also keen in pointing out the importance of the impression she made on the Gondorean nobles that were invited. Not all families had come back yet, and most of the lords were at Cormallen, but some of the most important courtiers would be present, as well as the ladies of the four leading families.

Elfhelm was to accompany her, together with three of his captains, and she was sure that they at least would be impressive enough. She wished she too could simply show up in polished mail and have done with all these dresses and frippery she was expected to care about. Not that Lady Saelind didn't have excellent taste. They had very quickly agreed on the general line of Éowyn's outfit, and Saelind had understood why only white would be acceptable, but the seamstress the lady had brought with her had even been worse than Ioreth with her endless prattle.

"Take it as a preparation for battle, Lady Éowyn, for not much more intelligent chatter you'll get from most of them. And as she talks for three, you can imagine yourself in a crowd of Gondorean ladies." Saelind's sarcasm had been refreshing, but also Éowyn had to admit that the seamstress knew her trade and had great expertise so her suggestions had made sense. In the end they had agreed that the lady would rifle through her wardrobe, asking her relatives to do the same to find an assortment of white garb, and then they would decide what suited her best and what changes had to be made on the dress for it to fit perfectly.

Down in the garden Beregond was laying the small table in the alcove, and without much enthusiasm Éowyn walked back to the stair. She had better not keep the poor man waiting.

Soon she sat in the familiar alcove, sipping the hibiscus tea Beregond had poured for her. The tea was as fruity and tasty as always and yet it was not the same. Suppressing a groan, she felt like kicking herself. How could she have become that pathetic, just because... She stopped, her cup in mid-air. She simply couldn't help it. She missed him, his silent half-smile, his wry banter, his eyes, grey and serious, looking at her over the brim of his cup.

Embarrassed she noticed that Beregond flinched when she put down the cup a bit too brusquely, but she avoided looking into his direction, staring into her cup instead. When had it happened that the Steward had become so important to her? How could she have let him...? She paused, frowning. Let him what? True, she missed him, but was that not natural after all the time they had spent together, all the personal secrets they had shared? With their suffering emanating from the same cause, they had come close, there was nothing surprising about that. And yet... What would it feel like to know there would be no other morning together on the ramparts, no other breakfast shared? What would happen when she left for the Mark?

Pulling herself together, Éowyn emptied her cup. It was useless to get pathetic. She had known from the very beginning that they were only keeping each other company for a limited space of time, helping each other to overcome their illness. And the Steward had known it, too. So there was no need to moan. She squared her shoulders in an attempt to convince herself, when from somewhere in the back of her mind a question rose: Would he miss her the same way she missed him? She angrily shook her head. That was certainly none of her business. He was a grown man and not obligated in any way towards her.

"A second cup, my lady?" Asking her, Beregond raised the teapot. She shook her head and rose.

"No, thank you. I think I'll retire to my room."

He bowed and cleared the table, and hearing the soft clinking of the crockery, she could not help the impression that he was gathering the shards of her unacknowledged dream.

When Éowyn entered her room she was relieved that Tordes had already finished tidying and cleaning the room and had left. She needed time on her own, time to sort herself, but she could not find the necessary concentration and so finally reached for the iron rod to do some training. For some time she exercised with grim determination, but only a slight exhaustion ensued, a far cry from the mental balance she had wanted to achieve. Frustrated, she drank a cup of water, washed her face and hand and was just about to slump down on her bed when the morning she had spent in the healers' garden came to her mind. At least going there would provide some distraction, and if Glendis was planting again even some useful occupation. Swiftly she left the room, feeling strangely revived now she had an aim.

The healers' garden lay peacefully in the morning sun. At once she spotted Ioreth's cousin sitting on the wooden bench in front of one of the small houses, a quite large copper watering can at her feet. The old woman had obviously filled the can at the barrel beside her, as the lid was still folded back and now she sat with closed eyes, enjoying the warming rays.

Passing by the open shed, Éowyn unceremoniously grabbed one of the coarse brown aprons before she greeted the crone. "Good morning, Glendis."

