"Éowyn, do you not love me or will you not?"Faramir, quoted from:The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book Fiveby J.R.R. Tolkien
Minas Tirith, 9th April 3019, Third Age
"My lady." A polite bow over her hand, a courtly brush of his lips over her knuckles... Nothing out of the ordinary, but when he gazed at her there was something in his expression she could not place for sure. Éowyn hesitated. Was the set of his mouth a bit firmer than usual? And what was there in those grave, grey eyes that made her heartbeat quicken? She did not know what to say and so she mutely inclined her head. His face composed again, Faramir offered her his arm. "Shall we walk, my lady?"
Wordlessly, Éowyn put her hand in the crook of his arm and together they walked down the path along the inner wall. She felt awkward, and though she was determined to talk to him she simply did not know how to start a conversation. Their last one had ended so terribly with her hurling accusations at him... Out of the corner of her eye she peered at him and found his gaze grave and steady on herself. She slowed her pace, holding his gaze. "What are you trying to find in my face, my lord?"
For a split second she had the impression of an almost imperceptible flaring of his nostrils, but it was over too quickly for her to be sure. His face serious, he tilted his head. "The Warden is troubled by your state of health. At least that's what he told me when I met him today."
Éowyn swallowed. So Sealind had not talked to him! A strange mixture of relief and disappointment swept through her. Relief that she had not started to talk about their clash after the feast and probably embarrassed herself even further and disappointment at she did not really know what. Feigning indifference, she shrugged. "He advised me to take amber to lighten my mood. But I don't think he was otherwise worried. At least as far as I know I did not give him any reason to be."
Faramir raised his eyebrows. "So you think it would not worry a healer if his patient was listless, did not eat properly and neither slept well, but obviously had nightmares and walked the garden in solitude, shunning the company of others?"
Pulling her hand off his arm, Éowyn glared at him. "I did not expect the healers to talk about anything that concerns a patient to..." A stranger, she had wanted to say, but she couldn't bring herself to voice it.
It was Faramir's turn to shrug. "I would not say that he told me directly, my lady. It is rather what I came to understand having involved him in a conversation. I admit ordering him to observe you closely, because I could not get over my worries concerning the drugged wine you had swallowed. Brandon showed acute symptoms, having downed but one cup of it."
Éowyn snorted. "I suppose he would have shown none had your men not kept him from getting rid of it."
Faramir nodded, his expression grim. "Probably. But it truly is nothing to take lightly, my lady. As I am informed he has not recovered enough to the present day to be fit for travelling."
That made it four days. Surprised, Éowyn shook her head. "The wine was very sweet and also spiced to obscure the oily, bitter taste of henbane... But he must really have added quite an amount to cause such lasting effect."
Faramir grimaced. "I only regret I could not force some of it down his mother's throat, too."
Éowyn fought to hide a smile. So much for the cool and level-headed Gondorean Steward. But then she had seen him capable of emotion before. Schooling her voice to dispassion, she asked: "Did you tell her that they had been overheard?"
He gave a bitter laugh. "And let a trump card slip away?" He shook his head. "No, I certainly didn't. But if she has an ounce of sense she will be wary about plotting against the king again."
A group of men were slowly coming down the path in their direction and in wordless agreement they stopped talking and continued their walk. Only when the men were out of earshot did Éowyn recommence their conversation. "At least Brandon was rather plotting against the Steward, my lord. I do not think that anybody at the feast believed me to be the king's intended the moment it became clear what kind of jewel I wore."
It took Faramir a moment before he answered. "You are certainly correct, Lady Éowyn, but in the end it adds up to the same as I had made clear that I acknowledge King Elessar's claim full-heartedly. By discrediting you he would compromise me as the King's foremost supporter, thus calling my ability to judge into question."
Éowyn gritted her teeth. To be treated like a thing! A mere pawn to bring down the king but of no value in itself. She felt the Steward's gaze on herself, as if he had sensed her tension, but she looked ahead stubbornly, unable to control her anger. To her relief he made no attempt to talk to her for a while, and only when she had regained her composure he finally spoke. "I doubt we have seen the last of it. I informed Elessar about everything that has been going on and suggested that he makes Imrahil privy to it. Have you talked to anybody about it?"
