Through Shadows

Chapter 37

Chapter 37


"Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten;" Faramir,

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

Minas Tirith, 8th April 3019, Third Age

She stood in absolute darkness, darkness that stretched endlessly without anything that could serve as a clue for orientation save the cold wind that blew steadily into her face. An unreliable guide. Yet it was her only lead and so she walked into it, without any hope that her steps would take her anywhere. And then it was suddenly there: A spot of light, or rather a white glimmer, far away. Faint but unwavering, it promised at least some kind of aim. She felt the urge to run, to rush there and needed all her willpower to slow her steps and continue warily in the dark on unknown ground.

Tantalisingly slow she came closer and closer to the glow, until she could make out a human form, stretched out on the ground. Standing finally beside it, she recognised it for the naked body of a man, lying face-down, his face buried in the crook of his left arm, black hair spilling over it while his right was stretched out, his fingers clenching the ground.

The light seemed to come from within the body. Not the ghastly light of a spectre, but a steady glow, allowing her to see its contours clearly. And as clearly she could see his chest move slightly in the regular rhythm of profound sleep.

A tall man, lean, though his shoulders were accentuated as were his arms. No doubt a warrior. And suddenly she knew that he was an archer, knew he smelled of pine wood and rain. But as much as she searched her mind she could not remember his name. Her thoughts whirled. And then she felt something around her neck, something cold and cutting, like an assassin's wire to strangle her. Choking, she desperately tried to get hold of it, to get her fingers under the strangling cord. Managing at last, she ripped it off with one swift pull, and looking down at her hands, she found herself clutching a most beautiful and precious necklace, shimmering in the white light that emanated from the body. Slowly she opened her hands. Dark-blue sapphires set in mithril, framed by sparkling aquamarine and translucent mountain crystal.

And then the necklace dissolved, liquid metal seeping through her fingers, cold as glacier water, and the precious stones, freed from their settings, started to drop on the sleeping body at her feet. For a moment they lay on the man's back, glimmering in the light of his body and then to her utmost horror they started to sink into it, eating into it like sparks from and unguarded fire. But there was no smoke, no blood, no reaction by the sleeping man.

She wanted to scream, to shake the man to alert him to what was happening to him, but no sound escaped her throat and no limb she could move. Like a statue made of stone she stood, watching the holes grow, swallowing the flesh, the light, reducing it to black and cold nothingness. Panic seized her. He would dissolve, disappear, and the light she had found in this desert of icy darkness would burn out. The wind that had died down as soon as she had spotted the shimmering form rose again, growing stronger until icy gusts lashed at her, strangely enough without any sound. Her legs gave way and shaking with cold and fear she fell to her knees at the side of the slowly dissolving form. She needed to do something. She needed to stop this, to wake him. His name... She needed to remember his name.

Again she tried to reach out in a desperate attempt to touch him, but her limbs did not obey her. In the ever fainter glow of the disappearing body she stared at her hand, or rather at where her hand had been, for there was nothing but formless, empty skin, her flesh slowly dripping to the ground, melting.

Éowyn woke choking, her hand clutched into the sheets. With an effort she sat up. Her entire body was covered in sweat and given the dull pain she felt, her broken arm had obviously twisted in her sleep. Breathing through her nose, she managed to get her panting under control gradually, and as soon as she felt quiet enough she forced herself to remember the details of her nightmare. There had been the empty plain as always, the icy wind, the forlornness... All those elements she knew. And the others? With a groan she pulled the sheets up to her chin. It did not need much imagination to grasp whose naked body she had found in the deadly desert of her dreams. And whose name she had not been able to remember although obviously so much had depended on it. The gemstones were more than obvious, too. But why had they been made into a necklace, strangling her? And again that terrible sensation of melting...

