Through Shadows

Chapter 36

Chapter 36

Onion

"Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you." Faramir to Éowyn, quoted from:The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book Fiveby J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 7th April 3019, Third Age

If there ever was a man deeply in love... Éowyn heaved a breath. Could it really be? Perhaps that sod Amrothos was just trying to get back on good terms with his cousin. But could he really have ever thought he would get a chance to talk to her? He had rather been alarmed when she had made clear that she knew about his quarrel with the Steward. She chewed the inner part of her lower lip. Perhaps he had been worried because of his mother's presence... Or perhaps even the princess had arranged them to meet on purpose and had only been pretending to be surprised? She shook her head and pulled herself together. Healthy suspicion was certainly appropriate, but it was idiotic to give in to paranoia.

She squared her shoulders and started to cross the large entrance hall, heading for the main entrance where her guards were waiting, when the door of the drawing room behind her was opened and then closed again rather forcefully.

"Lady Éowyn, please, wait." Within a second the princess appeared at Éowyn's side, her face showing anger and regret. "I am deeply sorry for my son's behaviour."

Éowyn shrugged. "I probably should not have brought the matter up, as nobody but the Steward and I knew about it, but I have to admit that your son's arrogant smile made me quarrelsome."

The princess sighed. "He certainly can drive meeker people than you mad. Now, will you not stay and have at least a cup of chai? In my room perhaps?"

Éowyn shook her head. "No, my lady. I'm sorry if I spoiled your evening, but I would prefer to go back to the Houses."

Nodding, the princess took Éowyn's arm. "As you like, my dear. Let's go then."

Puzzled, Éowyn glanced at Gelíris. "You need not accompany me, my lady."

The princess made a snorting sound. "I'm afraid I do, for otherwise I might strangle my offspring."

They walked the short distance to the Houses in silence and Éowyn was thankful to be left to her own thoughts and emotions, though when they finally reached the Houses she had come to no conclusion at all. She gazed at the building with reluctance. Being closed in would only make things worse. She needed free air, space to move, to be able to think, to sort all the information that had pelted down on her. Sensing her hesitation, Gelíris motioned towards the garden. "What about having a walk in the garden?"

Éowyn shook her head. "It will be crowded, and..." And it holds memories I don't want to be confronted with. She clenched her fist. Was she again running away from a task? Swallowing, she nodded to the princess. "You are probably right nevertheless. I don't feel like going to sit in my room at all."

"Then let's go." Without further ado the princess turned to the left, and side by side they walked around the corner of the building. As Éowyn had expected the garden was filled with men enjoying the sun, but because most of them were sitting on the benches and in the alcoves there was no hustle on the paths.

For a while neither of the two spoke, until, squeezing Éowyn's arm lightly, the princess said: "Well, can we assume that at least your question as to whether my nephew's feelings for you are true have been answered? I'm sorry it had to come out like that, but as you already said that you are willing to forgive Faramir his overbearing manner, does not at least that message ease your heart, even if you hate the messenger?"

Éowyn shrugged. "I don't hate Amrothos, my lady. As a matter of fact the reasons he gave for his stupid behaviour were exactly the ones I assumed when I first heard him utter the insults. He wanted Fa... the Steward to snap. Though I did not get his reasons right then, or rather the dimension. I mean..." I did not know that Faramir had made clear to that moron of a cousin that he... It confused her to realise that she was not even able to think the word in connection with herself. If she admitted that to be true, it would force her to see everything Faramir had done in an altogether different light. And not only that. She would have to admit that if he had believed that she knew about his feelings, he had had reasons to have read her behaviour differently. She suppressed a sigh. To be blind to the truth was one thing, but it was no use to deceive oneself once one had spied a glimpse of the possible truth.

She would have to think about the events of the last two weeks from an entirely different point of view and there was no possibility to run from this task. But she did not want to discuss it with anybody nor accept the topic being forced on her. In an attempt to steer the conversation to more general grounds she said: "I also am not principally opposed to a marriage for political reasons, though it probably happens more seldom in the Mark than in Gondor. I even know of some cases where age-old family rivalries that even had lead to feuds within the Mark were settled by intermarriage."

