17. Journeys of the Heart
The vivid blue sky, looking freshly scrubbed, gleamed overhead, an unwitting mockery of the mostly grim expressions borne by the adult citizens of Edoras. The numbers of Rohirrim on the Feld and in Dunharrow had minutely increased as a few additional exiles from settlements further afield in the Mark made their straggled way up to this ancient ground. It had been three days since sounds of an earthquake had been heard in the South, and then an oddly calming wind had rushed across the plains. Some had cried tears of joy, feeling suddenly relieved, though none could explain why. As the days of anguished waiting turned into weeks, Fréalas felt the tension in her threatening to snap. At first she had likened each day of unknowing like standing on the very edge of a chasm; it made her dizzy, but she knew that she must stand there, looking down, careful not to lose her footing. But now, nothing had changed since the echoes of dread, fell sounds of groaning earth had washed over them - not a horse’s hoof to be heard, no smoke, no fires...
It was insufferable. She was almost ready simply to lean over- and fall.
Moments ago, the ever-patient child who was trying to show Fréalas how to mend the holes she had accidentally knitted into her gearnscrúd had given up. She explained to her friends, “Fréalas is wearing her hawk-face,” and when she did, it was best to leave her alone. Several moments after the lesson ended, Fréalas muttered, “Gearnscrúd! Will be nothing but a soft mat on which Gold Eyes can lie. That is all it will ever be good for.”
The comment hovered in her thoughts as she walked past the outlying tents of the camp nearest the trees of the Dimholt. Despite the stoic expressions worn by many of the women and elders as they established new routines for those basic activities necessary for survival, younger children were still making the best of things. Even Fréalas had to smile as she passed by one lodging, its unique decoration setting it apart from the clusters of drab-fabriced temporary homes. A small green flag bearing a white horse had been fastened to a stick and then placed lovingly into the ground. The banner waved splendidly in the wind, though its construction was obviously made by young, unskilled hands and of materials any weaver for Meduseld would have scorned. Shaking her head, she mused, Such proud people- and yet we seem made to carry heavy burdens of grief. As she chewed on a rather dry and stale piece of bread, she thought of men who had fought and died, and women and children who carried on, generation after generation.
Hawk-face. She sardonically mulled over the term. Perhaps after all that had happened at Helm’s Deep and Éowyn’s betrayal, her face was more guarded, or perhaps it was the careful dispersal of food rations that made her already prominent nose stand out even more. As she peered into the dark woods, scratching her dog’s ears out of habit, listening to the dim sounds of some children playing “duck, duck, goose,” she suddenly started. The memory of her first passionate kisses with Tóswífan had happened not far from here, but under such a different situation that it seemed like a lifetime ago. Do you even yet live? Fréalas wondered, her heart beating as quickly as it had seven years ago. For a moment her frustration and bitterness of the past days vanished like fog in morning sun, and all she felt was a deep ache of longing and sorrow. Loss and memory flooded her, making her feel that she would surely drown in unshed tears, and her eyes began to blur. She spat out the bread and moved away from the trees, breathing heavily. Now is not the time for shows of emotion, she admonished herself. For all that you know, the world has ended but its heralds of doom have not yet arrived.
Gold Eyes had his nose to the ground, sniffing something intently. Still shaking as she regained her composure, Fréalas moved her sword so that she could crouch down beside him, and saw a hard-shelled beetle of some sort, its glittering green back dazzling in the sunlight. Fréalas watched it determinedly make its way across the dirt and leaves, then she stood up, resolve now on her face.
“Well, my sagacious friend,” she said to Gold Eyes, “if the herald will not come here, I will ride to him.”
She marched down the main path to her lodging, stopping first to ask a question of a shy dark-haired boy who was whittling a stick. He looked surprised at Fréalas, but then with a look of quiet pride, he nodded. With Gold Eyes at her heels, Fréalas went into her tent after murmuring a greeting to Staentwylas as they passed, and shut the flap.
“You cannot do this!” Léah, Swiðhild, and Fréawyn walked next to Fréalas, who was astride Salupád, riding slowly to the path that would take her down to the valley below.
“Ah, but I can, and I must,” Fréalas retorted, dressed in her war raiment, including a leather belt that she had lovingly made for herself, its bold twining braids making one unbroken line around its edges. She had let her red hair hang loose, though struck by a sudden inspiration from long ago in her past, she had deftly plaited two braids from her forehead back behind her ears and down, as she had remembered the hair of the Elf from Dwimordene whom she met as a youth. Nihtscadu her sword was girt at her side, her quiver and bow strapped to her back, and two small bags of provisions were bound to the saddle behind her.
