Through Shadows

Chapter 40

Chapter 40

Briar Roses

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it.

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

Trying to ignore the seneschal's pompous behaviour, Éowyn followed the man through the entrance hall of the Steward's palace when the door ahead opened and Faramir himself came up to her, dismissing his seneschal with a movement of his hand. Clad in the usual grey and black, he looked much like he had at their meetings in the garden of the Houses, and Éowyn could not help taking it for a good omen.

"Welcome, Lady Éowyn." Bowing in courtly manner, he took her hand, brushing a kiss over her knuckles. To her surprise however, he did not let go, but looked at her steadily and gravely and then slowly turned her hand, softly kissing her palm. She smiled at his display of affection and seeing her smile, he grasped her hand just a tiny bit firmer and placed another kiss on her wrist, before he finally released her and offered his arm.

"I have ordered our meal to be served in the garden, my lady, and I hope that is to your liking."

Taking his arm, she nodded her consent. "It certainly is, my lord. If the weather permits I would always prefer to be in the open."

When they stepped outside, Éowyn blinked. Along the path small yellow lanterns had been hung, bathing the garden in soft light. Surprised, she turned to the Steward, but he smilingly forestalled her question. "We have met thrice in this garden and each time our minds were troubled and our hearts were hurt. With the fourth time I want to turn the page and make you forget the grave mood and misgivings that have come to pass here. Come, my lady, let us attempt at a new and happier start."

He led her to a circular arbour in the upper third of the garden. The tendrils which formed the canopy of the bower showed but small trusses of leaves, promising a curtain of foliage and blossoms in the months to come. But even now the arbour radiated cosiness and beauty and the same could be said of its surroundings. The rivulet that ran through the garden burbled beside it, reflecting the lanterns and a rather small apple tree stood near, its blossoms shimmering in the light of the lanterns. A semicircular bench stood in the back of the arbour, covered in cushions and soft, richly coloured seat pads and in front of it a small table was laid, displaying fine linen and exquisite tableware.

Once they were seated, servants uncovered the brazier that stood near and the warmth of it started to diffuse. Smiling, Faramir reached for the decanter and poured them the same light white wine they had drunk in his room. "I did not want you to feel hampered by your cloak and I thought thus you might find it warm enough to be comfortable."

"You expected me to wear the mantle?" Éowyn was not sure why that assumption unnerved her, but he smilingly shook his head.

"I didn't expect it, my lady. But I hoped you would. May I help you with the clasp?" His voice was low and she could not help remembering the day when she – blessedly unaware of his feelings for her – had asked him to help her fix her garments. Lifting her chin, she made to give him access to the brooch, but instead of opening it immediately, he let his fingers trail her jawline. "Proud and queenly you look in this garb, and beautiful beyond description." Lowering his head, he softly kissed her temple and then his lips moved to her ear, his whispering breath a soft caress. "And yet my eyes and my heart crave for more, for I want you to smile and let me bathe in that smile that surpasses the warming rays of the sun."

Confused, Éowyn pulled back. Was this nobleman oozing charm really the man she had agreed to marry in the garden of the Houses? Their gazes met, and all of a sudden, Faramir laughed. "Forgive me, Éowyn. I'm probably behaving like a besotted youth, but I have played out this scene so often in my mind that I'm afraid I don't know any more how to deal with it outside of the cliché of courtly wooing."

"You have..." Éowyn blushed. If he had imagined the present scene, a hundred to one he had imagined other things much less courtly as well.

He shrugged, showing a playfully sheepish expression. "What do you expect me to have dreamed of the last two weeks?"

"I had nightmares." The sentence was out before Éowyn realised that she had spoken. His face grave, he opened the clasp and carefully folded the mantle back around her shoulders, thus giving her more elbow room.

"Well, I wished you would dream of me, but if it was nightmares that haunted you I hope that I was not in them."

"But you were."

His eyebrow twitched. "I was part of your nightmares?"

She nodded solemnly. "The first time I dreamt of you I did not realise that it was you. But I'm sure now. I... I have a recurring nightmare. The abyss I told you about when we stood on the ramparts the day Sauron was vanquished is part of it."

"I remember. You told me you could not turn then to check if there was light behind you."

"But some days ago that sequence of my dream changed. I... I dreamt that there was light. I even knew the colour of it. But still I could not turn." She gave him a hesitant look. "It was the day you had told me about the wine your mother loved to drink and your memory of it. I even heard your voice in my dream, but I never realised it was yours."

"And what did I say in your dreams?"

How serious and worried his face was. Éowyn shook her head. "I didn't understand the words, only the tone they were spoken in."

"And that tone...?"

"Was soft. Soft and..." She shrugged. "Enticing, I would say."

With a lopsided smile, he reached for her hand. "I certainly am the only man who seduces his beloved in a nightmare."

She pulled her hand back. "I told you, I didn't realise then that it was you. And the dream did not end nicely at all."