Gelíris shrugged. "I suppose it's no problem if both parties involved see it as a political arrangement, something they have to do out of duty and for the good of their people. In more than one case love has grown out of mutual respect by and by. The problems start when one of the persons involved really loves the other and that feeling is not returned." The statement was uttered almost casually, but Éowyn sensed the princess' enquiring side glance. She gritted her teeth. It certainly was not easy to get Gelíris off the subject, but she would not take the proffered bait. They were walking along the outer wall and to avoid any further talk, Éowyn fixed her eyes on the progress and growth in the herb beds, only to find herself painfully vividly reminded of her first walks with the Steward, when most of these beds had shown little life. At the end of the path they stopped, and the princess took the opportunity to continue their conversation.

"There have been enough rumours about Imrahil marrying me for naught but political reasons, though the phrasing Gondor's cream of nobility used was less polite: He put up with the wayward trollop to get his foot on Tolfalas and what is more, to thwart Pelargir's plans."

"But that's nonsense!" Éowyn could not help bristling. "I mean the prince..."

Gelíris laughed. "I see my nephew has let you in on the family scandals. Well, I have to admit I only heard about those rumours after the wedding and I was too sure of Imrahil's true feelings by then to care a rotten fish about any gossip. Had anyone dared to tell me any of that rubbish to my face then..." With a nonchalant expression the princess slapped the biceps of her right arm with her left hand, raising her clenched fist at the same time in a fast movement. Éowyn frowned. She had a certain notion what the gesture meant, but she could not imagine a Gondorean noble lady to state anything along these lines. A wry smile crinkled the corners of the princess' mouth when she noticed Éowyn's expression.

"Let me guess: You don't have this gesture in Rohan."

Éowyn shook her head. "No, not really."

The princess' smile turned to an impish grin. "Well, to phrase it politely: It is some kind of invitation to sit on it." She gave a throaty chuckle. "Perhaps not the conduct one expects from a Gondorean princess, but I'm afraid I'm my grandfather's pet. From a young age he not only taught me to sail and handle bow and arrow but he also took me with him when visiting sailors and fishermen. That way I learned quite a colourful variety of expressions and gestures I knew I had better hide from my dear mother."

Éowyn could not help a grin. Yes, she certainly could imagine what the princess had been like as a child: a plump little chit, with a tanned skin and a tussled braid, bursting with energy. She probably had been on a boat even before she could walk properly, as obviously theirs boats were to the people of the Falas what the horses were to the Eorlingas. Éowyn's thoughts wandered to the small sailing boats Faramir had told her about: small craft, veritable nutshells, sped on by the wind that rushed in from the vastness of the sea. She blinked, trying to fight the odd pain that assaulted her at the realisation how vivid his descriptions had been and how she had enjoyed listening to him. In a desperate attempt to push back the unbidden memories, she asked: "Was it not unusual for a lord to have a child around, especially if that child was a girl?"

Gelíris nodded. "Certainly, but my grandfather was a wise and prudent man, who had the future of Tolfalas in mind. You see, along the coast they still keep the old Númenórean customs, and that means that a daughter would inherit her father's title and also his authority to rule if there were no male heirs." She snorted derisively. "Why do you think Thólinnas of Pelargir was so keen on marrying me?"

"So you have no brothers?"

Gelíris shook her head. "No. A younger sister was born three years before I left the island, but she died as an infant, succumbing to the same illness that took my grandfather only weeks before I turned sixteen." For a moment grief and bitterness showed on the princess' face, but then she continued her tale. "From the beginning I had been a strong and healthy child, but being born instead of the long-awaited son and heir after two still-born sons, I suppose I was something of a disappointment for my parents. So my grandfather took my education in hand very early in my life. I truly loved him and was eager to learn everything he attempted to teach me. And that was many various things as I was taught everything a male heir would learn, except for the use of heavy weapons. I got a basic training in archery and in the use of knives, but I have to admit I have never really been interested in that. But I learned about the theory of warfare, about Gondor's history, and he himself taught me Sindarin. But in all the lessons there was nothing that could compete with sailing. I took to it like a gull to the wind. I learned everything about it in theory and practice: the ways of the sea and the winds, the tide and the torrents, to judge the weather and to navigate by the stars. In the end it was my grandfather's way of educating me that enabled me to escape from being married off to Thólinnas."

