21. Chain of Wishes
"Do not say such things!" her brother had frowned when she had told him that. "There is much left, now that the Worm is gone. We shall speak of this when I return." So he had said, and embraced her fiercely, as was his way, and then, though the worry had not been struck from his eyes, he had smiled that boyish grin of his and gone. When I return. She wished she could believe it, but knew very well that he spoke only as all men did who rode to war. One did not speak of death, of farewells, of last times, of 'if.' 'If' was forbidden, lest the speaking spur doom to come looking for one, and Éomer knew better than to tempt fate more than he already did. Their father's death had taught him that much caution.
And of a sudden, thinking of her father, she remembered in a flash being lifted up to kiss his cheek as he had sat his horse by the gates of Aldburg. Her breath caught, for it seemed such a fragile memory, so long buried, and she feared that to grasp after it too eagerly might destroy it. Her mother had been there, and had lifted her up to him. His beard had tickled when she had kissed him, and she had... she had...
Flowers! That was it. Mayhap it was the many tight-furled blossoms in the garden here that brought them back to mind, but she remembered now pressing a chain of them into Éomund's hand. "I did ten, Da," her child's voice echoed in her head. "Ten good wishes." It had been so long ago, and the women of Edoras did not weave flower chains for their menfolk, blessing each with a good memory to bring their loved ones home. So long since she had been that little girl, for she had put away her childhood early. She had not made a chain since her father's death, and certainly she had made none for Dernhelm, knowing full well then that she and all her people rode for death. But I am still here...
Later that day, Faramir walked in the gardens, and his course turned instinctively east as well. Shall they come again? he wondered, and felt the clench of fear in his breast, thinking of his uncle and cousin, and of his Rangers—as many as had been fit to go—and the King, and too many other good men. With a sigh, he turned away from the dreadful view, but as he did so, his eye caught on something and he frowned. Sitting atop the low wall, held carefully in place by a number of small rocks (likely what had caught his attention), was a ring of flowers. Little yellow buds from the grass, where the gardeners had not yet weeded, all of them set painstakingly into a circlet, and prevented from blowing away by the pebbles that pressed their stems to each other. Ten he counted, and frowned, wondering whether he ought to remove them ere the gardeners did. But they were bright against the pallor of the white stone rail, a glad if odd sight, and after a moment's more consideration, he left them where they lay. An offering they seemed, and he would not disturb them. Reaching out, he touched one of the soft-petaled blossoms, and a smile tugged at his lips. A bit of sunshine, if the old riddle's true, and who does not need it? With a final look east, the Steward of Gondor retired for the afternoon.
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