What do you fear, Éowyn? The Lady Gelíris' words came to her mind. She should not have taken the lady's charm. Had she not known only too well that it might intensify her dreams? Groping under her pillow, Éowyn found the small bundle of mugwort, sewn in an envelope of fine lawn. Three sprigs. Even through the fine cloth she could feel the typical nubs of the blossoms. Mugwort, the first of the sublime herbs, warding off demons and protecting travellers. She had better give it back to the princess. As Gelíris wanted to continue to Cormallen, her journey had not yet come to an end and then there was the way back to Dol Amroth... Nevertheless Gelíris had not hesitated a second and given her the charm the very moment she had learned about her fears. Éowyn sighed. Who knew? Perhaps the charm had really calmed her somehow and it had been because of its warding power that she had finally fallen asleep.

And yet, awake or asleep her thoughts had revolved around the events of the last days. Her fears...and that man. Angry with her own trepidation and indecisiveness, she pushed the sheets aside and rose. Had she not trusted him before she had hit on the idea that he might be able to steal into her dreams?

There was no doubt: Faramir had been in her dreams, in her nightmares, and not for the first time. And yet Gelíris was right: Her fears made no sense. For what aim should he be haunting her if he wanted her to love him? True, he had not been honest to her when he had made her wear his mother's headgear, but with what she had learned, could it not be that Elfhelm was right that it had been too great a temptation?

She gritted her teeth. The Steward had treated her like a thing, a piece of booty he had been eager to secure. But with the utter panic she had felt the night after the feast having ebbed away she knew for sure: He was nothing like the Worm to whom she had meant but a token to crown his treachery with, satisfying his vile appetite on her like a carrion bird would on the dead flesh of the warriors.

Thoughtfully she went over to the washstand. She filled the basin with water and wriggled out of the sweat-soaked nightgown. Then she started to wash herself, using the discarded gown as a rug. It was still dark and the air streaming in through the open window was chill, making her skin crawl. Rubbing the wash-cloth vigorously across her skin, she made another attempt to get her thoughts straight.

She had mentioned the abyss to him the day the Dark One had been thrown down. And not only that. She had also spoken about her inability to turn, had confessed that she had not known whether there had been light behind her. And had he not told her about the terrible dream of Númenor drowning that haunted him? How could she have forgotten? Angrily she threw the wash-cloth into the basin. She had snapped at him like a nervous dog, fearful of its master's whip.

The sheets were clammy from her sweat and she decided she has better get dressed. In the darkness of her room she felt for her clothes on the wicker chair. She would not bother with a chemise or the kirtle which she could not don without help. The underdress would have to suffice, and over it she could put on the lounging robe. That voluminous garment would easily cover her completely.

It took her quite a time to get dressed and more than once she cursed under her breath at how much her broken arm hampered her. But all the time her thoughts went back to what she might have told him, what he might have guessed from hints she might have given unintentionally. In the end she slumped down on the bed. They had spoken about the eternal snowfields that covered the mountain tops, the glaciers that sent their icy tongues down into the valleys. It had been the day when she had told him about the glacier crowfoot. But she was sure that she had never mentioned the sensation of melting.

Thoughtfully, she knocked her front teeth with her knuckles. Had perhaps that conversation caused him to write that poem, calling her Ice-flower? She wished she could go and ask him, plain and clear. But then, what use would that be? Had he not signalled to her that he did not want to have anything to do with her anymore? Had he not left without saying a single word?

She grimaced. From an objective point of view, his cool politeness and restraint had made clear that he did not wish to talk to her. What an easy way that provided out of all her emotional chaos! Everything was settled and over. And yet she knew she would be deceiving herself. Yes, he had been cold. Cold and composed, his eyes like granite, grey and expressionless. Save for the first second, when her sudden appearance in front of him had taken him by surprise. She heaved a breath. How could it be that just a short glimpse of uncontrolled emotion left her shaken to the core? And she was not even sure what pained her more: the brief flare of joy or the abysmal sadness in his eyes just before he had regained his composure as if a vizor had been shut abruptly in the face of an opponent. Was she really that to him? Had her lashing out at him in her anger and fear truly turned his care into enmity?

She clenched her fist. She did not depend on him. It did not matter what he felt for her. Soon she would leave for the Mark and...