Éowyn shook her head. "I do not wish to be drawn into any Gondorean machinations, my lord. I had enough of the like in the Mark."
He sighed. "I'm truly sorry about what happened, and I wish from the bottom of my heart I could have prevented you getting involved."
Éowyn shrugged. "I know, my lord. I'm just afraid that you are so used to being responsible that you cannot see that there are people who are used to acting on their own authority." He did not answer at once and she added: "And as I told you, I do not appreciate the idea that you have people telling you things about my condition."
She felt him tense at her reproach and could not help the sensation of grim satisfaction, though it evaporated as soon as he spoke again. "I assure you I would have asked you directly if I had seen any possibility of doing so, my lady. But you were utterly cross and I was worried."
Worried! In vain she reached for the contempt that word usually caused her to feel. She had seen his face that evening in front of the Gondorean ward. Had seen his hurt, his longing... If she only had talked then. She clenched her fist, hidden in the folds of her skirts. Béma, she was really becoming pathetic!
And then there was his voice again, smooth and with just the most subtle undertone of irony: "But as far as spilling the beans goes, I assume we are even now after Saelind told you about me getting drunk."
Surprised, Éowyn looked up. His face was as serious as could be, a mask of courtly politeness, but the corners of his eyes crinkled ever so lightly. His eyes... She felt her breath hitch. How could a gaze be so serious and yet hold so much warmth, so much life in its profound and steady depth? She swallowed. She wanted those eyes to smile, to laugh, this drowned joy of life to come to the surface... She wanted him to be happy. For a split second she felt the urge to grab his tunic, shake him, yell at him to smile. Embarrassed she averted her eyes, mumbling under her breath: "She told you?"
"She did indeed." His voice was sober, but she did not feel composed enough yet to look at him. After a moment he added: "I am sorry about her behaviour, Éowyn, but try to understand her. She..."
Shaking her head, Éowyn looked up. "But I do understand her. It was rather her wording that upset me and made me show her the door."
His eyebrow twitched. "Did you? She didn't tell me that."
Had she ever expected her to do so? Trying to make easy of the situation, Éowyn shrugged. At least Saelind truly had lost no time in informing the Steward about their meeting. It only remained to be seen what exactly that proud old woman had told him. "Well, in that case you had better forget that I mentioned it."
Faramir smiled. "I certainly will, my lady."
For a while they continued their walk in silence and with relief Éowyn noticed that the awkwardness of the beginning had disappeared. She almost heaved a breath. How could it make her so idiotically happy that they could walk in silence without the feeling that the unsaid words were separating them like a wall made of boulders?
When they reached the far side of the garden, shaded by the evergreen branches of the cedar, they stopped in mutual accord. Here they had spotted the blue and rose blossoms of the lungwort on their first walk, little more than two sennights ago. Éowyn found it difficult not to shake her head. It seemed to have happened in a different age.
It was Faramir who raised his voice first. "I also talked with Tuingail."
"Tuingail?" Éowyn frowned. "I told her to shut up and keep out of my affairs, and I see no reason why she should have talked to you."
He gravely shook his head. "She did not approach me, Éowyn. I met her at the Lady Saelind's and I saw that she was worried and..."
Éowyn snorted. "Everybody seems to be worried around me."
He shot her an appraising look. "And should they not be? "
"No, my lord. I rather would they stopped worrying and rather spoke to me directly, plain and open."
He nodded earnestly. "You told the Lady Saelind you were willing to listen to me."
So finally they were about to lure the dragon out of his den. Éowyn grabbed the folds of her skirt in order to compose herself. "I certainly am." Relived that her voice sounded firm enough, she continued. "I have thought about what has happened. At the feast and before it. I have tried to find out what made us misunderstand each other so painfully and I think I have at least realised that..." She hesitated, not knowing how to phrase what she had come to understand the last two days. In the end she confined herself to a mere: "That you never meant to wrong me."
