4. In Rohan
Halmir shook his head. Brown-eyed Arminas, his hillman ancestry evident in both eyes and rust-colored hair, asked, "Will you be following us later, sir?"
"I am not certain. It will depend on how long my errand to King Théoden takes, and what its result is. So you should carry on without expecting me," said Faramir. He watched as the two men bowed in farewell, and boarded the boats at the river-dock here below the Falls of Rauros. It had taken him only a few days to arrange the matter, thankfully, since every hour of delay meant another hour that children would go hungry in western Gondor. The three small boats were laden with barrels of turnips, onions, and potatoes, and a lesser amount of smoked and salted pork and hard pale cheese. Barley and wheat were already on their way from Lebennin; Faramir had not had to arrange that, for Denethor had sent word to Dorlas of Pelargir to do so.
Now that the immediate needs of his people were being seen to, it was time for Faramir to begin the other part of his mission in Rohan. The journey to Edoras could be made in four days if he hurried, but Faramir planned to ride at a more leisurely pace and arrive at the king's hall in late afternoon on the fifth day. Though he would be crossing the Entwash at an established ford, in this wet spring the ground for miles around would doubtless be sodden and slow going. Better to be cautious, thought Faramir, and in any case it will give me more time to think about how best to broach the matter for which I am sent.
He should not have been surprised by his mission. Faramir himself had once made the suggestion to Boromir, only half in jest, that his brother should wed Théoden's niece. When Boromir had passed on the notion to Denethor, seeking to distract his father from any idea that he should wed a suitable girl of Gondor immediately, the Steward had regarded it with favor, despite an expressed wish that Boromir himself had put forward the plan, rather than Faramir. Nothing had been done about the matter in the past seven years, however, although Faramir did not know why his father had waited. Perhaps because both parties were still young; Boromir was only just of marriageable age this year, and the girl – what was her barbaric name? Éowyn? – a mere child yet. A betrothal would seal the alliance between Gondor and Rohan, but no wedding could take place for some years. Denethor must have some reason to make this proposal now; had he heard that Théoden was beginning to make other plans for his niece? Faramir supposed he would soon find out.
As he had expected, the sun was halfway down the sky on the fifth day's travel from the Anduin when he saw the golden roof of Meduseld gleaming above the clutter of houses that crouched behind the walls of Edoras. At the gates of the city Faramir dismounted and led his horses up the steep stone-paved streets to the green-grassed terrace where the king's house stood. When he identified himself as the son of Gondor's Lord Steward, he was greeted with courtesy, his animals taken to be stabled with the king's own, and he himself led to a room where he could wash and refresh himself before meeting with Théoden.
He shook the worst of the wrinkles out of a clean tunic and trousers, carefully saved for this purpose, and reminded himself to see about having his other garments laundered as soon as possible. Stripping away his riding-clothes, he washed off the sweat of travel. If an odor of horse still lingered, well, in Rohan it was unlikely to be noticed or occasion comment if it were. Faramir pulled on the clean clothes and stamped his feet back into his boots, then ran a comb through his dark hair, peering into the small and fly-specked mirror to see that it looked suitably tidy. He drank some water to soothe the dust of travel from his throat, but then could linger no longer. Taking a deep breath to settle his nerves, he went off to make his duty to the king.
Théoden, Faramir was relieved to find, was far more affable than the steward of Gondor, for all that he bore a royal title. Denethor, to be sure, was courteous enough to any envoy from a foreign lord, but none would call him genial, which was the word that first sprang to Faramir's mind to describe the king of Rohan. His face was hard to read under a golden beard, and his blue eyes were sharply intelligent, but his smile was kindly as he greeted Faramir and asked his business.
"That is for your ears alone, my lord," Faramir told him. "I bear a letter from the Steward; he asks that you read it first in private, though he knows that afterward you will doubtless wish to consult with your advisors. As it will tell you, I am authorized to come to an agreement on his behalf, if you are willing."