It was futile. She could not lie to herself. She still was not sure what she felt for him even if she had overcome the fear that he was manipulating her. But she knew with absolute clearness that she did not want him to suffer. She bit her lip. Was that pity? Was she really pitying such an accomplished warrior, such an honourable lord? How could that be? Was not pity for the feeble? And how could pity feel as if a giant's fist was slowly compressing one's heart till the pain seemed to fill one's entire being?

Ever so slightly the dark square of the window started to turn grey. Grey like his eyes, sad and forlorn. And yet that man was fulfilling his duty, was exercising his authority as the Steward of the realm, the leader of his people. And more than that, for had he not been visiting his wounded chief archer when she had run into him last night? How could a man care that much? No, he certainly deserved better than pity. Appreciation, praise, even admiration, but certainly not the odd feeling she had whenever she thought of him.

Resolutely she stood and made for the door. She needed to walk to get some order in her scattered thoughts. And she needed to find out what she felt, no matter if his feelings for her had changed.

Barefoot she walked along the corridor, remembering the night she had walked it likewise, sleepless and lonely, thinking herself to be nothing but a pawn in the gods' game of chess. She squared her shoulders. She would not shrink from whatever fate dealt out to her. She had misjudged, she had hurt a man who - no matter how inappropriate his demeanour had been – had certainly not meant her harm. But she would put things straight. She only had to sort out first what actually had happened and when and where they had started to misunderstand each other. And to recall that she would walk the paths they had walked together, no matter how painful that might turn out in the end. She simply owed that to him.

Only when the garden was slowly getting rather crowded with patients enjoying a short walk in the spring sun did she return to the Houses. She had paced along the paved paths for hours, had climbed the wall, had even sat down in the alcove in which she had shared breakfast with Faramir, scouring her mind for any detail she could manage to recall, examining and judging everything on the premise that he had been wooing her. More than once she had shaken her head, assaulted by disbelief and doubt, and yet she had the feeling that all in all she had been able to grasp what probably had made him believe that she had at last understood his intention, had even agreed with it. The only thing was that she had not come a single step closer to solving what she herself felt for him.

Unsure what to do, she turned under the ambulatory for a last look back into the garden. Her genuine aversion for the straight paths and the regular squares had not ceased, but she was able now to see what good they held. And yet, besides the open sky the most important thing about the garden were her memories. It had been here that he had told her he had missed her. And had she not missed him, too? Angrily she shook her head. She was manoeuvring herself into the very same deadlock she had tried to escape from for the last hours. Perhaps she had better go back to her room and get dressed properly before she decided what to do next.

She was not sure what had made her stop before that door on her way back. But once she stood there the idea could not be suppressed anymore: Perhaps his room would bring her the impetus she needed to understand herself. Slowly she opened the door. Her first impression was one of impeccable cleanliness. It seemed as if the ever-present white of the Houses had come to perfection in this room. Someone had removed the chairs but for two which stood neatly arranged at the opposite sides of the small table. No maps, books or writing utensils cluttered its polished surface, no traces hinted at the delicious meal they had shared here, the wine they had drunk. Her gaze wandered over to the bed. The sheets were absolutely pristine, pulled straight and folded back, covering the upper end of the blanket. Éowyn grimaced. The pillow lay where it was supposed to be, orderly arranged and as white as everything else.

Heaving a breath, she turned. This room held nothing that reminded her of the man who had occupied it for the last two weeks. It was like any other room in the Houses: clean, white, its soul gone with its inhabitant. Slowly she pulled the door shut behind her.

It was late in the afternoon when she finally left her room again. A note from Gelíris had arrived, inquiring after her well-being and the Warden had again looked in at her, advising her to try a cure with amber tincture to lighten her mood. She grimaced. What did one expect from an old apothecary? Once Tórdes had helped her to dress properly she had rather tried to regain her equilibrium her own way, exercising and pacing the room, but it had only strengthened the feeling of being caged. Desperate to get out into the open and yet reluctant to walk in the highly frequented garden, she had decided to visit the healers' garden once again and soon she stood in front of the sturdy larch-wood door.