The woman opened her eyes, and Éowyn was shocked how bleary they seemed to have got in but a few days. The intriguing colour was still there, but the sparkle had gone, being replaced by the impression of profound tiredness. Recognising her, Glendis nodded her acknowledgement and rose, reaching for the watering can. Swiftly Éowyn grabbed the can, smiling encouragingly. "Just tell me, Ealder Modor, where you want it."

The old woman motioned over to the left, where near the wall a garden line stretched across one of the vegetable beds and a wooden rake lay on the narrow path. Éowyn smiled, remembering Berhtulf's story about fixing the crone's rake, but when she made to walk over, she was stopped by Glendis hoarse voice. "The apron first. Just turn and let me fix it."

At least Glendis' determination had not changed, and obediently Éowyn turned. Finally lifting the can, she found it surprisingly light, and peeping into the opening, she saw it was only a quarter filled. She said nothing, not knowing how much water the old woman needed or how much there was in the barrel. Slowly, Glendis walked over to the vegetable bed, and Éowyn was shocked by how slow she moved and how much just the simple act of walking seemed to strain Ioreth's cousin. How could someone get so frail in such a short time? All of a sudden she understood the dimension of Ioreth's fear. There was no doubt that Glendis was dying, not in any spectacular way, just slipping away after a long, industrious life.

Looking down on the woman shuffling along the garden path in front of her, Éowyn wondered how old Glendis was. And being Ioreth's cousin, how many years had these two been living together? Working together, sharing joy and sorrow? The fear of being left being no doubt had many faces.

They reached the vegetable bed, and Éowyn found that Glendis had raked four sallow furrows into it with the help of the garden line. The old woman pointed at the small basket filled with peas that stood on the path. "Water the furrows, and then I'll sow them."

With a pang, Éowyn realise that the old woman simply had not been able to carry more water at a time. Swiftly she emptied the can and then went to refill it, while Glendis' gnarled fingers distributed the peas, most certainly the last harvest she would provide for in her life.

It did not take them long to finish the bed, and putting the last pulse down, the old healer gave Éowyn an appraising look. "What kind of shoes do you wear?"

Instead of an answer, Éowyn lifted her gown, holding her foot out for examination. With a grin, Glendis nodded. "Sturdy enough. Now, just tap them down a bit with your foot. But gently. I'll rake them in behind you."

When they had finished, the healer went to the next bed. There were only a few peas left, and taking the rake to prepare the furrows, Éowyn asked: "Have you got more in the shed? Shall I get them for you?"

The old woman shook her head. "No. Walking does my old joints good. Weight is the problem, and putting pressure on the rake." With a nod, she went to the shed, purposeful but incredibly slowly, and when she finally came back with the filled basket, Éowyn had already drawn and watered all four furrows.

Smiling, Glendis started to sow. "They're snow peas. Lovely fare. One can eat the whole pod, raw and cooked alike." She stopped, her smile deepening. "It's her favourite vegetable. Ioreth's I mean. Just a pity I will not see her eat them anymore. But I think there's a time for everything. And the idea of leaving a planted garden behind is soothing. I'll be with them when they harvest."

To be remembered by those left behind... Éowyn looked around, taking in every bed, every planted patch, the espalier trees along the walls. Yes, Glendis certainly would be remembered by her hands' work, her care for the others and the soil she loved. Taking the garden line over to the next vegetable bed, Éowyn could not help the feeling of something like envy. To be remembered...

What would she leave behind to be remembered, here in the City of Stones? True, there certainly would be songs of her valour, smiting the Witch King of Angmar, the Dark Lord's mightiest captain, a brave deed any warrior could be proud of, and yet it suddenly did not hold much of the sweetness she had expected it to provide. There would be nothing concrete, nothing alive to remember her by. What an idiotic notion. She was the highest ranking woman of her people and here she stood, envying an old, dying woman for her foresight to leave behind a well-planted garden.

And then she remembered Salubrūn. When would the horse arrive? Ceadda had left but five days ago, so with consideration to the injured horses he no way could have reached Aldburg yet. And then he had to distribute the horses first, perhaps even drive them to pasture in the East Emnet, if the Entford ran low enough for crossing that was, and if the plains had been cleared of any orc hordes that might have been roaming there. And who knew how long it would take him to convince Hrodwyn to part with the horse. The ride to Mundburg certainly would be swift, but still the end of the month was more likely than anything else. And it would be a gelding. An excellent mount, no doubt, but nothing that would endure for more than some years, a decade, perhaps even two, and then there would be nothing. Nothing except the mantle and the dagger she had promised to keep for Faramir's children.