He grimaced. "I'm sorry, Éowyn. Did I...? I mean in your dream..."

Béma's horn! Where did this man's thoughts stray to now? Vehemently, Éowyn shook her head. "No, you did not do anything. It was just your voice from behind me. And then..." She stopped, heaving a breath. "I don't want to speak about it, Faramir. Not yet."

He nodded solemnly. "I will not urge you. But should you one day want to tell me, I will certainly feel honoured by your confidence."

Éowyn frowned. "So to prove my confidence in you I have to even tell you my dreams?"

He shook his head. "No, Éowyn, certainly not. But I simply cannot think of any greater token of mutual trust than talking to each other about one's joys and fears without restriction. And often our dreams show more of us and our secret wishes than we would openly admit and perhaps even realise ourselves."

"And you would tell me about your dreams? Those that concern me?" She held his gaze, her chin raised in challenge.

"I would, my lady of the moonlight hair." He reached out to her and gently stroked her temple. "I would, and beg you share them with me." Seeing her surprise, he faintly smiled. "Though you would probably frown at my romantic stammering again."

Romantic stammering... Was not that exactly what she had thought the morning after Sauron's downfall when she had found him sleeping on the bench in the garden of the Houses? When she had first ogled him and then made that hapless remark about a Ranger's smell? Feeling caught, Éowyn averted her eyes. "You weren't stammering, my lord. Just a bit... ah well..."

Tilting his head, he raised his eyebrows mockingly. "Pathetic? Fawning? Soppy?"

Éowyn could not help a grin. "No, nothing of that. It is just strange that a warrior..." She shrugged. "But then I should have expected something the like of you. I read your poems."

He smiled. "I had hoped you would."

For a moment Éowyn gaped. "You left the notebook on purpose?"

Smiling, he raised his glass. "I would not say on purpose, as it was rather subconsciously." He gave a low chuckle. "Probably my hand knew more of what to do than my brain at that moment. Well, I hope they found mercy before your eyes."

Éowyn raised her glass likewise. "I did not understand the one in the Elven language, but I liked the one about the faint smile that yet was warm like summer sun. But I did not realise..." Again she felt the heat of a blush rising into her cheeks. "I took it for a stanza from some song, and I liked it because it reminded me of you."

"Of me?" His expression was a mixture of joy and surprise as he leaned forwards and lightly clinked his glass to hers. Thankful for the pause it gave her, Éowyn sipped her wine, unsure what he was aiming at. But then she put the fragile goblet down with a thud. It did not matter. She would not yield, would not condescend to some courtly charade. She had agreed to marry him, so what sense did it make to hide her thoughts and feelings from him? Raising her head, she caught his gaze.

"Yes, of you. For it exactly describes the way you smile. And I... I love to see you smile, Faramir."

Softly, his fingers caressed her cheek. "Then give me reason to smile, Éowyn."

"And what should I do in that attempt?" She willed her voice to sound casual, but she found it difficult under the intensity of his glance.

As if sensing her uncertainty, he tired to lighten the atmosphere, saying with a droll smile: "Indulge me and my love for words to start with."

Thankful, she followed his lead, raising her nose in mock condescension: "As long as you don't expect me to write poetry."

He laughed. "Don't you worry, I will do the writing as long as you promise to listen."

They were interrupted by some servants, carrying several trays. The table was almost too small for all the plates and bowls, some of which were set on warmers like the one Éowyn had seen at the Lady Gelíris'. When the servants had left again, Éowyn shook her head. "My lord, do you intend to feed a host of starving hobbits?"

"No, just a Shieldmaiden who I hope is not starving but has a healthy appetite."

Before she could answer his last remark, the playing of what she took for a harp and a wooden flute started from the direction of the building. Éowyn raised her eyebrows, and meeting her gaze, Faramir shrugged. "I like music and I thought that some proper wooing in Gondorean style might be in order."

Frowning, Éowyn motioned to the table and the garden around them. "So you would call this the ordinary way a Gondorean nobleman would woo the woman he intended to marry?"

The Steward made a funny face. "Well, not really. I have to admit any high-born Gondorean lady would deem the surroundings and probably the time of the day highly inappropriate. So a probable meeting would have to take place in the palace and in daytime. And then she would not come unchaperoned but would have a trusted elderly female – preferably a family-member – at her side who would sit there all the time, wary like a watch-dog, lest the intended groom should dare to equivocate or - even worse - feel inclined to touch or let alone kiss more than the hand of the woman he wants to marry. And certainly such a meeting would only be thinkable if the bride's father had given his consent first after making sure that the gentleman in question would not prove a danger to the maidenly virtues of his daughter."

Éowyn chuckled. "So what about your arrangement really is proper Gondorean wooing? You seem to have grossly violated every existing Gondorean etiquette rule."

He grinned. "The music certainly is. And my poor attempt at romantic compliments. And probably the meal is, though I doubt the dish would find general approval, as spicy food is not seen fit for a maiden."