Hesitantly she opened it and peeked into the premises. Not far from her, a grey-clad figure was crouching beside a bed holding the first tender little grey-green melde plants. Éowyn could not help a grin. At least here would be an alternative to the chard Faramir did not like. She stepped into the garden, closing the door behind her, and the woman who had been busy weeding looked up. It was Anwen, wearing one of the coarse brown aprons over her grey dress. Her head was uncovered, and her dark hair was plaited in two long braids, hanging down her back.

"My lady." Wiping her dirty fingers on her apron, the girl rose and bobbed Éowyn a curtsey.

"You are not in the wards?" Éowyn cringed inwardly, noticing that she had stated the obvious, but the girl only nodded and pointed over to the houses. Only now Éowyn beheld the pallet on one of the small paved terraces. On high-piled pillows to ease her breathing Ioreth's cousin was bedded, her oddly coloured hair shimmering in the spring sun.

"Glendis should not be alone anymore. Being a skilled healer, Ioreth is needed in the Houses, but as there are enough women now helping in the wards and I don't want to become a healer anyway..."

"You have made up your mind? Does Lhindir know?" Éowyn found it hard not to let her disappointment show.

"Yes. I wrote to him as soon as I had come to an arrangement with Lord Baimeldir."

Éowyn was at a loss. Was that not the name Mablung had mentioned? And had not Anwen refused to leave the city with exactly that lord's household before the siege? And to tell someone such an important decision in a letter! Schooling her features and voice to stay at least polite, Éowyn shrugged. "Well, life will certainly get easier for you now."

Smiling, the girl nodded again. "Yes, it certainly will. It is just a pity my brother cannot share it with me. I would very much like to go to Ithilien at once and start working the plot I will be allotted." She gave a little, sheepish laugh. "But that is nonsense. It will probably take some time before it is safe again to settle there and then houses will have to be built first. As it is at the moment, I only know that I will get a piece of land, sufficient to support me. But when that will happen or where exactly it will be situated..." She shrugged. "So I thought it fitting to use the time to learn how to manage my own household." She shot Éowyn an insecure look. "I mean, I know how to deal with a small one, having done so for my brother and me with only the help of an old servant. But certainly that will not be enough."

"So you are going to Lord Baimeldir's to learn to be the lady of the house?" Éowyn frowned. "I cannot imagine life in the city preparing you for an estate in Ithilien, where certainly farm work will be most important."

Eagerly, the girl nodded. "That's why I'm going to stay for a year with the lord's sister in Lossarnach. She is a widow with a small manor there, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs. And also the best midwife of the area lives in her hamlet."

"You need a midwife?" Éowyn did not even try to hide her utter surprise.

Anwen blushed. "No, my lady. Certainly not. But midwifery is the only range of healing I have not had a glimpse into yet."

"But you said you don't want to be a healer. Why then..."

Nervously, the girl passed her dirty hand over her apron. "I would like to know what to do in an emergency and to be able to help. But I know that I am not up to the demands of a healer's profession. I do not shrink from sickness or death and I know I have the necessary patience to tend to people, but I could never make the necessary decisions. What if I did the wrong thing? What if someone died because of my mistake?" She shrugged. "I would hold down a wounded man's leg or even saw it off myself if someone with superior knowledge told me to, but I would never be able to decide that an amputation was necessary. The responsibility would simply drive me insane." She gave Éowyn a shy smile. "I am no leader, my lady, and I never will be. But I know that I can be a reliable helpmate. And if Lhindir should decide to settle somewhere as a healer I want to be efficient."

This girl really was a source of surprise! Trying to sound as casual as possible, Éowyn asked: "He told you about his plans?"

Anwen nodded. "Lhindir wants to finish his apprenticeship, and he will do so in the Houses, once the men come home from Cormallen. And who knows? Perhaps it's better that I won't be here to distract him."

"And you have decided to marry once he's finished?"