He gave her a lopsided smile. "That is truly something." And then he stopped walking, and turning to her, he took her hand. "Éowyn, won't you read my letter?"
Éowyn vehemently shook her head. "No." Sensing his disappointment, she quickly explained: "Don't misjudge my intention, my lord. I... I'm afraid me reading that letter might cause more problems than already have arisen. To understand you truly I feel I need to see your face, your bearing, to hear your voice... I cannot imagine to just read your explanations. But I promise I will listen to everything you have to tell me."
He nodded, and they continued their walk towards the outer wall. Catching the rays of the afternoon sun, this part of the garden was even more frequented than the rest of it, and so they climbed the stairs to the ramparts. For a moment they stood side by side, looking out over the Pelennor. The river was busy with craft and the slopes and summits of the mountains glowed in the already low sun. Her gaze went over to where the brown and green hills of Emyn Arnen rose.
"You told me you dreamt about Emyn Arnen." Faramir's voice was low and she did not turn her gaze, but merely nodded.
"I did. And though I don't remember much of it any more, I know it was a happy dream."
"You told me, I appeared in your dream."
She nodded. "You did. You came out of the woods. You and a horse from the Folde. And I was working a garden that was nothing but a single furrow. I planted onions." She shook her head. "It does not really make sense, but I felt happy when I woke."
"I would like to make you feel happy not only in your dreams." His voice was firm, almost sober, and surprised she looked up. His face showed the typical graveness, and yet she could not help notice the contradiction of his determinedly set jaw and the tenderness of his gaze. No, there was no doubt: This man had not changed his opinion. She breathed deep. To call such a man a friend! A steady, reliable man. On that could be trusted. An honourable man, a leader of his people. And a handsome one, even if the beardless face seemed strange in a man. A sudden gust tussled his dark hair and she felt something like laughter rise inside her. He reminded her of the ravens, black-feathered birds of wisdom, riding the winds in the ravines of the White Mountains, masters of flight, fearlessly attacking even the eagle that had come too close to their aerie. And never giving up until they had succeeded in chasing the much larger bird away, but for all its power and grandeur.
Only when she felt his hand touch hers did she realise that she had been staring at him for quite a time. And that she wanted to go on doing so. Their hands clasped. Firm, reliable... Heaving a breath, he finally spoke: "Éowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cair Andros, where your brother awaits you?"
Closing the door of her room, Éowyn leaned against it. Béma, had she really doubted the man's ardour just a few days ago? Her fingers went to her bruised lips and all of a sudden she could not help a grin. No, as polite and courtly as their meeting had started, his kiss had certainly been all but polite. For a moment she had not been sure what to make of his remark. Had nobody informed him yet about Éomer's visit? But then she had not talked to anybody about it save Gelíris. And even the princess did not know much about the contents of her talk to her brother. But she had not been able to help it, the question had simply seemed odd. Somehow distanced, formal, reminding her of the steps of the Gondorean court dances Théoden had insisted she should learn. There had been no doubt that Faramir had been up to something, obviously trying to find a footing on unknown ground. All of a sudden the picture of the frozen tarn had come to her mind. Black ice, shining in the pale winter sun, beckoning her, promising joy, and yet hiding danger in the treacherous solidity of its smooth surface.
Yes, he certainly had been cautious! And yet all too soon Éowyn had not been sure if the simile of the courtly dance really fitted. True, his careful phrasing had been a fitting equivalent to that moment when the couple was expected to circle each other at almost arm's length, only their fingertips touching. But there had been something in his voice, in the way he had squared his shoulders that had spoken rather of a sparring session than a dance. She bit her lip. How tense he had been. Tense and determined. And like in sparring she had provoked him to make the first move.