Rolling her eyes, Éowyn shrugged. "So it doesn't concern me, as according to the traditions of the Mark I am regarded a widow."

"But not for much longer." His voice had become serious all of a sudden, low and somehow hoarse, all banter and playfulness gone. Éowyn held her breath. And then the moment was over, as recovering his composure, Faramir pointed to the well-laid table.

"I arranged for some savoury dishes I thought you might like, if I judge correctly from the preferences of food you have shown so far. So here we have the breast of a duck, roasted in the style of Khand. Everything else is just side-dishes that go with the duck. Except for the orange cake, that is. That is supposed to be the dessert. And that little bowl with the petals contains water and lemon oil to clean our fingers, so I would not suggest drinking it."

The typical faint smile was back on his face, his eyes sparkling with mirth and Éowyn could not help the impression that a thunderstorm had just rolled by. His smile deepening, Faramir pointed at the roast.

"There's a special way to eat it, but I'll show you. Shall we start?"

With nimble fingers he tore off a small piece of the crunchy skin, and putting it on his plate, he heaped a portion of finely sliced white leeks on it, sprinkling it with a dark sauce from a tiny decanter before he rolled everything into a tight parcel. Smiling at her, he held it out to her. "Just open your mouth and have a bite."

She did so, holding her hand under her chin, in case some of the wrapped up food fell. He chuckled softly, watching her with mirthful eyes before stuffing the rest of the parcel into his own mouth. Éowyn chewed and almost groaned with delight. The skin was crackling and seasoned in an enticing mixture of hot and sweet, the cool crispness of the leek forming a surprising contrast with it. And that sauce... She swallowed and liked her lips. "That truly is a tasty dish. I have always liked the crunchy skin of roasted fowl, but I've never tasted anything like this."

He reached for the next piece of duck skin. "Let's make short work of it then."

Watching the procedure expectantly, Éowyn suddenly realised that she would not be able to manage all the different moves necessary with just one hand. Frowning, she told Faramir about her realization, when he held the second parcel up for her to take a bite, but the only reaction her complaint caused was the deepening of his smile.

"That is part of the plan, my lady. You tell me what you want, and I will feed it to you."

"I'm no infant or infirm person that needs to be fed, and..."

He laughed. "No, Éowyn, you certainly are not. You are my fierce falcon, and I am the tercel to woo you."

She snorted. "You certainly are no tercel, my lord, if I can trust my eyes." Taking the tasty parcel out of his hand, she took a healthy bite. But when she met his gaze she almost forgot to chew. His eyes still were laughing, but there was something else in them that made her mouth go dry.

"And can you trust your eyes, my lady?" His low voice almost caused her to hiccup, and in the desperate attempt to gain time to recover her composure, Éowyn held out the second half of the parcel to him and popped it into his mouth when he opened it invitingly. They munched for a short while, and Éowyn was relieved when he started to make another small parcel instead of continuing their conversation afterwards. Avoiding his eyes, she looked at his hands, watched them as he prepared the food. Slender and yet strong hands. The calloused fingers of the warrior, but with polished nails. She suppressed a sigh. Why did this man have to be so contradictory? So composed and sophisticated and at the same time a self-assured warrior with quite a trait of boldness? In the light of the lanterns the tips of his fingers gleamed with the fat of the duck. What would he say if she licked across his fingers when he attempted to feed her the next bite? Éowyn bit the inside of her lower lip. She didn't know where this idea had come from, but she could not deny that it was tempting.

"Éowyn?" With a questioning look, Faramir offered the food to her and she bit off a mouthful, her lips not even touching his fingers, and yet the image was there in her mind as they continued their meal in silence.

Only afterwards, when they had finished the skin and he had heaped some slices of meat, mushrooms, sauce and buttered bread sprinkled with cress on her plate did he speak again. "My lady, you have repeatedly asked me to speak plainer, will you allow me a blunt question as I am at a loss and want to prevent further misunderstandings?"

She lifted her chin. "Certainly, my lord, if you will take a blunt answer."

He smiled lopsidedly. "When you spat at me after the feast you said that you had thought me a trustworthy friend whose company you enjoyed."

"And I hold to that, Faramir."

He nodded gravely. "And you said that you had even felt... pleased by my... appearance."

Éowyn grimaced. "Faramir, I'm sorry. I should not have said that, I know. But I was angry, and I meant to hurt, and..."

His face went blank, and with a sudden pang she realised that he was totally misunderstanding her again. There was no other way out. If she did not want him to draw an absolutely wrong conclusion she could not leave it at that. With a sigh she shrugged. "I said it then to hurt you. But that does not mean that it isn't true. Though I suppose admitting that I was attracted by your manliness and the fact that I ogled you contradict every rule of ladylike demeanour."

"You...?"

Éowyn nodded. "Twice. The first time in the garden, the morning after Sauron's downfall when I found you sleeping on the bench. And when I made that remark about the smell of rain the meaning of which I only learned this afternoon."