Hefting the rake, she pressed the shaft against her hip to keep it from wobbling, and pressing down the edge of the wooden rake, she drew the first furrow. A grim smile stole onto her face. Who would have thought that planting peas would prove quite a demanding training for her sword-arm, yet she could not help her thoughts returning to her former topic. Faramir's children... Perhaps she would travel one day to Emyn Arnen to give those heirlooms to them. Dark-haired children. And a dark-haired woman would tend the gardens that ran down the slope of the hill to the river and smile at the man wearing a blue tunic edged with red.

Cursing inwardly at her own pathetic mood, she drew the second furrow. She had not died. She would go back to the Mark. She had a duty. Stubbornly she pressed her lips to a thin line and continued her work. She probably would not feel that poorly had not Éomer that oaf written that damned letter. Perhaps she should really go to Cormallen and kick his shins in front of all those splendid knights of Gondor. That would certainly cure Erchiron from any plans of marrying her, if he ever had had them. With a shudder she remembered what Faramir had told her about Denethor's plan concerning her and his first-born. To imagine she would be Boromir's wife, had he succeeded! Boromir's widow, she corrected herself. A widow for the third time, a pawn to be given to the next man to buy his loyalty.

Having finished the furrows, she went to the water barrel again, shaking her head to get rid of her gloomy thoughts. She would leave the city. And she certainly would be remembered, but as certainly she would not be missed.

It took them two more beds to sow all the peas Glendis had brought and the old woman seemed visibly pleased with their progress.

"Anything else you want to sow?"

Glendis nodded. "Beans. But first we'll have breakfast." Without a second look at Éowyn she headed towards the house she had been sitting in front of, put the empty basket and her apron on the bench and then fished a sallow pail from under it. Pouring some water into the pail, she carefully washed her hands and then motioned to Éowyn to do the same.

Once a healer, always a healer. Éowyn grinned. How often had she noticed those healers here in the Houses wash their hands and urging their patients to do the same. Wordless, Glendis then helped her out of the apron, and motioning to her invitingly, opened the door.

Following the old woman, Éowyn stepped right into a small kitchen, with another door standing ajar on the left side, leading into what seemed to be a small sleeping room. Only when she closed the door, Éowyn saw the steep stair on the right, probably leading up to another sleeping room or some kind of attic. The space below the stair was filled by a low shelf, reaching up to the small window, while a higher one ran along the right wall, only leaving enough space for a fireplace at the back of the room. On a rack beside it all kinds of kitchen utensils were placed. The space on the left side of the room was taken by a small table, a bench along the wall and two stools. Everything was clean, table and stools scrubbed white, and a thick woollen seat pad of a rich yellow on the bench added colour and cosiness.

Glendis motioned to Éowyn to sit down and then puttered around, stoking up the fire and putting a small kettle to the boil. Reaching for the teapot, she gave Éowyn a questioning side glance. "Peppermint?"

Éowyn just nodded, and soon the two women sat at the table, mugs with aromatic tea and a wooden plate holding a couple of rusks in front of them. Only now Éowyn felt how hungry she was. The hard rusk had a nice taste, and cracked and crunched when she chewed it, while Glendis dipped hers into her tea, nibbling off the softened edges.

Letting her eyes wander around the small room, Éowyn wondered who the old healer shared it with. Ioreth, to be sure, but she did not remember if Berhtulf had said anything about others. When she finally asked, Glendis only shrugged. "Why, Mareth and little Anwen. Not too bad, though Mareth can be a bitch sometimes."

Carefully schooling her features, Éowyn nodded. "Women tend to be sometimes."

The old woman chuckled, but did not answer. Sipping her tea, Éowyn tried to imagine what the women's life had been like all those years they had lived and worked in the Houses of Healing. True, the little house seemed cosy though simple and was certainly better than what some of the healers who lived here would have been able to achieve anywhere else. And their work was useful and approved. And they were cared for, were never lonely... But what price did the men and women who had devoted their life to healing pay for it! Were they ever allowed to leave the Houses for at least a short time, to visit friends or relatives? And to live without a lover's embrace! It took all her willpower not to grimace. No wonder Mareth, a strong woman in the bloom of her life, tended to be bitchy now and then.