“Fréa, my love,” Fréawyn pleaded as she ran her fingers down the leather arm braces that Fréalas wore, also of her own making, “do not leave me - is it not enough to have lost Frithlíc, and Frithmund suffering what fate I do not know… Must I lose you too? It was prideful folly that that I allowed you to join me with the Riders. It has tormented your heart and driven you to this.”
Fréalas stopped at the edge of the Feld, then dismounted. Standing next to Fréawyn, she embraced her, and said, “I am far more tormented not knowing what has happened, much less what may be happening, and unable to do anything about it.” She stepped back from her mother, keeping her hands on her shoulders. “I think only now do I begin to understand how Éowyn must have felt.” As the anger of her friend’s secretive departure began to rise, she continued, “Unlike her, I am riding on in plain view. There are many here who can continue on until I am able to return with what news there may be, but this waiting is making me mad.”
Fréawyn shook her head, her greying strawberry-blonde hair lifted by the wind. She clasped her daughter’s hand in hers even as it still rested on her shoulder. “I suppose I am partly to blame for this streak of yours, having even a remnant of the blood of the Dúnedain to pass on to you. They are ever wanderers, but I demand that you wander only as far as you must and then return as quickly as your Salupád will carry you.”
“Please tend to Gold Eyes while I am gone,” Fréalas beseeched. “He is most unhappy at being told to stay.” Her mother nodded in assent, then Fréalas turned to face Swiðhild, Léah, and some of the people in the camp who had come over to see what was transpiring at the end of the road.
“I am riding south,” Fréalas declared. “Unless I am killed, I will return with news of what has happened to our kin fighting valiantly in Gondor. Do not give up hope that our Riders will return soon.” At this, there was some murmuring of dissent, but it quickly died away. “After hearing the terrible noises to the south, seeing none of the Mark since then, nor orcs,” she emphasized pointedly, “it seems the most appropriate action that someone should go to see them. I leave now and hope to return within fifteen days if all goes well.”
Fréalas nodded to the exiles of Edoras, then returned to her mother and kissed her on both cheeks.
“Do what you must.” Fréawyn whispered, then patted Salupád on the nose. “You bear her well, as you always have,” she said, then stepped back.
Fréalas mounted Salupád, then produced a standard from her quiver. Holding the reins in her left hand, in her right she held a green flag with a white horse, rather crudely made, flapping in the wind. Silently she began her descent, and still unnerved from her incident in the Dimholt from nearly a decade earlier, she did not look at the statues that lined the road. Soon she was at the foot of the Starkhorn, and replacing the flag in her quiver, she snapped at Salupád’s reins, and they raced to Edoras and beyond.
The next morning Fréalas bathed in the Mering stream, a quick, brisk dip. She had found a few wild figs growing on some untended trees, and savoured their sweet fruit as she broke camp. The next day, as the sun was high overhead, she heard the unmistakable sound of horse’s hooves, though very distant. It was more than one, but less than an eored, If Rohirrim they are! she thought. Seeing a small copse of trees not far away, she guided Salupád over to them to hide until she could gather who the approaching riders were. Her heart beat so loudly in her chest that she was sure whoever was approaching would be able to hear it, and she readied an arrow as a necessary precaution.
Leaning her head to get a better view, she squinted to see several people riding quite fast... yes, they wore helms with high plumes that resembled horse’s tails. They were Riders! Fréalas opened her mouth and gasped, as she had unwittingly been holding her breath. She raced to replace the arrow and swung her bow back over her head and chest, grabbed the small green flag and ran from her shelter, waving madly as they approached.
The Riders slowed, rather bewildered by the scene before them: hours from any settlement, now stood a tall, red-haired woman in Rohirric war garb holding a crude green flag bearing a white horse. As the horses jostled, chomping on their bits, Fréalas shouted in Rohirric, “What news? Stars above, what news??”
The man closest to her dismounted and took off his helm. Though he had a patch over one eye, he still bore a smile at meeting such an unexpected figure. “Exceeding good,” he replied, then gestured at her. “What does a lone woman do here, dressed for battle?”