"I should have realised immediately that you didn't know what you said that day, but I'm afraid my senses were a bit under the weather."

Éowyn grinned. "I would rather say they were under the booze. But yes, I think you misunderstood me then."

"Though you admit having ogled me." The smile was back on his face now, and Éowyn nodded again, relieved that the atmosphere had lightened. What did the Gondoreans need so many words for, complicated courting rituals and love poems, if one could say the same things plainly?

"Yes, I do. And yes, I liked what I saw, though I will never understand why a man should shave his beard off. Shorten it, yes. But shave it off?" Realising that he might probably feel rebuffed, she tried to mitigate her statement by reaching out hesitantly, and touching his jawline. "But don't you worry. You have a good face, Faramir, and I am willing to get used to being married to a beardless man." Out of their own volition her fingers trailed the line where the almost invisible shadow showed how far his beard would reach if he let it grow. The sudden bulging of his jaw muscles indicated that he clenched his teeth, and, confused, she pulled back her hand. His eyes never left hers, holding her gaze with an intensity that left her breathless. And then he reached out, mirroring her stroking movements, his finger trailing along the edge of her jaw, caressing her cheek and tenderly following the contours of her upper lip.

In a desperate attempt to regain her composure, Éowyn averted her eyes and reached for her goblet. And then all of a sudden, Faramir chuckled. "I'm sorry, Éowyn. I had totally forgotten that my fingers were greasy. Wait." He dipped a corner of his fine linen napkin in the lemon water and started to wipe the greasy spots off her face, only to stop having barely begun. Slowly he put the napkin down. "There is a better way, Éowyn." He bent forwards, and then to her utter surprise she felt his lips on her face, following the trail of his fingers, softly kissing away all traces they had left.

For a split second she held her breath and then she simply closed her eyes, giving in to the sensation of his lips grazing her skin with tantalising tenderness. Feeling the goblet in her hand wobble slightly, she gropingly put it back again on the table, never opening her eyes. His mouth reached hers, his breath feathering along the contours of her upper lip before it slid just a little bit lower as he gently sucked in her lip while his tongue traced its curve, softly teasing and yet demanding.

The corner of the table was protruding into the space between them, impeding any closer contact of their bodies, but wriggling around it, Éowyn slid along the bench until she was able to lean into him, her hand grabbing the tunic at his midriff. And then his arms were around her, pulling her close and yet he was careful not to squeeze her broken arm. For a moment the contact of their lips broke. "Éowyn." It was but a breathless whisper, and then his mouth was on hers again and all softness was gone, the world around her falling away under the onslaught of his fervent kiss.

She never knew how long their kiss lasted, but coming to her senses again, she found herself still in his embrace, her face buried in the crook of his neck. She felt him nuzzling her hair, breathlessly whispering words in a language she could not understand. She heaved a breath. Strange she felt, filled by a heavy warmth that centred low in her belly, and yet she knew this was right, was what she wanted. What both of them wanted, she corrected herself, as she felt his teeth nibbling her earlobe. Dizzily she stirred and opened her eyes. Just an inch away the collar of his shirt had been shifted by her head on his shoulder, exposing his neck to her, and without a second thought she closed the distance, softly kissing the exposed skin, tasting salty warmth and rejoicing in the way his breath hitched. How could she ever have doubted his passion, could ever have believed in the little perfumer's whisperings? It was her he wanted, her he wanted to want him...

She sat up, smiling at him, and then to her utter surprise she saw him blush. Cumbersomely he cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry, Éowyn, but I'm afraid I stained your dress."

"Wha...?" She could not help her gaze wandering to his lap despite any logic and he shook his head with a lopsided smile.

"No, my lady. I'm talking about my greasy fingers on the back of your dress." He shook his head. "I had realised they were greasy and yet I totally forgot."

He had forgotten! This composed, self-controlled man had forgotten! She could not help the feeling of triumph and it took all her will-power not to break out in giggles. Grinning, she took his hand and raised it to her mouth. "But you know the way to get rid of the grease, don't you?" Teasingly she brought his fingers to her lips in a soft, caressing kiss, and when she saw the typical faint smile manifest around his lips, she quickly flicked out her tongue, licking along the side of his forefinger. His mien grew petrified. Immediately she let go of his hand. He was a Gondorean, she should have known he would judge her behaviour differently. Averting her face, she reached for her glass. "I'm afraid I have behaved in a way you find unbecoming, my lord. But I can and will not play the demure Gondorean maiden, for I am none of it." Angry at the emotion her voice gave away, she raised the glass, determined to down its content, but before the brim reached her lips, the Steward grabbed her hand.

"Don't Éowyn. Please, look at me."