The king raised an eyebrow. "I will read it then," he said, holding out his hand. Faramir gave him the letter, sealed with plain white wax imprinted with the rod of the Stewards. Théoden broke the seal and began to read. Faramir stepped back and waited. The king's face showed no sign of what he thought as he perused the message, but when he finished, he beckoned Faramir forward again and said, "This will take some consideration, indeed. I will not be prepared to even discuss the matter further with you for a day or two; I must call together my council and hear their thoughts first. In the meantime, you must treat my house as yours. My son Théodred is about somewhere and he will be glad to speak to you. My nephew Éomer will take you to him."
Obediently Faramir followed the younger lad out of the hall. So, this boy might one day be Boromir's brother-in-law. Which would make him my kinsman as well. A grin, carefully concealed, tugged at his lips when Éomer made gestures at the other young lads about the hall, indicating that he was escorting the stranger reluctantly. This task would not raise Éomer in his peers' esteem; being the king's nephew doubtless made it hard for him to make close friends. That was something about which Faramir could have written volumes himself.
"Did you have a good journey?" the boy asked him with formal politeness.
"It was well enough, I suppose, although I am not accustomed to so much riding," Faramir said. "I have spent most of my years in Minas Tirith. My brother Boromir, who serves on the eastern border, would have found it more congenial."
"I think I have met the lord Boromir." Éomer screwed up his face in concentration. "Two years ago, he came here briefly to speak with my uncle. He looked a great deal like you, sir."
"We resemble each other closely," admitted Faramir. "But as I say, he has had the opportunity to do more fighting, so he is rather broader across the shoulders than I. I seem to still be growing a bit, though, so perhaps I will still fill out to match him. And you may call me Faramir, if you wish. When you say sir, I look around for my father!"
"How old are you, if you are still growing, Faramir?"
"Twenty-two," Faramir said. "And you?"
Éomer looked disappointed. "I will have fourteen years next month. I don't want to have to wait another eight or ten years to be full-grown!"
"My family is slow about that," Faramir said. "So you might not have to wait so long as I. Look at your cousin Théodred; he would be a better example of what you have to look forward to."
"That is true. And here we are at the armory, where he should be. Théodred!" Éomer called.
From among the racks of spears and shelves of bucklers, a surprisingly high voice responded. "Éomer?"
"What is it?" Faramir asked.
"That's not Théodred, it's my little sister. Is Théodred here, Éowyn?" he shouted again.
A small but sturdy figure appeared. Faramir looked at this girl whose marriage he was here in Rohan to arrange. She seemed younger than the ten years he knew she was, but that might be because of her boyish attire. Éowyn wore what seemed to be her brother's cast-offs, patched and darned and hanging loosely on her. Her yellow hair was braided down her back, but stray wisps had escaped and clung to her sweat-dampened forehead and neck. I could well believe this one would become a shieldmaiden, rather than a Steward's lady, were the choice her own.
"He's gone off to the stables," Éowyn informed them. "Greymane has a sore hoof, so he's looking after his horse."
"You're not supposed to be in here on your own," Éomer scowled at her. "You'd better come along with us."
Éowyn looked at Faramir. "Who is this?"
"He's the son of the Steward of Gondor, lord Faramir," said Éomer. "An honored guest in our uncle's house, Éowyn, and to be treated with respect." The last was said under his breath, but Faramir heard it clearly.
The girl now made a skimpy curtsey – quite a trick to do so at all, in trousers – and darted out the door into the hallway. "Come on then," she said impatiently.
Faramir and Éomer followed her to the stables, where indeed Prince Théodred was treating his horse but paused to be introduced to his father's guest. Faramir liked the look of Théodred, who was fair-haired like his father and most of the Rohirrim, but had a touch of Gondor in his face as well. Théoden's mother had been Morwen of Lossarnach, so that was only to be expected. Indeed, Faramir knew that without the blood of Gondor in the veins of the royal family of Rohan, Denethor would have been less likely to consider an alliance. Privately he felt that such considerations were foolish, but it was not his to decide.
