Of Stewards and Rangers
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Phrygian Flute, The: 12. A Morning of Pale Spring - Part 1
Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold as a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood.
The King of the Golden Hall
~The Two Towers~
DREAMS HUNTED HIM. Try as he would, he could not wake; ever they pursued him, creatures with talons of fire and eyes blazing red as coals. And all around him was a whirling storm of darkness, deeper than the night. Once, he saw his brother drifting in a high-prowed boat, storm-tossed on an ocean of flame; another time, he lay on a great pyre of wood, writhing, burning. In his agony, he cried, “Father! Father!” and held out his hands, living torches, for succour, but Denethor did not come.
Yet, there were times that Faramir rose gasping, out of that sea of horror; he saw then, the stranger faces of men and women, and among them, one he knew well – a man with hair the colour of a raven’s wing, on whose narrow hand glimmered a signet ring graven with a swan in flight. He felt cool linen on his fevered brow, water on his parched lips, and heard his name ringing faintly in his ears, like the sound of bells tolling far away. But always, the cool hands slipped away and each time, it seemed to him that he was falling down and down, into a deep, lightless void from which he would never rise again.
One day, there came another voice, kind and weary, calling him out of the night, and the scent of herbs, at once sweet and bitter. And when Faramir opened his eyes at last, he saw a face that was both strange and familiar; radiant and full of light. Then his heart rejoiced, for he knew now the one who had come to him in dreams long ago as a child; he knew its grace and wisdom, its valour and majesty, for here stood the king who had come at last to his kingdom.
Softly, Faramir spoke, “My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?”
Smiling, the king laid a gentle hand on his brow. “Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!”
He remembered little thereafter, for he fell into a light, dreamless sleep; and all who saw him knew that peace had come to the Steward’s son.
Faramir woke to a dawn like no other - a morning of pale spring and golden skies; the chill of winter lingered still, but he thought he could smell the promise of summer in it. He raised a hand, its slender fingers wasted by illness, to catch the long yellow shafts of sunlight.
It was hardly a day to be staying abed.
Like an old, old man, he rose and drew an old furred cloak about his shoulders. He came unsteadily to his feet, almost like a child learning to walk; and for a moment, the world reeled wildly about him, and he would have fallen had he not found and caught by blind instinct alone, the tall back of a chair. By and by, the chamber stopped spinning and his heart ceased its mad drumming. What would his men say, to see their Captain as weak as a yearling lamb? He smiled, the odd, ironic half-smile that his men knew so well. Quite suddenly, his heart longed for them; they belonged to him, and he to them – for there was no other now, who could claim him for his own.
No. He checked, and found his hands clenched amidst the folds of fur. There were other duties, other loyalties, and other bonds laid upon him now that his father was dead.
He was the king’s Steward.
Till that moment, he had not known that a man could drink of such joy and sorrow mingled in a single cup. It was a draught both bitter and sweet.
“Your father is dead,” Imrahil had said in his kindly way. “The old Steward is at peace, and Gondor greets the new. Faramir, my sister’s son, you will be a greater Steward than Denethor, son of Ecthelion. Greater, and yet lesser, for the king has returned.” Stooping, the Prince kissed his brow. “You are alive, Faramir, but not alone. Lay your grief aside, for the living need you yet!” He had bowed his head and said nothing then, for his uncle’s gaze, full of sorrow and gentleness was upon him. Then, another voice rang out of the gloom; a clear, young voice, trembling with joy.
“Sir! My lord Steward.”
“Cub.” He met the boy’s eyes – but Edrahil was a boy no longer. There was a swathe of filthy linen on his arm and a sureness about the way he carried himself – the swagger of a warrior. “How –“
“Cub? A quaint name for one so valiant. I shall never quite understand the ways of your Rangers,” Imrahil smiled, shaking his head. “He stood over you with his teeth bared, like a she-wolf guarding her litter. If not for Edrahil, you would have been naught but red rags by the time we broke through.”
“My lord, I only did my duty,” the boy had said, flushing.
He heard himself saying, “Then it was well done, my brother,” and was absurdly pleased when he saw the tears in the boy’s eyes.
When they had gone, Faramir turned his face to the wall and wept, for he was glad, so glad that he was not alone.
Faramir shook his head. I am a maudlin fool, he told himself, and came slowly to his feet. He was not to rise from his bed, the Warden said, for a long while yet – not until the wound closed. But today, his yearning for the sun and sweet air of the garden would not be denied.
Walking was more painful than he had imagined; the even the simple task of putting one foot beyond the other was quite beyond his strength. Twice he paused to rest, trembling by the foot path; once he sank to his knees on the grass, almost too tired to rise again, and only the gross indignity of being found thus and carried back to his cot like a child spurred him to his feet.
He found his way, without meaning to, to the bench under the shadow of the old oak tree his mother had once loved. There, Faramir slipped, exhausted onto the cool stone, closed his eyes and laid his cheek against the rough bark. For a long while, he was still – so still that any man who saw him would have thought him asleep.
So it was that he did not see the girl when she stepped silently from the colonnades. She made no sound, for she was a warrior and warrior’s daughter. Tall she was; her long fair hair braided with ribbands, and her white gown burnished to gold in the glowing dawn.
She stopped, just beyond the oak tree’s shade so that the sun shone full upon her.
He was no more than a shadow in the green shade, the pale young man in a dark cloak, snowdrops like tears glistening at his feet. But what she thought of him, no man knew, for the unspoken grief in her gaze did not fade, nor did she say a word. Then the wind rose, and an oak leaf fell, brushing the young man’s cheek.
He woke then; and their eyes met.
With infinite grace, the girl inclined her head and turned away. She left as silently as she had come, and for a single heartbeat, it seemed to Faramir that she was a golden vision, lost forever beyond all catching back.
But she was no dream, for there, in the grass among the snowdrops and dark oak-leaves lay a single white ribband.
In The Steward and the King, Faramir and Éowyn meet for the first time in the Houses of Healing. I’ve always been reluctant to re-write scenes that the good Professor has done so well; so, here’s my rather AU version of their first meeting, which would have taken place not long before they were formally introduced by the Warden.
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