The blush returning to her face, Anwen shook her head. "He thinks I should lead a different life. Perhaps he is right and it was just the pressure of the circumstances, perhaps even the feeling that the world was about to end that brought us so close to one another. I'm not sure yet. But I'm not giving up that easily. We were willing to die together, should that not be enough to at least give living together a try?"

Éowyn swallowed, fighting to keep her composure. The pressure of the circumstances... Had perhaps that been the reason Faramir had fallen in love with her? But then he had not changed his mind once the danger had ceased to exist...

"Lhindir says I deserve better." Anwen grimaced. "How can he decide what is good for me? I rather believe that he fears I might regret my decision one day, and start bemoaning that I did not marry a lord who could offer me riches." The girl lifted her chin. "I need no lord, and if not riches, with the land I am to be given I will at least have enough to live a decent and useful life. A life I want him to share with me. But I cannot drag him over to Ithilien. He will have to make up his mind on his own. Though I am sure that I can make his choice a bit easier for him."

Warmth gleamed up in her large, grey eyes. "The Lord Faramir will build up his ancestral estate at Emyn Arnen. He certainly will need a good healer out there. And Lhindir not only has worked here in the Houses after the battle on the Pelennor, but now also gains experience at Cormallen. He would be very useful at Emyn Arnen, as it will certainly have barracks and forces to ensure the safety of the eastern borders."

Nodding her assent, Éowyn smiled. "Lhindir certainly is a good healer and he knows how to win the warriors' respect. Those who know him would be delighted to have him at hand. And he certainly would have a much better standing than here in the Houses."

Anwen sighed. "I cannot make a decision for him, my lady, only for myself. And if he should decide to stay in the Houses and live according to the rules, I will accept it because there is nothing else I can do. All I can do is show him that there is a different way to live for him and that I would like him to choose that way. But now I had better check again on Glendis."

Éowyn followed the girl to the terrace and while Anwen carefully washed the dirt off her hands Éowyn had a closer look at the sleeping crone.

Her short, steel-blue hair framed her tiny, wrinkled face like an ancient helmet and her eyes seemed enormous under the parchment-like closed lids. Her mouth was slightly opened, her lips dry and cracked. With a frown Éowyn listened to the rattling sound of Glendis' breath. It was not the first time in her life she had heard that sound, this shallow gargling, as if the lungs were slowly drowning in water. No, there was no doubt that Glendis was dying. Anwen appeared at her side with a bowl and a small sponge in her hand. Crouching down, she started to wet the old woman's dry lips, all the time talking to her in a soft and friendly tone, like the chatter of some overgrown bird. After a moment Glendis opened her eyes. Immediately the girl stopped. "Glendis, do you want me to get you some broth? It is ready on the shelf, I'll just have to warm it up a bit and..."

The old woman shook her head. "No, dear. No broth." Her voice was but a whisper, but even that seemed to exhaust her. For a while she closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, Éowyn knew the truth even before Glendis spoke. "Fetch me my little dove. It is time."

Anwen rose, her face showing her shakiness. The old woman had closed her eyes again, her breath laboured. Éowyn lightly touched the girl's shoulder. "What does she mean, Anwen."

"Ioreth, my lady. She wants me to fetch Ioreth. But I can't leave her alone. I..."

Indecision! The girl certainly had judged her own limits correctly. Éowyn gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. "Never you worry. Stay with Glendis. I'll go and fetch her."

It was impossible to lift her skirts in a decent way with just one hand, but Éowyn did not care. Nobody would see her on the path between the outer walls and the building. Grabbing the hem of her garment, she resolutely lifted it over her knees and ran until she reached the garden of the Houses. Here healers and uninjured men were busy helping the patients back to the building as the time for the evening meal was approaching. She almost immediately spotted Ioreth in a group of Eorlingas. The old healer was watching two Riders who carried a severely wounded man between them in a mixture of chair and stretcher like a hawk. Also Berhtulf belonged to the group. He was still favouring one leg and thus walking with a visible limp, but with the bruises that had marred his handsome face gone, he otherwise was back to his old pert self.