Reluctantly, she obliged. His face was grave, and yet she could not find any reproach in the expression of his eyes. Never letting go of her hand, he spoke again, his voice low and urgent. "I do not expect you to act neither the Gondorean nor the maiden, for I want you to be yourself and I love you for who you are. Don't let anger impair your better judgement. And please, do not drink spurred by anger. Éowyn, whatever it is that will come to pass between us tonight, and be it dissent, I would not like to have to blame it on nor to excuse it by intoxication. If we want to make this work, if we want to overcome our different upbringing and culture, we will have to trust each other and to approach our differences sober and with goodwill."

She did not answer but let him take the goblet and put it back on the table. He was right, and yet... Further musings were intercepted by him, clasping her hand in both of his. "Éowyn, you totally misunderstood my demeanour, though I admit that it is my fault you did."

Misunderstandings... How many more of them would they have to face? She stared at his hands holding hers, his thumbs drawing gentle circles on its back. And then he spoke again.

"I think my mien scared you off, but it was just that by what you did I felt my... self-command..."

She looked up. "Slip?"

With a sigh he nodded. "Like a landslide."

"And you didn't like it." It was nothing she would call into question.

He slightly tilted his head. "It frightened me, Éowyn. For I realised that I might do things... That I was completely losing control of my feelings, my passion... That I simply would be swept away. But what shocked me most was that I wanted it."

Trust... What deeper trust could there be than admitting one's secret fears and weaknesses? Clutching his hand, she heaved a breath. "I dreamt of ice melting and me with it and it frightened me beyond description."

"Lately?"

She nodded. "Those dreams started after Sauron's downfall. I... I had them twice, but apart from the aspect of melting and that there was some kind of light they differed." She swallowed and then looked him full in the face. "They were the nightmares you were a part of."

"And did you realise it was me in your second dream?"

She shook her head. "No, though I saw you, I didn't. But I knew that I knew you, or rather the man in front of me, and that he was an archer. I tried to remember your name, but I couldn't."

"And you didn't ask me to find out?" With a sudden sheepish smile, Faramir shook his head. "What a fool I am to request logical behaviour in a dream."

"Anyway you would not have been able to answer, Faramir. You were sleeping, and..." Éowyn swallowed and shook her head. "I desperately tried to wake you up, but I couldn't reach you."

His right arm went around her shoulder in a gentle and caring movement and lowering his head, he softly kissed her brow before resting his forehead against hers. "It is over now, Éowyn. Believe me, if we really try we will overcome our fears and nightmares."

She closed her eyes. How different this was from their former frenzy of passion. And yet it was the same man. Caring and ardent, scholar and warrior... Her chosen husband. She let her fingers slide up his arm, over his shoulders, till they reached the nape of his neck. She felt his hand come to rest at the small of her back, steady, warm, supporting, encircling her without closing her in. She breathed deep. This caring man, this formidable warrior was her responsibility now.

Opening her eyes again, she pulled back her head to look at his face. His eyes were closed as had been hers, his dark lashes fanned out in a soft arc, contradicting the sharp-ridged boldness of his nose. She smiled. Yes, this face showed a lot of the man who owned it: Nobility in the high forehead and the chiselled cheekbones, adventurousness in the set of his nose, the ability of leadership in the firmness of his jaw and sensuality in the curve of his lips. His eyes flickered open, their expression questioning at finding her watching him.

Pulling his head lightly down to her, Éowyn kissed the tip of his nose. "Man of Gondor, you invited me for supper. So we should eat some more. Not because I see the need to keep the pretence, but because you have had nothing but..." Some mouthfuls she had wanted to say, but Gelíris' perky remark flashing up in her mind, she could not help bursting out in snorts of laughter.

"My lady, I do not comprehend the source of your sudden mirth, but let me assure you, that your behaviour is absolutely unbecoming for a Gondorean maiden." His grin nearly splitting his face, Faramir reciprocated her gesture, causing her to growl in mock-complaint and dry the tip of her nose with the hem of her sleeve. "And let me also assure you that I'm madly happy to have chosen a wild Shieldmaiden of the north instead." He leaned back with a happy sigh. "But I suppose you are right that we should eat some more. The Hobbits would never forgive us if we ignored a meal like the present one."

She did not bother to move back to her initial place on the bench, just reaching for her plate and then for the small two-pronged fork that had been placed beside it. Giving it a closer look for the first time, she could not help a grin. It consisted of delicately wrought silver, the handle topped with a tiny globe of polished rose quartz, the stone of harmony and love. "Did you order these to be used?"

Having eyed the fork she held out to him, Faramir then glanced at his own and shook his head. "No, Lady Saelind took charge of everything. And as I see she did not leave out any opportunity to assure the successful result of our meal."

"She was very fast in telling you about the entire shambles she and Tuingail had caused."

"And she was more than relieved when I told her that we had settled our differences. She never wished you harm, Éowyn. Quite the contrary. She wanted our relationship to succeed from the very beginning. And not only because she had realised at once that I was absolutely smitten with you, and she did not want to deny her boy anything he craved, but because she was convinced that you were a strong-minded, down-to-earth woman who would be good for me."

Éowyn shrugged. "And yet what is good for you is the benchmark she judges everything and everybody else by."