Éowyn nodded understandingly. "It certainly gave you the necessary self-confidence needed for such a decision."

The princess grimaced. "It certainly did. But what was more important: It gave me the means to put my decision into practise. One does not simply sail out to sea without being prepared for it unless one is a total idiot or has a death wish, and both things did not pertain to me." For a while she said nothing and then she smiled again, though rather sadly. "It's a pity Grandfather never learned of it. He certainly would have appreciated what I did, especially as he despised Thólinnas from the bottom of his heart."

"And your parents?"

"They don't like him, but Pelargir is a close neighbour and a mighty one. They were pleased and relieved when Imrahil offered for me, but I dare say they felt somewhat uneasy when he insisted on marrying me without delay, and I can only too well imagine their reaction when Elphir was born but seven months after the wedding." Gelíris shrugged. "Imrahil and I certainly provided Gondor with excellent ammunition for gossip, but Dol Amroth is simply too important for anybody to afford snubbing us, even if they wanted to. And had they known the truth about our first meeting, they certainly would have been even more scandalized, for the moment I laid eyes on Imrahil I wanted him. And I knew I would do everything to get him."

Éowyn gaped. "You...?"

The princess nodded. "I had been out at sea for almost a week, had run out of food and water, had been afraid to have been spotted by Pelargir's or my father's men, or even worse, by pirates when I noticed the sail approaching. And then it proved to be a ship from Dol Amroth and her captain was the most fascinating man I had ever seen." She smiled wryly. "Not that I had seen many. But seeing Imrahil I knew I would have him or no one in all my life. I simply knew." The princess shook her head as if even more than three decades after the event she still could not believe it.

"And he?" Éowyn almost felt ashamed at the breathlessness in her voice, but the princess merely laughed. "Oh, he was friendly enough at first. He talked to me, asked me about how I had come into the bay of Cobas Haven all the way from Langstrand, for that is what I had told his men when they took me aboard. And he had his men give me water and food. Well, and then they found the clothes and the silver and some jewels I had hidden on board the fishing boat I had cribbed and he accused me of having stolen the things."

"But could you not prove your identity to refute that accusation?" Only too well could Éowyn imagine the embarrassing situation, especially if the young Imrahil had been anything like his son, but Gelíris only shrugged.

"I informed him I would tell him everything, but only him. So he had me brought to the captain's cabin and I told him who I was and what I had done. He didn't believe a single word." Again she chuckled. "Well, it certainly was a tall story and I don't look too Númenórean when I look my best and with one week out at sea, exposed to wind and sun, I certainly did not even come near half my best. So I started to describe Tolfalas to him, my family, the palace, but he wrote it off as a cunning servant's knowledge." She wrinkled her nose, grinning broadly. "If you think Faramir was overbearing you should have seen Imrahil that day."

Éowyn frowned. "And it did not disgust you?"

"No. I'm afraid I was too young and inexperienced to judge his behaviour. He simply fascinated me and I wanted to prove that I was telling the truth. I suppose I annoyed him a lot and intrigued him at the same time. Well, and then he started to cite the Lay of the Falas in Sindarin, giving the first half of a verse and challenging me to finish it, while he was convinced that I did not even understand what he said."

"The Lay of the Falas?" Éowyn was at a loss.

"An epic poem about Uinen and Osse every child of the coast knows at least partly, though in Westron. Well, Imrahil's quoting it in the Elven language started as a challenge, developed into some kind of verbal sparring and had us ending up in his bunk after he had taught me quite a number of stanzas my tutors had given a wide berth for good reason."

Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "That was certainly fast, even by Rohirric standards."

The princess laughed. "I suppose for an experienced man like him it was more than obvious that I was absolutely inexperienced but as absolutely wanted him. I probably was the challenge he had not faced until then and he was - and is - too much of a pirate not to rise to a challenge. Though he claimed he felt he could not act otherwise and simply had to grab his luck, having caught a mermaid."