For a split second she thought about asking if the Westron word held the same double meaning as bicce in the language of the Mark, but recalling the healers' vow, she let it be. That certainly was nothing to ask a woman who had sworn to live a chaste life. Absentmindedly she took a second rusk when Glendis shoved the plate into her direction.

It was spring, the Dark Lord had been thrown down, and the very air seemed to be filled with joy... And to know one would never feel the boon of passion sated, never carry the fruit of it... Shaking her head at her own thoughts, Éowyn took a bite. How could she have let the Worm govern her thoughts and emotions that profoundly, implanting the feeling of guilt like a twisting blade in her conscience? Since Erwin's death she had not lain with a man, had carefully avoided to as much as look at any man favourably, fearing that any interest she showed might be his death sentence. Numb she had been to the call of spring, her blood frozen under the traitor's evil spell.

And here she was, planting a garden in a city of stone, together with a woman who not only was dying but most probably had no offspring, no heirs of her body, but who would nevertheless be remembered by those she had cared for in their times of helplessness. How contradicting things were in Gondor... Polished fingernails on a warrior's callused hand...

"Some more tea?"

Roused from her daydreams, Éowyn blushed and shoved her mug towards the crone for a second fill, thankful that Glendis was not one given to talk and not demanding any explanation.

Sprinting the last few yards in a rather undignified way, Éowyn darted under the ambulatory of the Houses. The weather had got more and more overcast while they had been sowing the beans, and just when they had been putting away their tools, having finished everything Glendis had wanted to achieve, it had started to drizzle, much to the old woman's content. Éowyn had thought about accompanying her back to the house to make sure she did not slip, in case the way had got slippery by the rain, but that moment Anwen had arrived with a pot of chicken soup for Glendis, and Éowyn had taken the opportunity to leave. It was only when she had turned around the last corner that the rain had set in in earnest, and now it was pouring down steadily.

She turned, letting her gaze wander over the empty garden. Not only the weather but also the distribution of lunch had caused everyone to get inside, and now it was only lawn and flower beds and the trees, rustling in the breeze that had come with the rain. And then there was the smell of rain and earth. She swallowed, recalling their talk the morning after Sauron's downfall. "How do you imagine a ranger would smell?" The unreadable expression in his eyes and her answer: "Like pines and rain on parched ground."

A stronger gust made the grey curtain of rain wave and with it drifted the scent of pine. For a moment she stared at the old pine near the first alcove, the tree Faramir had said he liked most, and then she turned, rushing into the House as if fleeing an unknown danger. She had not gone far, when she heard voices from one of the side-corridors.

"Brocade, mistress Ioreth. White silver-brocade. A wonderful fabric, though certainly a bit heavy to wear. But as there will be no dancing..."

The seamstress' voice echoed down the corridor, causing Éowyn to stop in her tracks. The last person she wanted to meet that moment was that chatterbox of a seamstress, closely followed by Ioreth, and now both women were obviously coming towards her.

"What a pity she has to wear white, some other colour would bring out the unique colour of her hair much better." Ioreth's voice quivered with emotion and Éowyn could not but roll her eyes. Any moment now the two pests would come around the corner. She had to act on the spot. As silently as possible she rushed to the next door and carefully pushed the door handle. The door opened, and slipping in, Éowyn closed the door behind her. Not one moment too soon.

"As I told you, my dear, I just need another look at the splinted arm. I am not sure how we can fit the arm into the kirtle, but I'm sure with some minor changes she'll simply look splendid. The underdress is unadorned silk of an exquisite quality, one of the Lady Saelind's own dresses. It should not be too long but I would simply like..."