To kiss her high on the walls for all to see! And what a kiss! She chuckled. As grave and composed Faramir seemed to be at first sight he truly had a penchant for the dramatic. And for some all-male bravado, too. Or was it just that he did not give a damn once he had made up his mind? "But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you." No, that man certainly did not lack passion at all. But even if he was not his king's rival, he would truly find himself sitting on the fence with the Gondoreans on the one hand, turning up their noses not only at him choosing a northern Shieldmaiden but also because of the display on the ramparts and on the other hand the Eorlingas shaking their heads at him receiving a gelding from his bride.
Walking over to the bed, she let herself plop down on it. She would have to inform him about the customs of the Mark and give him a chance to refuse the horse, at least as her gift. Perhaps they could find a way to circumvent the impending difficulties. Thoughtfully, she rubbed the tip of her nose. Everybody knew that Salubrūn was Hrodwyn's horse. Could not Elfhelm... She shook her head. It was useless to make any plans before having informed Faramir. Should he decide to brave the prejudices of the Mark the same way as he did the Gondorean ones there would be no need of a discussion at all. And she somehow had the feeling she knew what he would do.
She leaned back against the foot board of the bed. "Éowyn, do you not love me? Twice he had asked her, and twice she had avoided to answer. But if he had noticed he had not said so. Thoughtfully, she flexed her shoulders. Was she doing wrong by him, having agreed to marry him without being sure that she loved him? But what could she have done, seeing the seriousness in those grave, grey eyes? And had he not laughed, drunk with joy, when she had agreed to his proposal? Shaking her head at her own misgivings, she raised her chin. She had been willing to learn to love Erwin of Westfold for no other reasons than his honour, his valour and his care. What could stop her from learning to love a man who had all that and who freely admitted to love her madly?
The air was filled with the scent of the hyacinths, sweet and enticing, and she closed her eyes for a moment. How could one feel so excited and so utterly exhausted at the same time? She took a deep breath. She would see him again in the evening, having supper with him at the Steward's palace. Maybe she had better lie down and rest a bit. The day certainly had been demanding enough, but perhaps it was also the scent of the hyacinths that soothed her... Her eyes flew open. Scent! Before her inner eye the image of a tiny, weasel-faced woman took form. "Watch it, my lady. Whoever the friend is who advised you, he must know you very well. This perfume will perfectly harmonise with your natural odour. But with just as much as a trace of fresh sweat and a tiny whiff of horse it will work like a cudgel on any man's brains."
All of a sudden she felt as if an icy fist had gripped her. What had she done? What if Faramir had been merely responding to that scent when he kissed her? Would that not mean...? Éowyn swallowed hard. Had she perhaps even used witchcraft, no matter that she had done it unwittingly? Had she done to Faramir what she had feared him to have done to her? Her head swam. What if all his ardour, his words that had made her heart soar high were nothing but the result of intoxication? What if he regretted them once he had left her vicinity? Those stupid Gondoreans and their idiotic perfumes!
She needed to put things right! She needed to talk to him! Determined she rose and made for the door, only to stop abruptly again. If it really had been just the scent, she needed to wash first, to assure there were no traces of that cursed smell on her body. Taking a bath would even be better. But did the Houses provide the necessary facility? She had better ask Tórdes immediately. Or what if she went to the Lady Gelíris? She bit her lower lip thoughtfully and then shook her head. No doubt she was overreacting again, jumping to conclusions. She would see him anyway, and would she not have all the evening then to find out about his ardour? But be that as it may, she had to bathe first. And thoroughly. Having made up her mind, she stepped out into the corridor. Gelíris would understand her wish and certainly an experienced woman's counsel would not be amiss.
To Éowyn's utter surprise the first person she saw when stepping out of the main entrance of the Houses was Lady Saelind, a very self-conscious Tuingail in tow. For a second Éowyn hesitated, not sure how to proceed, but noticing the curious gazes of the gatekeeper and a number of other bystanders, she decided on stilted courtesy. The lady answered her greetings in the same way, but before Éowyn could even think of how to continue, Tuingail rushed forward and grabbed her hand. "Oh, Éowyn, I am so sorry that I did not hold my tongue and caused all that terrible misunderstandings and I'm just so glad now you..."