With a sheepish grimace, Faramir reached for his goblet. "I'm afraid for her I'll always stay the five-year-old in desperate need of motherly care. I'm her weak spot, Éowyn."

Chuckling, Éowyn speared one of the tiny mushrooms on her plate. "Quite a large spot, if you ask me. But I'm truly happy she agrees with your choice, for I deem her one of the persons who I would not like to have as an enemy."

"I dare say nobody would. I'm just relieved she didn't rip off Tuingail's head."

Éowyn reached for the bread to scoop up some of the spicy sauce. "As far as I could see, she was permissive enough with the girl. She not only allowed her to fix my new room to get back on good terms with me, she even provided the necessary furniture and sent her handmaid to help Tuingail."

Faramir grunted dismissively. "Nínim not only is Saelind's right hand but also her ears and eyes. The lady offered her to be your new maid, but as much as I love and respect Saelind and know Nínim's efficiency, I would prefer if you fell back on my first maid, Éredhil."

"To have your ears and eyes near me?"

He shrugged. "Éredhil might seem soft and friendly, but she did not become first maid for nothing. And she's absolutely discreet and loyal." He smiled lopsidedly. "I know how much you hate to read letters and how much more to write them, so I would like to have someone near you who not only performs a handmaid's duties excellently but who can also be trusted with the odd message."

Éowyn nodded. "I like her well enough, and Tórdes is eager to leave for Lossarnach, so that sounds like a fitting solution."

Filling his own plate with an assortment of food, Faramir started to eat, too, and for a while they ate in contented silence. Every now and again Éowyn glanced over to the man she had agreed to marry, sometimes meeting his eyes and evoking one of his typical faint smiles she was so fond of, sometimes just watching him relishing his food. There was no doubt: She was happy to be with him. Smiling, Éowyn wiped the remnants of the sauce off her plate. She had chosen well, and she would do everything to repay the man at her side for his love and care.

"Some more meat?" He held the eating knife ready to cut more pieces for her, but Éowyn shook her head.

"No, thank you. The meal was truly delicious and exactly what it liked, but I have already eaten more than is my want."

"But there still is the cake, my lady." He smiled mischievously. "You have to try it. It was the dream and delight of my childhood, and I once even broke my wrist when I fell off the topmost kitchen shelf trying to pinch some as a boy of four."

Éowyn laughed. "Then let us walk a bit, my lord, and come back for the dessert later."

Nodding, Faramir struck a small bar made of brass, generating a clear, echoing sound. Seemingly out of nowhere a servant appeared, bowing obsequiously. "Clear the table, but leave the cake, please. We'll have it later." Rising, Faramir held out his hand to Éowyn, when suddenly she had an idea.

"Oh, and serve some chai with it, please."

"Chai?" The servant looked dumbfounded.

Faramir grinned. "Just ask the Lady Saelind. She'll know. And dismiss the musicians."

For a while they walked along the lantern-lit path hand in hand, but for all the beauty of the garden Éowyn could not help feeling the confinement of walls. Only too soon they had reached their starting point again and went for a second round.

Faramir must have sensed her feelings, for when they passed under the almond tree for a second time, he slightly squeezed her hand. "The gardens of Emyn Arnen will be different, Éowyn, and there will be no walls to close you in and restrain your view."

Éowyn shook her head. "There is nothing wrong with a wall in a garden to give shelter and support to plants in need of it. But I am no delicate flower."

With a sigh he pulled her close. "No, you certainly are not."

And yet he had compared her to a flower. Staying him by putting her hand on his chest, she asked: "Pray, tell me what the words of the poem in the Elven language mean."

"Which one of all?"

Surprised, Éowyn took half a step backwards. "You wrote more than one?"

He nodded. "The days before the downfall of the Nameless I wrote several every day, both in Sindarin and in Quenya. I needed to express my feelings, the joy to have found you and the fear that I might lose you again all too soon." He shrugged. "I'm afraid they were of a rather poor quality, but at least the feeling was true."

Éowyn found it difficult not to shake her head. It would never cease to amaze her how important words seem to be for him. And how important to write them down. "I only know about one. It starts with my name and the word Niquesse. Gelíris told me that it means ice flower."

"So it does. Éowyn Niquesse - Éowyn Ice flower." He softly kissed her temple. "Írima ná vea - lovely yet valiant." Another kiss was planted on her ear. "Locsilda telemna - your silver hair". A kiss on the pinned up braid above her ear followed. "Calta ve isil - shines like the moon." After a last kiss on her brow, Faramir grimaced. "I'm afraid you will find my attempts pathetic, and yet I might have to write more, as it will be difficult to wait until I will be able to embrace you as my wife."