The silver mermaid in a book of poetry! Suddenly everything fell into place. Gelíris certainly could be more than sure that Imrahil would like her present. Grinning, Éowyn looked at the princess. "I bet he still calls you that."

Gelíris nodded. "So he does. But you yourself cannot really complain, as far as terms of endearment go. But it really is so much like Faramir to name you in Quenya."

Éowyn felt the heat of a fierce blush rise into her cheeks. That woman certainly kept on her track like a schooled harrier. Probably she had only told all her private adventures to lull her into confidence. And yet: Here was a chance to learn what the word meant. Swallowing her pride, Éowyn asked the princess: "Pray, my lady, tell me: What does Niquesse mean?"

"Ice flower, or if you translate it literally "ice feather". It means those beautiful frozen patterns moisture and frost can draw." Gelíris smiled. "I had never seen any until I accompanied Imrahil up the Morthond valley one winter for a boar hunt."

Seeing the chance to change the topic, Éowyn seized it. "You went boar hunting?"

Gelíris shook her head. "No, certainly not. I merely accompanied him. But it was the first time I saw ice and snow, and I have to admit it impressed me more than any boar could."

It worked! Éowyn almost sighed with relief. Now she only had to keep the princess on that track. "Do ladies in Gondor hunt at all?"

The princess nodded. "Some do. Archery is practised by many and also falconry is seen as a noble sport fit for ladies. My daughter is one of Dol Amroth's finest archers."

Éowyn frowned. "I wish I could take up some exercising and sparring. But my arm will not allow me any weapon training for a long time."

The princes raised her finely arched eyebrows. "Have you ever thought about throwing knives?"

"Throwing knives?" Éowyn had never heard about anything like that.

"It is a quite popular sport with the people of the Falas. If you want to have a try, I'll arrange for a set of proper knives and someone to teach you."

They were interrupted by a young servant girl, bobbing them a curtsey and then motioning over to the last alcove in the inner wall of the gardens, the one near the cedar. "Dinner is served, my ladies."

The small table was laid with a number of lidded bowls, a small basket covered with a white kerchief, plates and spoons and a teapot with two matching cups. Beside the alcove another servant was standing, a large basket at her feet. Surprised, Éowyn looked first at the alcove and then at the princess, but Gelíris gave her no time for any questions. Smiling, she passed her arm around Éowyn's waist, leading her to the alcove. "Come, dear. As I said: just a light meal."

Irritated at the other woman's closeness, Éowyn wriggled uncomfortably, and with a sigh the princess let go of her. "I'm sorry. Imrahil has reminded me more than once that the physical closeness people feel comfortable with differs, but I keep forgetting." With an almost rueful smile she shrugged. "People from the Falas much more frequently touch and hug than for example the folk of Minas Tirith." Seeing Éowyn's surprised gaze, she added: "Not necessary between men and women, mind you. But women amongst themselves as well as men often walk arm in arm." The spark of mischief returned to her gaze, and she winked to Éowyn. "Denethor once even complained to Adrahil that the swan-knights behaved like lovers of men, embracing and kissing each other before riding into battle. But believe me, the women of the Falas know better. But now you need to eat something, and as you did not want to stay for dinner, which I can perfectly understand, dinner has to be brought to you. Come, let's enjoy what the wizard of Dol Amroth's kitchen has provided."

They sat down and the servant uncovered the bowls. One contained small pieces of meat in a creamy sauce, the other rice which to Éowyn's utter surprise sported a bright yellow colour. The princess expressed her satisfaction. "Lamb with saffron rice. There also should be some yoghurt to go with it." She took the lid off a third bowl. "Ah, there it is. And what have we got for dessert?"

The servant lifted the kerchief. "Fruit and nut cakes, my lady, to go with the tea."

Nodding her thanks, the princess dismissed the two girls and then turned to Éowyn. "Well, do you want a cup of tea before your meal, or shall we leave it until after it?" Pointing to the teapot, she added: "It will stay hot, so the taste will not suffer."