Théodred kept Faramir company much of the next few days, while Théoden and his advisors considered the proposal that Faramir had brought. The king told his son what the substance of it was, but did not require him to sit in council on the matter.
"Why not?" Faramir asked Théodred. "My father does not have me do so, either, but I am his second son. Boromir would probably be asked to sit in, if he were in Minas Tirith at least."
Théodred shrugged. "I suppose he thinks it unnecessary. I gave him my opinion already."
And what is it? Propriety kept Faramir from asking, but Théodred told him anyway.
"I think that it would be a useful alliance, but it will be eight years before Éowyn is of marriageable age. Many things can happen in such a time, not least that your brother could be injured, even killed, given the dangers in Ithilien where I understand he fights against the encroachments of the Enemy."
"Your girls wed at eighteen?" said Faramir in surprise. "In Gondor our women must be twenty-five, just as the men must be."
"I have heard that the folk of Gondor live longer than we in Rohan," said Théodred. "Perhaps that is why you wed later? A man must be only twenty-one, here, to marry."
"It would make sense," agreed Faramir, "though customs seldom do make sense."
Théodred laughed. "That is certain."
On the sixth day after Faramir's arrival, he was summoned again to speak with Théoden.
"My council are agreed with me," the king told Faramir. "We believe that if Denethor is sincere in this offer – of which I have no doubt," he added, seeing the rising anger on Faramir's face that the Steward's word should be distrusted, "then it is one that we will accept, subject to certain provisos and limitations."
"And what are those?" asked Faramir warily. "I am empowered to negotiate for the Steward, but only up to a point. If I deem the conditions unsatisfactory, I will have to take them to him for further consultation."
"We agree to a betrothal between my niece Éowyn and the Steward's first-born son Boromir, but the marriage shall not take place until she is at least twenty-five. Were she to wed him younger, I fear that the folk of Gondor would think her but a child, and not show her suitable respect," Théoden said. "I remember well how my own mother was treated by the Rohirrim when we returned here; they were polite to her, but she was never one of them. I would try to ensure that my niece has every possible advantage to ensure her comfort in Gondor."
"That, I can agree to," said Faramir. "As long as it is understood that such a long betrothal in no way implies that it can be broken lightly. Lord Denethor would take that ill, I assure you."
"Of course not," the king responded.
There were other points of negotiation to be dealt with, having to do largely with the properties that each party would bring to the match, and how those would be settled on their children. Théoden insisted that if both Théodred and Éomer should die without heirs, then Éowyn's second son should be heir to Rohan. If she had no second son, then the crown should pass through a daughter; under no circumstances should the two realms be joined under a single ruler. Faramir willingly agreed to that, thinking it unlikely that so much ill-chance would occur.
Finally, Théoden asked that the betrothal be kept secret until no more than a year before the wedding. He gave no explanation for this request, and Faramir was loath to agree to it. It was not that he distrusted Théoden, or thought the king would try to use the alliance for his advantage and later break it, but he could see no good reason for it. At last he and Théoden agreed that this provision should be subject to the concurrence of Denethor himself.
Ten days had passed in Edoras, and Faramir's mission was complete. The betrothal agreement had been written out in two copies by Théoden's scribe, and one copy was carefully stowed in Faramir's saddlebag. He bade a formal farewell to the king, a more casual one to Théodred, and invited the prince to visit Minas Tirith sometime if his responsibilities permitted. Éomer and Éowyn were standing nearby for the leavetaking, and Éowyn said, "Why can we not come to see you also?"
"If you ever come to Minas Tirith, I will welcome you there," Faramir promised her. He wondered when Théoden would tell her that someday she would be traveling to Gondor for good.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.