The girl's gush was cut short by the Lady Saelind rather pointedly clearing her throat. Blushing profoundly, Tuingail let go of Éowyn and raised her hand to her mouth. "Dear me! I've done it again. I'm sorry, I..."
Éowyn found it difficult not to groan, and given the tightness of her lips, the Lady Saelind felt exactly the same. Her tone at least was clipped when she addressed the girl. "There certainly is sound reason to be glad, Tuingail, but I'm afraid you are overreacting in your excitement." Turning to Éowyn, she added: "We just met the Steward on our way down to the shops and he informed us about the happy outcome. Congratulations, my lady."
Saelind's voice was smooth and composed, her bearing poised, and yet her gaze in not more but a fleeting moment showed what could only be described as uncertainty. Attempting to forestall any confrontation, Éowyn inclined her head. "Thank you, Lady Saelind. I assure you that I consider myself honoured."
With a thin smile, Saelind motioned to Tuingail. "The Lord Faramir informed us that after a talk with the Warden you decided to stay in the Houses, but that you were to move to the bigger room he formerly occupied. Well, and your cousin had the idea to at least make the room a bit more comfortable."
Tuingail nodded eagerly. "You see, you might need to stay here, but you don't have to lie abed any more and …" The girl shrugged. "Well, I just wanted to make the room a bit cosier and Lady Saelind offered to provide the things I need. What do you think, Éowyn?"
Wondering what exactly Faramir had said, Éowyn nodded. "The rooms of the Houses certainly are a bit bleak. But any additional furniture would hamper the healers in their work and mean additional items to clean."
"You still need the healers' assistance regularly?" Saelind's face was unreadable.
Éowyn shook her head. "No, though the Warden seemed to be quite concerned lately and has been looking in daily. They check my arm and readjust the splinting from time to time and I need someone's assistance to dress properly. Otherwise I am fine."
"Well, then you don't need a sickroom, but something that matches the demands of a young lady instead, even if you will not be confined to your room." A spark of the old lady's original dry wit and energy was back in Saelind's voice and Éowyn could not but smile. Immediately, Tuingail saw her chance.
"Let me do it, will you? It will be so much better than those ghastly white walls and..."
Still smiling, Éowyn shook her head. "I do appreciate your idea, Tuingail. But I have no time. I am on my way to pay a visit to the Princess Gelíris and I have an appointment with the Lord Faramir tonight."
"Oh, but you needn't have time." The girl beamed. "You go to see the princess and when you come back you'll find your new room ready for you."
Seeing the girl's enthusiasm, Éowyn found she could not deny Tuingail's offer. "If the Lady Saelind agrees."
For the first time since they had met again the older woman truly smiled. "She certainly does agree, but she will have someone keep an eye on you, Tuingail, to make sure that Lord Bahor's entire furniture doesn't find its way to the Houses."
Tuingail giggled. "I will start at once. I just need to have a look at the room to decide what is needed."
With a wry look, Saelind raised her eyebrows. "I suppose I had better come with you, child. You can tell me what you want to do and I will think what my household can provide." Turning to Éowyn, she smiled. "We had better not keep you from your appointment with the princess, my lady. And I deem Tuingail will need every second to have your room ready for your return." Still smiling, she bowed to Éowyn and then followed Tuingail, who was skipping with eagerness, into the Houses.
"I do not think that you have any reason to worry." Leaning back, the Lady Gelíris watched Éowyn over the brim of her tea cup. "Perfumes certainly are important for Gondoreans, but believe me, they cannot work magic."
"But I told you that Miriel woman said..."
The princess shrugged. "It's her profession, Dear. What do you expect her to say?" Seeing Éowyn's doubt, she put down her cup. "Look, there certainly are scents that fit with the character, the temperament, the personality of certain people. But if they are really good perfumes they underline the scent that is already there. Believe me, the scent of our own body is much more important than what we can ever add to it using a perfume." She thoughtfully tilted her head. "Perhaps mistress Miriel just realised that a little whiff of horse added to the composition would improve it when your guard entered and she found it funny to tell you so. But what gave you the idea in the first place to demand a mixture of bergamot, sandalwood and white lilies?"