Seeing Éowyn, he stopped, raised his hand in a greeting and then shouted with a happy grin: "Guess what: Folcred sent me a message from Cormallen. He survived and gave me part of his loot as a present. A very beautiful Easterling dagger. Seems the boring sod wants to marry me."

The men around him laughed, the friendship of the two so contrasting young men being a constant cause for jibes, but seeing Éowyn's grave face, the young Rider immediately sobered. Before he could say anything, Éowyn addressed the old healer. "Mistress Ioreth, you had better hurry to your cousin's side. I'm afraid it is time."

For a moment Ioreth stood stunned, her mouth open as if frozen in mid-sentence, and then she started to tremble, gulping nervously. "Yes, my lady. Thank you, my lady. Yes, I will go." She made to leave, but then turned round again, looking worriedly at the man in the chair. "I cannot. I..."

Swiftly Éowyn took her hand. "Go, Ioreth. I will have an eye to him."

The moment Éowyn let go of Ioreth's hand, Berhtulf stepped up at her side, putting his arm around the old woman's shoulder. "Come now, Ealder Modor, I'll go with you."

Swiftly, Éowyn put her hand on his arm. "No, Berhtulf, stay. You are not allowed into the healers' domain by the law of the Houses and you know that."

His eyes on the old healer, Berhtulf shook his head. "She needs someone's support, Hleafdige, and I did not speak in jest when I said I will care for her as a son should."

"Let him go, Hleafdige." It was the man in the chair who had spoken, his voice low and grave. "Let him go. What is man-made law against a son's sacred duty? With so much trouble and grief in the world we would be unthankful heels if we did not reward the care we have received with as much care as we can give."

When entering her room, Éowyn's gaze immediately fell on the imperious, grey-clad form in the wicker chair. Puzzled, she almost forgot to shut the door behind her. Her face absolutely unreadable, Lady Saelind rose, nodding a greeting. "Lady Éowyn."

"Welcome, Lady Saelind."Éowyn could not help the feeling of unease. For how long had Saelind been waiting here, and why?

As if guessing Éowyn's question, the lady pointed at the small phial on the bedside table. "I came upon the perfume you must have forgotten in the dressing-room at the Steward's palace, and I thought you might have already missed it."

"Thank you, my lady, for your efforts." Motioning to the lady to be seated again, Éowyn sat down on the edge of the bed. For a moment the two women just looked at each other, both eager to give away as little as possible. Finally Éowyn shrugged. "Well, don't you think we had better speak openly to save us and anybody else involved from more misunderstandings?"

Lady Saelind nodded, her mouth a thin, determined line. "So be it. As you probably have guessed I am here on the Lord Faramir's behalf."

"He asked you to seek me out?" How ridiculously this mirrored their first meeting! Éowyn found it difficult not to smirk.

The carefully plucked bows of Saelind's eyebrows rose. "Certainly not, my lady. As a matter of fact he does not know I am here and at the moment I would prefer him not to know." Her lips twisted in a mirthless smile. "That's why I sought you out in your room. I assume it will depend on the result of our conversation whether he should learn about our talk at all."

"I see." For the first time since she had come to know Bahor's wife Éowyn felt something like discontent with the lady's behaviour. How could Saelind expect her to talk about Faramir and hide it from him? Gazing at the older woman steadily, she lifted her chin. "Please, my lady, before we go into details, let me make clear that I do not wish to play at any charades nor will I talk about the Steward behind his back. He and I had a serious disagreement as you have certainly learned, but that does not mean that I am blind to the man's honour."

Lady Saelind nodded, visibly annoyed. "Very well. It's about the letter Faramir wrote you."

Éowyn felt her hackles rise. What business did Saelind have with that? "I never read it. I sent it back unopened, together with all his presents."

"I know." Lady Saelind grimaced. "And that's where my problem starts. The morning your guards arrived at the Steward's palace I was present. I knew you had quarrelled. And as I judged you a woman of reckless temper I thought that perhaps having cooled down for some days you might see the rashness of your actions and regret them. So, to keep Faramir from unnecessary trouble just at such a crucial moment with problems and requests descending upon him from all directions, I had the basket brought to my house and stowed it away. I had wanted to talk to you after a while, but unfortunately..."