The steps and the voices passed and heaving a relieved breath, Éowyn turned round to have a look at the room, only to gasp with surprise. It was the Steward's room. On the small table below the window lay his note book, while the satchel hung over the backrest of one of the chairs and another chair held some cast-off clothing. She frowned. Clothing? Was he here, sleeping? Her gaze went over to the bed, and all of a sudden she could not help a wide grin. At the headboard of the bed a single foot peeped out from under the blankets. Obviously the Lord Faramir shared her preference of a direct look at the window when waking up and also slept upside down. And then the foot moved, was drawn back under the blankets as its owner turned. Éowyn held her breath. Was he waking up? Had she woken him? With a pang of guilt she bit her lip. He had been up half of the night, busy to fulfil his duties and no matter what he said, he was nowhere near to being completely healed. And she had disturbed him, just because she felt annoyed by two talkative women. The high footboard hid his face and carefully she stepped closer, ready to apologise for waking him, only to find that her misgivings were unnecessary.

He obviously slept soundly, lying on his belly, his face turned towards the wall and buried in the crook of his left arm while his right lay in a relaxed way at his side. The blanket was pulled up to under his armpits, leaving his arms and shoulders uncovered, and there was no doubt that they shared another notion: the disdain of nightgowns.

Intrigued, Éowyn stared at his naked shoulders. Well-muscled they were despite his leanness, the same as his sinewy arms, and yet there was something strange about them, something she could not grasp immediately. His sleep-tussled hair was spilling over the crook of his left arm, jet-black, reminding her of a raven's plume, and for a moment she wondered what he would look like with longer hair, the way the Eorlingas wore it. It was really strange how the Gondoreans seemed to fight the growth of their hair, cutting their head hair so short, shaving their faces and even using that hot wax Éomer had told her about. Well, at least the men did not seem to do the latter. The Steward's forearms sported a generous dusting of black hair, causing the pale scar than ran from the middle of his right lower arm to his elbow to stand out even more. Frowning, Éowyn gave it a closer look. It was almost too wide to have been caused by a knife or sword, though it clearly looked as if something had got through his defence and then skidded along the vambrace.

In contrast to his forearms, Faramir's upper arms with the finely chiselled biceps were absolutely smooth. As were his shoulders. Her gaze rested on the distinct triangles of his shoulder blade muscles, wondering how much strength it took to draw the great bows of the Rangers, when she suddenly realised what had struck her as strange: The skin on his shoulders was nearly as pale as the bed sheet. Carefully she went closer. She had seen more than one shirtless man in her life, workmen and herders in the heat of summer, her sparring partners, sloshing themselves at the water drum after training, and the new guards at Hengest Giefu, not to mention those two she had lain with, but never had she seen skin that pale. She was at a loss. Did the men of Gondor never strip? But then it had been winter, certainly no time to run around half naked, even in the warmer climate south of the White Mountains.

Transfixed she stared at his pale skin, the impression even sharpened by the sable of his hair. This truly was Stoningland, when even the flesh of its men resembled the white stone they had built their city from. The white marble of Ecthelion's tower... And yet there was a grace in the Lord Faramir's limbs that rather reminded her of the small statuette her mother had kept in her room at Aldburg. It had been little more than a foot tall, showing the figure of a dancer, her hands holding a wreath of flowers raised above her head. More than once Éowyn had stroked the polished stone, fascinated by its pale smoothness, gleaming in the sunlight that fell on it through the small windows of her mother's bower. Though made of solid stone, the small figure had almost seemed translucent. Biting her lips, Éowyn stared down at the man in front of her, raking her mind for the name of the stone, her mother once had told her.

Alabaster! That was it. Yes, rather than the marble of the city, alabaster seemed to be the material those limbs were carved from. And yet, should she touch them, they would be alive...warm...firm but nevertheless yielding to her touch ever so lightly. She swallowed... How those pale shoulders beckoned to her, invited her to trace the exquisitely sculptured muscles with her trembling fingers... So many years since she had touched a man's body in self-forgetful caress. To touch... to feel... Low in her belly sudden heat uncoiled like a grass snake in spring. Desire... Need!

With a gasp she snatched back her hand, realising what she had been about to do. How could she! Her eyes widening with alarm, she noticed the slight movement of the sleeping man. Béma, if he woke up now! Holding her breath, she hastily retreated towards the door and had almost reached it, when a drowsy voice sounded from the bed.

"Beregond, is that you?"