Only now did Éowyn notice that the teapot consisted of two parts, the lower one of which being made of open-work pottery holding a small candle. Surprised she raised the pot for a closer look. "This certainly is a very practical device."

Gelíris nodded. "It's my personal teapot I use when travelling. The best ones come from Umbar, though they might originally hail from Khand as the herb does. My grandfather had a silver one which had been given to him as a wedding present by Umbar's merchants."

The dish smelled enticing and all of a sudden Éowyn realised how hungry she was. "If you don't mind I would leave the tea for later."

Nodding her accordance, the princess took one of the large spoons and ladled some rice on one of the plates and then added meat and sauce. "Have a try and see if you would like to have some yoghurt with it."

Having put the plate before Éowyn, Gelíris served herself, topping her portion with a generous help of yoghurt. Gingerly, Éowyn tried the sauce. It was mild, with a slight taste of garlic and cardamom. The meat was tender and tasting the rice she noticed its fine, savoury flavour and that it was mixed with finely chopped chives and nuts. It certainly was a delicious meal. Seeing how the princess took a bit of yoghurt with every spoonful, she gave that a try, too. Surprised at how much that addition highlighted the taste of the dish, she raised her eyebrows, which made Gelíris chuckle. "This is a typical Umbarian meal. Isn't it a nuisance to be enemy with a people who can cook like that?"

Éowyn grinned. "You would win the heart of every Hobbit in Middle-earth with that statement, my lady. But you are certainly right: People would be much better fed if enmity could be put aside. But unfortunately reality is quite different."

The princess sighed. "I really hope that new king from the North will be able to give us peace. Life is hard enough without the permanent threat of war."

For a while they ate in silence. A soothing silence, punctuated by the low clattering of the crockery when the princess opened the lids of the bowls again for a second helping while Éowyn was still occupied with her first portion. When they set their empty plates aside, Gelíris poured them the tea and shoved the basket with the cakes closer to Éowyn.

Thoughtfully, Éowyn sipped the aromatic brew. "I simply love savoury food but it is still strange to enjoy it freely and without restriction. For years I have not eaten anything strongly spiced or anything that had not been prepared by my uncle's housekeeper herself for the fear of being poisoned."

"Poisoned?" The princess frowned. "But why? I mean, who at Edoras wished you dead?"

Éowyn shook her head. "Not dead, my lady, but rather without a will of my own. We suspected the king's counsellor, one Gríma, to influence and weaken the king. The effects were clearly visible, but we never were sure if it was done by poison or by sorcery. And that's why Théodred had advised ultimate caution."

The princess put down her cup, eyeing Éowyn thoughtfully. "Does Faramir know about that?"

"I talked to him about Gríma, but I did not mention anything about the food." And Béma forbid she had, for how would he then have read her sharing breakfast with him without restraint? She even had let him feed her, having closed her eyes. Éowyn blushed, remembering the morning the Steward had brought the strawberries. Even as it was, knowing he had loved her already then gave every single word and action an entirely different meaning.

Gelíris reached for one of the cakes. "Perhaps you hinted at something in that direction and just don't remember?"

Irritated, Éowyn glared at the princess. "And what makes you think I might have?"

Gelíris shrugged. "It would perhaps explain why he was so worried when that idiot approached you with the wine."

"How's that?"

"If he knew that you had been under constant fear of being poisoned he might have thought that it would remind you of that situation and bring back ..." Abruptly, the princess stopped talking. "Pray, what did you tell me that counsellor wanted to achieve? Making you ..."

Éowyn grimaced. "Submissive to his wishes and compliant to his manipulations."

The princess stared. "You mean he..."

With a grim smile Éowyn nodded. "Gandalf Greyhame revealed that Gríma had been Saruman's tool for years, aiming at the downfall of Éorl's House. And I was to be his prize, once he had killed off the men."

"Uinen's mercy! But you said you suspected him..." Gelíris obviously was at a loss.