Éowyn blushed. "Faramir told me to."
"Oh, did he?" It was obvious that the princess was fighting a losing battle to hide her mirth. Feeling somewhat miffed, Éowyn explained how it had come about, the princess truly enjoying Saelind's and her daughter's rebuke of Lady Rhíwiant. "I have never met two siblings as different as Lord Bahor and that viper of a woman. Amrothos' behaviour surely can be outrageous at times, especially when he tries to cover up his true emotions, but that crone is truly as false as her switch braid. I dare say you rose a few notches in Sealind's esteem when you stared her down at the feast. But anyway, if you want to get rid of the smell of horse there is nothing but a good lemon oil soap, no matter what all Rhíwiants of Middle-earth say. But my dear nephew recommending you the components of your personal perfume would be regarded as scandalously frivolous, so perhaps you had better not tell anybody."
Éowyn grimaced. "I should have known so from the perfumer's face once I said that a friend of mine had suggested those ingredients." She sighed. "I have probably overstepped the Gondorean limits of proper ladylike behaviour in my conduct with your nephew more than just once without knowing it. But I dare say so has he. He once even asked me what I thought a Ranger would smell like."
Gelíris raised her eyebrows in mock censure. "Did he? How very pert."
Éowyn laughed. "Oh, that was right after the victory over the Dark One and he was more than just a little soused."
"And what did you answer him?" Lifting her cup again, the princess looked at her with gleeful anticipation.
"I told him that I imagined a Ranger to smell of pine resin and the scent of earth after long awaited rain."
Gelíris spluttered her tea. "You did what? Uinen's sweet mercy! You really attempted to scorch the poor man alive, didn't you?"
Éowyn groaned. She should have guessed there and then from his suggestive answer that she had said something she had not intended. With a sigh, she put down her cup. "I know I will regret having asked, my lady. But please, tell me what I obviously signalled to him without having a clue."
The princess' grinned. "Rain on parched earth is a euphemism for satisfied passion. He truly cannot have been that drunk for otherwise he would have jumped you on the spot."
Éowyn was spared an answer by a servant announcing that the bath was ready. Still grinning, Gelíris' took her hand. "Come, Dear. I'll show you everything and then I'll leave you to the relaxation you certainly need."
The bath in Dol Amroth's town house turned out to be a truly princely display of veined white and green marble, sunlit by a row of windows high in the walls. It was warm as if lit by an invisible fireplace and a number of tubs of different sizes and materials were lined up along the left-hand wall, low wooden stools and shelves holding towels and an array of flasks and soaps beside them. But what immediately caught Éowyn's eye was the basin in the centre of the room. It was made entirely of the green variety of marble and halfway inset in the floor. Three flat steps led up to its rim and then down into it. It was empty, but Éowyn had no doubt that one would almost be able to swim a few strokes in it.
A young servant girl in a sleeveless gown bobbed a curtsey at their entry and Gelíris led Éowyn over to a shallow wooden tub. "Let Díloth help you sponge down first, and then have a good soak over there." She jerked her head to a large copper tub. "I have given orders to add some lemon balm as it lessens anxiety and tension like nothing else. Now, just leave your clothes on the bench over there. I'll rummage my wardrobe to find something appropriate for a romantic dinner."
Éowyn snorted. "I truly appreciate your advice and help, my lady, but I am not willing to parade before the Steward garnished like a peacock."
The princess laughed. "Never you worry, Dear. I know better than trying that. And why should I? You certainly don't need any frill and frippery. But do leave the lady-ing. We are to be family, aren't we?"With a friendly nod to the waiting servant, Gelíris made for the door, but then turned again. "Oh, and take your time, Éowyn. Perhaps having a lie-down after the bath might be a good idea." She motioned over to the far wall, where two low cots stood. "Tell Díloth to prepare one of the day beds for you, I'll come and wake you in time. You know it might turn out a long night."