On the brink of panic Éowyn fled the room. Only when the door had closed behind her did she realise that the high footboard had prevented the Steward from seeing her, but that did not do much to calm her. She needed all her willpower not to run, to simply give in to the urge to hide. Forcing herself to a composed stride, she finally reached her room, and closing the door, leaned against it, closing her eyes to the turmoil inside her.

What had got into her to behave like this? She heaved a breath, trying to sort out her muddled thoughts and emotions. What embarrassed her most was not the fact that the sight of a man had stirred desire in her. Why, was that not the way Yara's circle was maintained? Was passion not Erce's boon, given to any living being? But to almost lose control... And what was worse, she had had no right to look at the Steward thus. She clenched her fist in embarrassment and frustration. She should have left the moment she had realised the Lord Faramir was there, sleeping. She had invaded his privacy, and exploited the fact that he had been sleeping, having no chance to be aware of her. She had breached his trust in her.

It was one thing to ogle a man's body on the training ground, or at the rituals, when the men displayed themselves, no doubt considering the women's admiring glances. But to drool over a sleeping man? True, she had gazed at the Steward that day she had found him sleeping on the bench in the garden, but that was open space, was public. The fact that she had sneaked into his room, had not made her presence known to him, but watched him stealthily while he slept, that was what made the difference. How would she have reacted had it been the other way round? The simple idea of being watched in her sleep made her gag, causing the face of the Worm to rise before her inner eye. And now she had not been any better.

She felt miserable. Why did it have to be him? How could she face the Steward again without giving away her shame? He had called her his friend, had trusted her as she had trusted him. She swallowed and raised her chin. She had to tell him. Tell him and then let him decide what to do. Nothing else would work amongst friends. She gritted her teeth. At least she had not really touched him. To imagine he would have woken up, finding her hands upon him!

She walked over to the bedside table to pour herself a cup of water, but found her hand trembling too much to do so without spilling some. Angrily, she shook her head. How could she let that affect her so much? She would talk to Faramir tomorrow, tell him she had sneaked into his room to avoid Ioreth... And ogled him? She hesitated. He was a Gondorean. Would he understand? What if he despised her? But how could she call him a friend without telling the truth plain and open?

She sat down on the bed. What was the truth? Why had she stayed in his room, once she had noticed he was there, sleeping? He must have been really exhausted, sleeping so soundly. And how lean he was... Not an ounce of surplus fat on those shoulders, those sinewy arms. What had he been through all those years of the constantly growing of the Dark Lord's power? How desperate he must have felt out there at the foot of those cursed shadowy ridges, facing the increasing numbers of troops that following Sauron's call, had flocked into Modor.

And here she was, discrediting their friendship by her uncontrolled desires. He certainly deserved better. Forcefully, she put down her cup on the bedside table. She would control herself, for his and for her sake. She would not give in to the folly of mooning over him, would not humiliate herself and him by behaving like she had done towards Aragorn. She...

Her heart skipped a beat, as realisation set in. She really had never seen the man for the noble heritage. Aragorn in her daydreams had been a kingly hero, a warrior, a leader. Someone to make her mind and heart giddy with admiration. But there had never been the man, the naked body, the sensual need that had made her tremble with desire. She heaved a breath. At least some problems seemed to slowly fall behind. She would continue, no matter how hard that would be. There was no hiding, no running away from problems she had created herself. She would talk to the Lord Faramir the next day, and if he could not forgive her, she would have to accept it.

Determinedly she rose. It had been stupid to hide from the seamstress in the first place, no matter how annoying the woman was. She had better seek her out now, as the dress needed to be finished by the next night. Walking towards the door, she squared her shoulders. Her appearance would be important, and it was folly to forego any possible preparation. She would show those Gondorean nobles that a Shieldmaid of the North knew to fight on more than just one kind of battlefield.


Peas are seen in a number of cultures as a symbol for offspring and fertility.

bicce: (Rohirric/Old English) bitch

Hengest Giefu: A ritual I invented in which stallions and naked warriors play the main roles. If you are interested read "A Wind from the Sea", Chapter 6

Yara: The rune symbolising the "turn", the seasons of the year

Erce: (Rohirric/Old English) The equivalent of Yavanna

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