Éowyn passed her arm around Faramir's waist, leaning her head against his shoulder. To write poems about her... What an odd behaviour to capture one's thoughts and feelings in ink, preserving them on vellum. And yet the thought that his mind and heart had been bent to her filled her with warmth. It might be odd to be focused so much on reading and writing, on letters in general, but it was an oddity she was willing to accept because it meant so much to the man she... She swallowed, startled by the word that sprung up in her mind all of a sudden. Checking herself, she finished her thought in a more cautions way: … the man she had agreed to marry.

In an attempt to suppress the sudden feeling of uncertainty, she fell back on facts. "An official announcement of a hand-fasting cannot take place before the funeral of Théoden King as the traditions of the Mark forbid a wedding if a member of the family is still unburied."

"Gondor is worse. According to custom I would not be allowed to become betrothed for an entire year after my father's death. And then an engagement should last another year." He grimaced. "And mind you, a year under the strict rules of Gondorean etiquette."

Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "According to custom. And in fact?"

He leaned his cheek against the crown of her head. "In fact I will shorten the time as much as I can. But I will have to respect the required period of mourning before our wedding. At least it will give me time enough to get started with building on Emyn Arnen."

Snuggling up against him, Éowyn smiled. It would not be a domicile haunted by the ghosts of Faramir's ancestors but something new. Something that would be entirely theirs. Still smiling she said: "I don't know the lay of the land, but I just hope with all your plans for building you'll leave me enough suitable space for a garden."

He nodded, his face serious. "I certainly will. But the foremost task will be to build shelters for the masons and builders and the soldiers I will have to station there to protect them. It will take some time till Ithilien will be cleared of the last remnants of Sauron's allies."

"So you intend to build a stone house?" She knew she should have expected that, but she could not help feeling somehow disappointed.

He gently took her face in his hands. "Yes, it has to be stone, because I want Emyn Arnen to be strong, Éowyn. It won't just be a mansion, but also a garrison to protect the eastern borders."

She nodded. "It probably makes sense. And yet I think I will miss the smell and warmth of wood."

Gently, his thumbs caressed her jawline. "Don't you worry, there will be enough wood. I don't want to copy Minas Tirith, save perhaps for the construction of the roads. But otherwise we can create something new, combining the advantages of Gondor and Rohan."

They recommenced their walk in silence until he asked: "Are there no elements you like in the houses of the city?"

Éowyn shrugged. "I like the yards with their trees and flowerpots. And the large windows at Lady Saelin's, the ones in the great parlour. Though I would like them to open to a wider view, not just into the yard."

Again they had reached the arbour, where now small cups and a teapot on a warmer had been set beside the cake. Éowyn suppressed a sigh. Such a luxury and so much care, and yet she felt closed in. Passing the arbour for another round, she said in a low voice: "I love the view from the terrace of Meduseld, out over the plains and to the heights of the White Mountains."

"What about a view over the vale of the Anduin and to the white peak of Mindolluin?"

She smiled. "That truly sounds wonderful, but I'm afraid it will fill the house with unbearable heat in summer."

He shrugged. "We'll simply have to take care of proper shading and circulation of the air. There is profound knowledge of building to make the best of the climate in Gondor, and also we could build a basin to cool off in the heat of summer."

Surprised, Éowyn stopped. "Like the one in Imrahil's town house?"

She could not help the eagerness in her voice and Faramir smiled. "How do you know about it?"

"I visited Gelíris and had a bath and saw it. So it is only used in summer?"

His smile turned to a grin. "It would take a bit too much fuel to fill it with warm water. But it is marvellous in summer. Boromir and I went as often as we could and we had very impressive water-battles there with Imrahil's sons."

Éowyn sighed. "That simply sounds wonderful. And it must be a sight to behold to have the basin filled with clear water, the green marble sparkling with every ripple. It's such a vivid contrast to the white of the other stones."

"Yes, it certainly will be a sight to behold." How could it be that one felt touched by a voice? Confused, Éowyn looked up. When had his eyes become so dark, so mesmerising, so... hungry? She felt her body respond to him, recklessly demanding heat uncurling low in her belly. How could one feel weak with desire? Sliding her hand into his hair at the nape of his neck, she pulled him close, pulled him into the kiss she yearned for.

It took them some time till they broke the kiss, staying encircled in each other's embrace and then all of a sudden Faramir chuckled softly. "At least I know now what I will ask from Dol Amroth as a wedding gift. But when did you have a bath at Imrahil's ?"

"Today. Gelíris and I had been at the camp and..." Éowyn heaved a breath and wriggled out of his arms. "I'm afraid I have to tell you something, no actually two things, you might not like to hear."

His eyebrow twitched. "Then we had better get it over with, had we not?" His face serious, he took her hand and placed a kiss on her palm.

Éowyn heaved a breath. "The first thing is why I took the bath. Do you remember when you told me about the ingredients of the perfume?"

Still holding her hand, Faramir nodded solemnly.

"Well, the perfumer said that with that scent and a slight whiff of sweat and horse..."

All of a sudden all solemness was gone from his face again, replaced by a broad grin. "That sounds truly promising."