Before Éowyn could say anything, Gelíris swept out of the room and Éowyn could not help the impression that the princess was chuckling.
"My lady, do you want me assist you undressing?" The young servant's voice made Éowyn turn. She nodded, and soon she stepped into the low tub, holding her broken arm off to prevent it from getting wet while the girl sponged her down with hot water and lemon soap.
The water in the large tub was almost too hot, and Éowyn lowered herself into it very slowly. The girl had also rinsed her hair and then wrapped it up in a towel. Now she put another one over the head end of the tub and asked Éowyn to lean against it. A narrow tray was put across the tub to rest her arm on and having dismissed the servant, Éowyn closed her eyes with a sigh. For all her annoying teasing, Gelíris certainly was right: She simply needed some rest.
She was alone, walking the dark plain again. But it was not cold. Cool – yes, but with the freshness of a summer's night rather than the deadly chill of winter. And then light came. Faint, diffuse, turning the impenetrable black to dim grey, getting stronger, slowly but steadily, until the shapeless grey vastness around her turned into green. Green, rolling plains, stretching to the horizon. An horizon gilded with a brim of fire as the sun rose in a fierce, red glow, banishing the last lingering trails of cold and darkness, life conquering death.
And then the horizon rang with Fréaláf's laughter. So typical, so unique, so heart-warming. The low-pitched grumble, softly rolling like the plains themselves, a warm wave of joyfulness, ending in a chuckle like the sound of a hiccup.
Reluctantly, Éowyn opened her eyes, the laughter still echoing in her mind. How long had she slept? The water was still warm, but when she lifted her hand she found it wrinkled from soaking too long. Éowyn sighed. Her Fréa. Never had a man been so free of malice and falsehood as this lad who had given his life for Théodred. Only when she sat up did she realise that her face was wet with tears and that she was still crying. Not violently- there were no sobs, no unchecked grief, just soft tears, flowing slowly down her cheeks like the soothing rains of spring, preparing the barren soil for Erce's eternal circle, waking the sleeping seeds to life. Fréaláf of Fyrthe, Brystan's son... Forever he would hold a special place in her heart, forever she would remember him with love and thankfulness for the time they had had together.
"My lady?" The servants soft voice made Éowyn realise her tear-streamed face and with embarrassment she wiped her face with her hand, only to realise that anyway her face was wet and hot with the steam of the water. "Shall I prepare a day bed for you?"
Éowyn shook her head. "No, thank you. But I had better get out of the water, I think. Lemon balm or not, my skin will come off if I soak any longer."
She was sitting on one of the benches while the girl was drying and powdering her feet, when the princess came back, carrying some clothes over her arm. "Already up and about again? Well, let us see how these garments look on you. Here." She held out a fine lawn shift and Éowyn rose to don it. "And now the dress." She handed Éowyn a dark blue gown made of thin and soft wool. Admiring the quality of the fabric, Éowyn stroked its surface, which caused Gelíris to grin. "It's Rohirric cloth, woven for dowager queen Morwen. My daughter was given the amount for a dress as a present. Well, and on top goes this." With a flourish the princess spread a sleeveless kirtle over Éowyn's knees. It seemed to have been made of the same mixture of silk and wool she had noticed before in the dresses she had been given. The kirtle was also blue, but of such a light hue that it looked almost white. "It is easy to don despite your splinted arm and it has a very nicely dropping neckline." Gelíris grinned mischievously. "It's mine, so it will be a bit short on you, but thus the embroidered hem of the dress below will show quite delightfully."
Stepping back, she critically watched as Éowyn donned the dress with the servant's help and then she shook her head. "Go and send Hwinril to my room, Díloth. We need to take it in a bit around the chest, I'm afraid."
The girl sped off, and Éowyn grimaced. "I will look like a scarecrow in this gown, Gelíris. I simply lack your bosom."
The princess laughed. "And I should envy your legs, Éowyn. And you certainly have a very nice rump. And your skin is simply beautiful not to say anything about your hair." She shrugged. "We can't have it all, Dear. And anyway, breasts are overrated. No real man needs more than a mouthful." Grinning, she made for the door. "Let's go to my room. I had a fire lit and Díloth can brush your hair dry while Hwinril and I take in the kirtle a bit."