"He found the things?" Bluntly interrupting, Éowyn stopped the other woman's explanations. Reckless temper! See the rashness of her actions! She was not willing to listen to that kind of overprotecting, righteous drivel! As if the man was a boy of ten who needed to be protected from some bullying playmate! Béma, Lady Gelíris had been more than right about Saelind's week spot!

Saelind shook her head. "No. But when I went to see him about the arrangement for the king's quarters last night he told me that he had seen you."

Éowyn nodded. "I met him outside one of the Gondorean wards. But we didn't talk."

"Yes, that's what he told me. And that's also why he thought he needed a drink to be able to sleep." The lady heaved a breath. "The problem is that obviously in that letter he had not only tried to explain why he did what he did, hoping you would understand and forgive him for his rashness, but also..."

Éowyn did not believe her ears. "He told you that?"

Lady Saelind hesitated. "Yes, though I have to admit the circumstances were a bit...unusual. He seemed rather...indisposed, and..."

"Indisposed?" Éowyn frowned. He had looked tired and certainly sad, but indisposed? Had he perhaps suffered a recrudescence of the Black Breath? She swallowed, feeling her heartbeat quicken with worry.

Saelind pointedly looked at her fingernails. "I found him next to a half-filled bottle of that gruesome rotgut from Dol Amroth, the other half being doubtless inside him, given his state."

"He drank half a bottle of brandy?" Éowyn simply could not believe it. With all the tasks ahead of him to deliberately drink himself into a stupor? That was just too unlike the Steward.

Lady Saelind shook her head. "I wish it had been brandy. No, it was that indefinable swill the Prince's sailor's drink."

"Bosun's Death!"

"Don't tell me you have tried it." Lady Saelind looked truly horrified. "People have gone blind drinking it."

Éowyn shook her head. "No, I never have. The Ste... The Lord Faramir told me about it. But what has him drinking to do with me? You said that he doesn't even know I sent back his presents."

Saelind cleared her throat. "As I told you, the trouble is the letter. From what I understood of his slightly incoherent talk he had suggested in that letter that if you were not inclined to forgive him you simply should not answer to it and he had promised to you that should that be the case he would never approach you again."

Éowyn almost groaned. They might have talked last night, might have settled their differences, had not Saelind interfered! Her regret must have shown on her face, for the lady hopefully leaned over to her.

"Now, could you not write him..."

"No!" Éowyn rose, her voice cool and stern, though her heart was pounding wildly. "I will do nothing the like, my lady. I will listen to him should he want to talk to me. And if he is inclined to listen to me I will try to explain to him why I sent back his presents. Only after I had done it I learned what the Lord Faramir feels for me, has obviously felt for me for quite a time, and I highly regret having hurt him. But I will not deceive him, nor you or myself: I am not sure what I feel for him. I hold him in high esteem and I truly value his friendship. And because of that, my lady, I will not try to hide what I did: I did send his presents back and I did not open his letter. Tell him that you hid the basket to save him trouble or leave it. I will not interfere."

The longer she spoke, the more difficult did she find it to keep the quiver out of her voice. No way would she show Saelind how much her own statement unsettled her. Walking to the door, she opened it and then turned to the lady. "And now if you will excuse me, my lady. It has been an exhausting day and I have not slept too well lately. I would like to call for the woman to help me undress, and as you do not want to be seen, you had better leave."


Mugwort: I simply could not resist having Gelíris offer Éowyn a sprig of mugwort, as in ancient Europe it was believed that the potency of Mugwort was revealed to mankind by mermaids who came from the sea to present the herb. ;)

Mugwort was considered the 'universal herb for protection and prophecy' throughout the ancient world. It was used against pain and to strengthen and support healing, psychic powers and lucid dreaming and sprigs of it were hung in open doorways to ward off evil spirits. It was also known as the 'traveller's herb for protection'.

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