"But Faramir, don't you understand? I was worried. I mean, what if... if it had been that scent that had caused you to kiss me against your true inclination."

He now laughed openly. "I assure you, my lady, my inclination was clear, at least to me, long before there had even been a thought about any kind of perfume. And I am sure that no perfume whatsoever can sway anybody, be it man or woman, that completely, no matter what the perfumers say."

Éowyn nodded. "That's what Gelíris told me. But I wanted to get that smell off me to be sure that..." She hesitated, and he tenderly stroked her cheek, serious again.

"That what?"

"That it is me you want and not just some weird concoction of scents."

His eyes sought hers. "Do you have any doubts anymore?"

She mutely shook her head and felt him breathing deep.

"Good. Then let's face the second thing I need to know."

"It's because of the horse." Seeing his uncomprehending expression, Éowyn explained. "When you insisted that I should keep the dagger and the mantle I wanted to give you a return present. Something useful yet precious as a token of friendship. I wanted you to have a good horse, because if you were to be given back your ancestors' lands in Ithilien you would have need of one. So I commissioned Ceadda to get Salubrūn for me. The problem is that he is a gelding."

"I'm afraid I cannot see the problem in it, Éowyn. Certainly a Rohirric horse is a splendid gift, and if it's one you chose I have no doubt it..." He checked himself with a faint grin. "I have no doubt he is beyond criticism."

Could he not understand or did he not want to understand? With a twinge of annoyance she pulled back her hand. "He's the best palfrey of all the Folde, so that's not the problem. You see, when I sent Ceadda to get Salubrūn I had no idea that you... That you might wish to marry me. I'm of the king's household and according to the traditions of the Mark I am to give my future husband a horse... A trained courser, and what is more, a stallion."

Slowly, Faramir shook his head. "Were it a jade, a three-legged nag, a rocking horse even, coming from you I would cherish it."

She could not but grin at the image, and yet she felt he had not really understood her. "Faramir, you can't ignore the symbolism. As a lord you have to be given a charger, a destrier from my herds. And no doubt after your performance on the walls this afternoon, you will be under constant observation for every Eorling will expect us to marry. They would take me giving you a gelding as a trigger for some really crude ribbing."

He shrugged, and in an attempt to convince him, she grabbed his tunic across his chest. "They would doubt your manliness, Faramir."

His right hand covered hers, stroking the fist that crumpled his garment. "There certainly are ways to refute them."

She looked up. There was laughter in his eyes, grey warmth, and something else, something mischievous, wilfully challenging her, and yet so much care, so much...love. With a mixture of sigh and chuckle she leaned into him. "There certainly are. But I doubt they agree with Gondorean decorum."

"Decorum be hanged." Pulling her into him, he bent down his head to kiss the side of her neck. "Between the two of us we have already made a joke of almost every rule of courtly demeanour, and I am not inclined to stop now."

Chuckling, she placed a kiss on his chin. "We are certainly good at it, but I warn you: The Eorlingas don't stint on ribald comments once they have an opportunity to make them. And they will show you no mercy."

"Mmh, then perhaps I'll have to conveniently spread the news that a certain Shieldmaiden ogled me and quite liked what she saw."

She laughed, shifting her broken arm aside to be better able to snuggle into him. "I doubt it would help you, for they would say that you may have the looks, but who knows about the performance."

He groaned in mock-despair.

"You see?" Teasingly, she nibbled his jawline. "There is no loophole until our trothplight and until then you'll have to endure."

"And then?" His hands roaming over her back, he pulled her even closer.

With an impish smile she brought her lips to his ear. "Then I'll show you what it means to have chosen a Shieldmaiden, man of Gondor. And in the morning I'll take you to the Eastemnet where the herds graze in summer, and I will travel with you from herd to herd, showing you the best stallions of the Eastfold so you can chose a destrier from any herd you like, making sure you will get the best of all the Mark."

He softly kissed her temple. "And you are so sure I'm worth it?" His voice was low, a hoarse whisper caressing her skin as his lips trailed down to the hollow of her throat. Stifling a groan, Éowyn arched her back to give him better access, all thought of banter forgotten. The man she had chosen... Leaning her head against his shoulder, she nuzzled his hair, black as a raven's wing and ever so faintly smelling of pine. With a sigh her mouth sought his lips, and as she felt the narrowness of the world around her melt away under the ardour of their kiss, the first drops of a soft spring rain started to fall.

Annotations:

The briar rose (or wild rose) was often used to refer to the joyful (flower, scent) and painful (thorns) aspects of love.

A kiss on the hand was the (chaste) sign of formalized affection a gentlewoman of the European High Middle Ages would allow a lord/knight according to the rules of courtly love (Minne). Depending on the lady's sympathy, he would be allowed to kiss the back of her hand, her fingers, her palm or the inside of her wrist, where her pulse gives away the beating of her heart.

tercel: The traditional term for a male falcon is tercel, from Latin tertius = third, because of the fact that a male falcon is approximately one third smaller than the female.


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