Éowyn shrugged. "I had know that he desired me since I stepped into maidenhood. And who knows? Perhaps the Worm even became a traitor to his king and land because he saw it as the only way to get his desire. That wizard might have trapped him when he travelled to the Westfold and read his mind and offered him something Gríma knew to be out of his reach. And perhaps Saruman sent him dreams to keep him under his sway."

And there were others who knew to read people's minds. To avoid the princess' gaze, Éowyn refilled her cup. She had almost finished it, drinking in small sips, when Gelíris spoke again, surprising her with a question. "What do you fear, Éowyn?"

For a while Éowyn did not know what to answer, was not even sure if she wanted to, but then she lifted her chin. It was a clear question, a challenge that had to be answered. "Manipulation, my lady. The bending and weakening of my will. The idea that someone can creep into my mind, reading it like an open book, changing the patterns of my thoughts, lifting the veil of my dreams and drinking the essence of my being until there is nothing left but my outer shell, a puppet doing his biding, submissive to his will and desire." She paused and heaved a breath. "They say that the Steward can read people's minds and hearts."

The princess' eyes widened in shock. "You fear he might...?" Determinedly she shook her head. "Faramir may have certain abilities in that direction, but he would never..."

Feeling her hand starting to tremble, Éowyn put down her cup. "He himself told me he learned from Greyhame, much to the indignation of his father."

Gelíris expression became pained. "I know Denethor suspected him to be close to Mithrandir, and he certainly is, but he would never do anything against your wishes, Éowyn."

Clenching her fist in her lap, Éowyn tried to compose herself. How could she have been so stupid as to let herself be dragged into this conversation? The princess was the Steward's aunt, so certainly she would excuse his behaviour. She had not excused her own son's behaviour. Surprised by the truth of the thought that so suddenly sprang up in her mind, Éowyn swallowed. "Perhaps not. But he did not even ask my wishes."

The princess mien made clear that she did not understand anything. "Would you mind explaining in more detail?"

Éowyn cleared her throat. "He made me wear Finduilas' lhawsmir without telling me what it was and what it meant. I did not know what everybody would assume seeing me wearing it."

"He did what?"

Éowyn shrugged. "I am convinced by now that he acted on the spur of the moment and that he had wanted to tell me but the circumstances prevented it. But it made me realise that so many times before he had thought to manipulate me, providing me with anything I uttered the wish for."

"Stop, Éowyn." The princess' voice was stern. "Every loving man would do his utmost to anticipate his beloved one's every wish. You cannot call that manipulation, for how else shall he show that he cares? Even the tercel woos his female by offering her his prey."

Éowyn heaved a breath, desperately attempting to at least sound calm. "Certainly, my lady. But the Steward never made clear that his intention was to woo me. I believed his presents to be tokens of friendship."

"He never made clear he was wooing you?"

Éowyn shook her head. "No, my lady. I mean, even if a man does not explicitly say the words, would he not try to show his affection, his desires in his behaviour? I know that there are differences between Gondor and the Mark and I know that the rules of decorum are much stricter in Gondor. But even within courtly etiquette there are subtle ways to show your interest. Why, he always kissed my hand. Could he not have kissed my wrist or at least my palm to signal he was aiming for more than just the display of polite manners?"

The princess was clearly puzzled, and obviously to gain time to think she raised her cup. "He did not even try to kiss you?"

"Never. That is, once he..." Recalling the incident, Éowyn grimaced. That dratted kiss! To kiss her brow, as if she was his inferior, a child or a liege being blessed by her lord and elder! She had found it infuriating then, but had let it slip, attributing his behaviour to Gondorean culture rather than deliberate condescension. "He kissed my brow the day of Sauron's downfall."

"He did what?" The princess nearly choked on her tea.

Frowning, Éowyn elucidated: "He kissed my brow when we were standing on the wall the very day the Dark Lord was defeated. I thought it odd and condescending, but then perhaps such a kiss is judged differently in Gondor."

With a sigh, Gelíris put down her cup. "Éowyn, a kiss on the brow is the only kind of kiss - except the kissing of the hand - that courtly decorum permits in public between man and woman. But it is restricted solely to the relationship of wife and husband."