“I will explain myself in a moment - ” she looked keenly at him, not knowing his name.
“Tréowthain.” He bowed his head. “My apologies. My manners quite left me when you appeared so suddenly from the trees. We are in great haste - “ he began, his eyebrows raised.
“Fréalas.” Her name was spoken by a strangely familiar voice.
She spun to her right, not having noticed a figure walking from the back of the group of Riders. A handsome man with honey gold hair stood next to Tréowthain and said to him, “You should continue on to Edoras in all haste to prepare the city for King Éomer’s return. I will remain and let her know what has transpired of late.”
“Tóswífan?” Fréalas suddenly felt faint. She swayed slightly, confronted with his sudden appearance in that moment, seeing his leather vest smeared with blood, his helm cradled in his arm, a hint of mirth shining in his luminous hazel eyes. He smiled, and Fréalas felt as undone as she had up on the Firienfeld, her mind racing and yet empty of everything except for memories of the warmth of his calloused hands, his sweet breath…
“Yes, Fréalas, I am returned, and all of us here are anxious to spread the news of a King long-awaited who will unite all lands under his banner.” He tipped his head backward at the group of Riders who looked particularly keen to move on.
She stared at him, still holding the child-made standard, though it was now sagging in her hand. Tóswífan continued, “We have suffered many losses, though, and there are many who will not return. Thankfully your father did survive and he will accompany a larger company.”
Fréalas felt entirely incapable of speech, but she forced herself, tearing her eyes away from Tóswífan’s to look back at Tréowthain. “Do ride with all haste," she said. "Those of Edoras have been living up on the Firienfeld and in Dunharrow. We are in mean estate, but none have perished, and others have found their way to us from settlements further afield. But all will want to return to their homes and hear the tidings that you bring.” She breathed deeply, swallowed, then gave Tréowthain the flag still clutched in her hand. “Take this with you, and let them know that I will join them as soon as possible.” Tréowthain looked at the clumsily made banner, and gave her a quizzical look. “When we discovered that the Lady Éowyn had abandoned us, others became leaders in her stead.” Looking him in the eye, she continued, “I was one of those.” Fréalas stepped back, letting her eyes rove over the men, knowing well how clearly they wished to be on their way after this unexpected pause in their rapid travels. “Go now! Fly- they are waiting.”
Tréowthain put his helm back on his head, and after a baffled glance at the banner, stuck it ungraciously in a small pack hanging from his saddle. “We continue north!” he exclaimed, and soon the Riders were gone in a cloud of dust, horsehooves pounding the road.
In the growing quiet, Tóswífan gazed at Fréalas, then let his eyes search until he found his horse. Threohness had meandered over to the trees and was munching on grass next to Salupád, abandoned in Fréalas’ sudden exodus from the shade out to the road. “They ever did get along, did they not?” he said contritely, turning his hand so that his thumb pointed toward the horses. Fréalas nodded mutely, feeling as though somehow she had been set aflame, all other thoughts flying far away, until abruptly she came to herself.
“Blood!” The word suddenly came out of her mouth, as she pointed at his vest. As he looked down, she continued, the words spilling forth as torrents loosed from a dam. “How serious are your wounds? Does Éowyn live? I knew that she must have disguised herself, it is my fault, she knew that Mother and Willow and I… but I will never forgive her, and we heard sounds as though the earth were ripped apart, and yet no one came, and you are here now, and…”
Tóswífan chuckled, and striding to Fréalas, he dropped his helm on the ground and took her hands in his. “Yes, she lives. I have not seen her with my own eyes, but the stories about her bravery on the Pelennor ran through the ranks faster than Héalwine to a pint of ale.” Then the delight in his eyes lessened, and looking searchingly above her freckled nose to her grey-green eyes, he asked, “But I would ask you, did you miss me? Has your heart settled on a path, and if so, do you know where it leads?”
Fréalas felt as though her mouth were made of clay, her tongue sticking to her teeth. What can I say? How can I explain what I have seen and done? He will not desire me after all I have to say... Her thoughts spun as crazily as a one-winged beetle as she remembered words shared long ago, and all that had happened in the intervening years. "Tóswífan, my life has taken rather unexpected paths of late. But as a sunflower turns to the sun, so have I found myself, as your solate once called, returning to thoughts of you again and again."