An hour later Éowyn was led by the princess to the main door, her hair braided and pinned up and the top of the kirtle hugging her figure quite tightly. It was late already and she intended to pass only swiftly by the Houses to apply some perfume, as Gelíris had suggested, before going up to the Steward's palace. Stealthily, Éowyn rubbed her hand over the skirt in an attempt to dry her sweating palm. How idiotic to get nervous right now and what was worse, starting to sweat. No matter what Gelíris said, she wanted the proof that Faramir's fervour was not just kindled by an odd mixture of scents. She clenched her fist to steady herself. It was no use to try denying it: She had felt exalted, cherished, wrapped in his passionate embrace, and while she still was not sure if she loved him she certainly knew that her body craved his ardour.
They had advanced into the entrance hall, when they heard Díloth's hushed voice from behind. "Yes, Hwinril, she's really tall, isn't she. And that hair! Like silver silk, really. And guess what: She doesn't wax her legs, but the hair is so fine and light, you almost can't see it."
Keeping their pace, Éowyn and Gelíris exchanged a glance. Shrugging, the princess rolled her eyes. "You can rather stay the tide than keep servants from gossiping. And she truly spoke in admiration."
Éowyn grimaced. "I know. And given the Steward's means of information, he will know about it before I even have set foot in his palace."
Entering the Houses, Éowyn almost collided with Tuingail, who was hurrying along the corridor, rosy-cheeked with excitement, her arms full of Éowyn's clothes. Seeing her, the girl squealed. "What a wonderful dress! You look simply splendid. And we have nearly finished arranging your new room. I so hope you will like it." Her gaze becoming a little uncertain, she added: "Could you perhaps wait a moment before going in? I just want to hang the dresses and check if everything is all right."
As soon as Éowyn nodded her consent the girl rushed off and when Éowyn finally arrived at the door to what had formerly been Faramir's room Tuingail waved her in with a broad smile on her face. "Welcome to your new room, cousin. I hope you like it."
For a moment Éowyn did not know what to say. Nothing in the room before her resembled the original sickroom anymore. A comfortable looking upholstered armchair stood in front of the screen that separated the washstand from the remaining room, accompanied by a similar footstool. On the table a three-branched brass candle stick held sweet-smelling beeswax candles, their scent mixing with that of the hyacinths high on the windowsill. Before the bed a many-coloured rug lay and the bed was covered by a blue counterpane while a tapestry on the wall showed a lady flying her falcon.
But the thing that foremost held Éowyn's gaze was the large, covered basket in the middle of the room.
"Lady Saelind thought you might want the things here," Nínim said, stepping out from behind the screen. "Especially the mantle might come in useful as the evening is getting a bit chill."
Tuingail giggled. "Lady Saelind is at the Steward's palace, to make sure that everything is arranged to Faramir's liking. I think..."
"I think you should be gagged." Lady Saelind's handmaid did not mince her words, but the girl simply was too excited to be impressed.
"Pray, Éowyn, tell me: Do you like the room? It is really cosy now, isn't it?"
Éowyn nodded. "It certainly is, and you two did a splendid job. But I'm afraid I have but little time to admire it as the Lord Faramir awaits me."
Uncovering the basket, Nínim shook out the mantle and held it up to wrap it around Éowyn.
"Wait a moment." Rummaging through the contents of the basket, Éowyn pulled out the boots. Useful but beautiful. A smile stole into her face. Despite all their differences there was at least one thing they had in common.
Lemon balm: One of the herbs I really love. It is wonderfully relaxing in a bath and said to even be a mild anti-depressant. But it was also seen as a token of love and used in magic to regain joy and balance of life.
I did not manage entirely to avoid quotations in this chapter:
"Éowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen..." quoted from: The Steward and the King; The Return of the King; Book Five by J.R.R. Tolkien
"But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you." ibidem