Pacing the limited space of her room, Éowyn tried to sort her thoughts. She could turn it any way she wanted, if the Lady Gelíris had not told her an abominable lie there was no doubt that the Steward loved her, had loved her already as early as the 25th of March, presumably even earlier. Having his mother's mantle aired out for her must have taken some time. And if he had just acted out of pity because she had been shivering in her thin shawl? Angrily she had to admit that like the other excuses she had tried before also this one did not work. One did not give away an heirloom just because a friend felt cold, especially when one had access to any kind and quality of clothes.

The iron rod, the shoes...those were certainly gifts made for their usefulness, but the mantle... And what about the dagger? He had been surprised when she had told him about the meaning of such a gift in the Mark, so he probably had not given it with the intent of wooing her. And yet it had been an heirloom, a treasure and he had parted with it without a second of hesitation. She stifled a groan. All his presents had been something special, something that indicated at how much he had thought about what she might need and like. Even the tercel woos his female by offering her his prey. And she had taken it not realising that she had been wooed.

Everything seemed to make sense now: His telling her about Emyn Arnen, inviting her to share his dream, his drunken praise the morning after Sauron's downfall and his utter disappointment when she had tried to return dagger and mantle and he had had to realise that she had not even understood what he had taken for sure.

Seeing her behaviour now with his eyes, she almost felt desperate. Not only had they been holding hands that day on the walls, but also she had more or less snuggled into him. She clenched her fist. She had not thought about it then, it had just come so naturally, so... And that kiss! Restricted to the relation of husband and wife...Béma, how disappointed he must have been. And yet he had persisted. Carefully, mindfully, gentle as if handling a nervous mare. Until the evening of the feast...

But what had she felt for him? Her brow in a deep frown, she chewed the inner part of her lip. Friendship, no doubt. Friendship and the trust that goes with it. But was there more, had there ever been more? Had she really wanted him to be a friend, and nothing else? Or had she rather cut the wings of her wishes, playing safe by reaching for friendship even though she had sensed that she had other feelings for him? And what kind of feelings? Desire? Had not all the problems really boiled up the moment she had realised that… She bit her lip, trying to eliminate the image that rose before her inner eye. To think that she had almost touched his sleeping body, forgetting herself. What if she had done it? What if he had woken to her touch?

And his confession that he had wanted to be woken by her... The mere thought of it sent a hot shiver through her. Had he not always sought to touch her, even if he had restricted himself to courtly behaviour? And how close she had let him come, asking him to help her dress and allowing him to feed her! Had she not felt that there had been an undercurrent that was something else but friendship and only had not wanted to admit it, lest she lose him? She grimaced. Why for Erce's sake was she such a poor judge if came to the assessing of a man's interest in her?

What if Elfhelm was right and what she felt was really love? Had the marshal not been right concerning her feelings for Fréaláf? For how long had Fréa been in love with her, for how long had she secretly loved him, hiding her feelings out of fear she would lose his friendship if he knew? And how much pain had her blindness caused that poor lad. And yet, was it really the same? With a sigh she leaned against the wall, her eyes fixed on the darkening square of her window.

It had been shortly after her turning fourteen that her feelings for Fréaláf had begun to change. Not that she had understood clearly what had been going on, especially as his behaviour had remained the same wordless acceptance and brotherly care, and she had desperately fought to hide her confusion, feeling for a reason she could not explain that she might lose him if he knew. There had been days when his smile had seemed to have a deeper meaning, moments when his comradely hug had caused her breath to catch, while there had been others when everything had been as always and she had simply enjoyed his company, the two of them sitting on the fence after training, talking shop while watching the men spar.

And all this had changed as sudden and fierce as a sword thrust she had no chance to parry the morning after Fréaláf's sixteenth birthday. Always a sixteenth birthday was an occasion for feasting and merriment as it was the important day in a young Eorling's life when he would be counted among the men, and Fréaláf had been appointed to go to Aldburg as a full member of the marshal's éored positioned there.