He did not reply for a moment, but continued to look keenly into her face, then winked. “I am most pleased that you have indeed missed my roguish company.” She felt her hands clasped strongly, then gently released. “So.” Tóswífan gave her a searching look. “Does this mean that I might have your loyalty over that of your royal friend?”
Ah! Understanding suddenly came to Fréalas, and she took back his hands, then kissed them. “You are both very dear to me, yet you reside in very different places in my heart.” Tóswífan looked sceptical at her answer. Fréalas shook her head, still breathing shallowly. “Love, dear Tóswífan, does not often travel alone. Do you fear that you will share my heart with others beside my family and you will be thusly slighted?”
Tóswífan did not speak, instead he took her face gently in his hands, and kissed her insistently, so that they were soon both flushed and even their horses were watching them from the trees. Gasping, they leaned back from each other for a moment, then Tóswífan asked quietly, “Does that mean that you do love me, then?”
Fréalas knew that there were tears running down her cheeks, but she was proud enough to ignore them. “You know I do, or I would never had made you that vest. Which you had to go and wear during battle... but it has served its owner well, has it not?” She began to run her fingers over the designs she knew as well as the whorls on her fingertips, until her hand was taken in his.
He unlaced his vest and took her hand, pressing it to his heart atop his sweat-soaked tunic. "Do you feel that?" he asked quietly, his eyes never leaving hers. "My heart is almost full to bursting. I did not know, in the darkness of battle, whether or not I would see these fair plains again. But I vowed to myself that I would have your plain word if ever I were to see you again." He brushed away a tear from Fréalas' cheek with his hand, and removing his other hand from underneath hers on his chest, he embraced her. "Your rather unexpected appearance and my grateful survival hastened my questions."
Fréalas clasped her hands behind his wide back, nuzzling his neck. "I am sure there are many others," she murmured, "and I have many to ask of you as well."
Tóswífan smiled, then winced, rubbing his lower ribs.
“Your injuries!” Fréalas exclaimed, a worried expression on her face. “I assumed that as you were sent forth as the first messengers that you were mostly unscathed from battle.”
“Well,” he replied, his lip upturned, “we are among the most hale.” He shook his head. “There is still much to be told. But we have a several day’s journey for me to tell you.”
“And I you!” Fréalas exclaimed, then she became somber. “Though my feelings are very conflicted about Éowyn, and I am rather unsure how I will feel when I see her again.”
Tóswífan kissed her brow, and said, "It may be many days. Let us instead speak of what has befallen you, and if you wish to hear it, I will tell you of my journey to Gondor and the battles in which I fought." He whistled, and Threohness cantered over to him. Patting her on the nose, he looked at Fréalas, who stood back when his horse approached. "You have suffered many trials, I can see it on your face."
She returned his gaze, then moved closer to kiss him tenderly on the cheek. "As have you." She walked away to retrieve Salupád, then her voice rang out as she spoke over her shoulder, "The world does not end tomorrow- we have several days, yes?"
The words of the question hung in the air for long moments after they were uttered, like the last heard echoes of a bell rung far away. Éowyn continued to look at Faramir as though she had not heard them, as though their meaning had much further to go to actually reach her, she whose mind still dwelt away in the shadows far beyond the joy of the citizens of the White City.
the gift of a gentle heart...
Once before in that very garden, when she answered the seductive call of the abyss which now held her heart in its sway of despair, she had seen an ember of his soul flicker in his eyes. Now as she gazed steadily, it seemed to her as though he glowed himself, somehow bearing an inner light which refused any longer to remain hidden. Slowly but inexorably, she felt her soul warmed by this unselfish affection, and the melancholy which possessed her began to recede. It was as though she had emerged from an icy stream, and her heart raced under the heat that now coursed through her. She spoke in reply, yet did not answer his question. She was forever changed, and yes, many things were now her will, yet his unspoken question was also left unanswered, at least in words said aloud.
She was then enfolded in his arms, and as their lips met, as they shared breath and then drew back, Éowyn knew suddenly that oblivion would never again be her pursuit, that as never before she longed to feel truly alive. Faramir gently moved some hair from her face, the warm touch of his finger behind her ear making her whole body shiver with unexpected delight. As she looked around the garden, she almost laughed with joy at the roses, now tended, near the wall, their splendour a riot of colour. Returning to look at his face, she touched his lips with her fingers.
Faramir began to smile well before he reached his intended destination, striding purposefully toward one of the smaller kitchens on the sixth level of the tower. He paused at the doorway for just a moment, his grateful eyes drinking in the scene before him, then entered.