She had not expected to meet him that early in the stables, knowing that as part of the young warrior's introduction to his new position there would be heavy drinking in the barracks after the general feast. And then some older friends would take him down to the less respectable quarters of the town, to "prove his spear", as they called it, and taunting the dishevelled new warrior the next morning had always been part of the fun.

But Fréaláf had not looked dishevelled an inch, and when she had hugged him he had smelt of soap and dubbin rather than of booze and whatever else it was that had made her wrinkle her nose at Éomer and his inseparable crony Éothain every time they had come crawling home after a night out. He had held her as usual, but then it had struck her that his arms no longer bore a boy's coltishness, and with a gasp she had realised the muscles of his back under her hands, a firm thigh brushing hers, causing a wave of heat to coil low in her belly. He had shuddered and averted his face, and then loosened her arms around him and shoved her off at half a step's distance.

How terrible she had felt, how betrayed and humiliated, wanting nothing but to run and hide her shame and yet had been unable to leave. And then she had realised that he had still held her hands, clutched them like someone drowning. And slowly, so slowly he had turned his head, his pale blue eyes filled with pain. "Don't Éowyn, please. I..." For a moment she had thought he would start to cry, but he had merely closed his eyes for a brief moment and then let go of her hands. "I will leave for Aldburg as soon as your brother is able to ride. I..." He had heaved a breath, and as if a dam had broken under the pressure of the snow melt his words had gushed forth. "Please, Éowyn, don't condemn me. I didn't mean to... I don't want to lose you. I'll try... I... I had not realised... I swear."

She had not understood his words, but his distress being so obvious, she had reached out and stroked his face, wishing to be able to make undone anything that had caused him pain. "Let us try, Fréaláf. Perhaps..."

"Perhaps what, Éowyn?" His voice had been strained, his face a tortured grimace. "Don't you understand, I… I feel like I shouldn't feel towards you. I... I want you."

She had stared at him dumbstruck, expecting to wake up any moment and then she had simply launched herself at him, laughing and crying at the same time.

Was that story really repeating itself? She heaved a breath. Things were not as simple as that. She was not fifteen any more. And for all her courage she had never been as reckless as Gelíris, who had not doubted her feelings for a single second. No, she knew about the difference of need and love, and she did not trust desire to be a basis to build her life on. And anyway her pondering was futile. She had declined the Steward's proposal, had hurt him deeply, accusing him of using witchcraft and she had returned his presents and his letter. No doubt he had changed his mind. Whatever might have been was unobtainable now. And it would be stupidity to seek him out as long as she did not even know for sure what she felt for him. What she needed to keep her from going insane was sleep.

Having made up her mind, she pushed herself off the wall. She would do as the princess had suggested and ask the healers to give her a potion. Certainly they would have something to help her sleep in the Rohirric wards, even if the apothecary was already closed and the Warden had already retired. And yet when she opened the door and slipped out into the dimly lit corridor she could not help the nagging feeling that no potion would be able to restore her peace of mind.

She was passing by the Gondorean wards on her way when the door opened and she suddenly found herself only two steps away from the man she had least expected to meet – the Steward. Her heart stopped as their gazes met. For a split second joy flashed up in his eyes like a falling star, only to be replaced by an expression of utmost sorrow. Éowyn felt her heart in her mouth. How could a man's eyes be so true and yet so sad at the same time? Unable to move, she simply stared. And then the moment was over, his expression changing to polite nothingness, impenetrable to anyone's eye. Raising his right hand to his chest, he bowed to her in the formal Gondorean way and then turned away and walked down the corridor towards the main entrance.

Annotations:

Onions have not only been used for cooking and healing since ancient times, but also have a certain symbolism, though that differs largely from continent to continent. In Europe on the one hand it was seen as a symbol of the many layers a personality could have or the many different stages a person needed to reach to achieve wisdom, but on the other hand it was also believed to provide endurance and courage and clean the blood and the mind of toxic elements.

Falas: (Sindarin) coast

Cobas Haven: The bay between Dol Amroth, the mouth of the Ringló and Calenhir in South-West Gondor.

The gesture Gelíris makes is one typical of Greece, in most cases underlined by a snarled "na..." and it means exactly was the princess says. ;)


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