“And then he said, ‘Fool of a Took! This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time!’” Merry spoke in his best, and very effective, Gandalf impersonating voice, wagging a thin loaf of bread like a staff. Pippin and Éowyn howled with laughter. Upon seeing the Steward of Gondor, wearing a rich cloak and looking very regal, the hobbits quieted down and Éowyn began to rise from the table, her smile as bright as white sand at midday.
“No, no, stay seated,” Faramir said congenially. “I did not mean to interrupt, as I am on my way to what I hope is a brief council.” He looked at the table, with plates of food, mostly eaten, some ale, a flask of wine and jug of water. With a twinkle in his eye, Faramir asked, “And what meal is this one called?”
Pippin spoke up. “Elevenses, sir.” After taking a satisfying bite out of his apple, he asked, somewhat muffled, “Would you care to join us? There is still some to go around.”
“Yes, Faramir,” Éowyn said, “please do. I did not think you would mind… it has been such a wonder to have my appetite back again, and Meriadoc and Peregrin are most clever in their ability to create delicious meals.” She took Faramir's hand in hers, placing it on her shoulder, and Merry gave Pippin a knowing glance, then looked toward the opposite door.
Pippin got up from the table, pocketed a small bit of bread and cheese, then bowed to Faramir. “Merry and I have lingered long enough. We need to go find that rascal Sam, and Frodo too. No doubt we can find Sam in the garden, since they say..."
“Once a gardener, always a gardener,” Merry finished the sentence as he rose, giving a jaunty nod of his head to Éowyn. “There is at last a look of hobbit health around you now,” he said with a grin as he patted his own rather flat stomach, then retrieved his pipe from a pocket in his vest.
Faramir stepped across to straddle the bench, taking Merry’s place at Éowyn’s side as the two hobbits left the kitchen, going off in search of their companions. Éowyn picked up a strawberry from a small plate, and with a coy smile, placed it to Faramir’s lips, which he opened with surprise. He chewed thoughtfully, desire flickering briefly in his eyes, then he shook his head. “Ah, lady, would that I did not need to attend this council!” He ran his fingers through her hair, then leaned in to kiss her lips softly.
As he leaned back, Éowyn traced her finger along his cheekbone, murmuring, “As do I, lord.” She picked up another strawberry for herself, enjoying its sweetness. “But we shall leave soon, and there is still much I need to do to prepare for my return to Edoras.”
They sat in contented silence for a few moments, Éowyn resting her left hand on Faramir’s thigh. What grace is this which is given me? Faramir wondered, feeling both the need to go to his appointment and yet wishing for nothing further than to run to the highest point of Minas Tirith and shout out for all to hear, ‘She will have me!’, the words ringing across the rooftops. He picked up her glass of wine and took a small sip, then looked ruefully at Éowyn as she played with the green strawberry-leaves on her platter. “Are you ready to return to your home?”
Éowyn ceased twiddling the leaves and looked at him, tilting her head slightly. “Would you have my true answer?” she asked, her grey eyes hinting at much, yet revealing little.
Faramir nodded. “I would never wish for you to tell me a falsehood, no matter the sentiment.”
Shuddering, Éowyn replied, “Those who speak half and untruths hold special loathing for me, and none shall ever fall from my lips.” As her hand massaged his leg, she bowed her head. “It is odd for me to return, Faramir,” she began haltingly, then turned her face to his. “I am filled with such joy now, and hope, but I had none of those things when I left the place of my birth. I did not plan ever again to see the shining helms of the guards of Meduseld, to see horses running free across the plains, to confront those who I left behind…”
Her voice trailed off as she returned her gaze to her plate on the table. “It is an unexpected privilege, and yet I do not know how I will be received.” She sighed, watching her fingers as they played around the edges of the dish. “So much has changed,” she said quietly, then quickly turned to look at Faramir. “I have changed.” Her tone was solemn.
Faramir knew that he could not linger, but before he rose to attend his council, Éowyn continued, “There are those to whom I must redeem myself, those who have loved me dearly since I was a child.” Taking his hands in hers, Éowyn looked earnestly at Faramir, his expression one of complete attentiveness. “You must know my friend Fréalas, even as I must explain my actions to her.”
Faramir gently held his beloved’s hands. “If it is of import to you, then I shall.”
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.