Gift Horses: 1. Gift Horses

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1. Gift Horses

What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs?” Saruman, “The Voice of Saruman,” The Two Towers. [B]ut in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan.” Aragorn, “The Houses of Healing,” The Return of the King. Gift Horses ******* The morning dawned fair and bright, whispering promises of the many splendid days it would send to follow. Yet Éowyn could muster no regard for its seductive murmurs. She merely stood at the walls of the garden in the Houses of Healing, thinking that the constant singing of the people of Gondor was beginning to grate on her soul. It had been a week since the great Eagle had flown to the White City—indeed, almost to this very spot—bearing reports of the fall of Barad-dûr. He had sung the good news as was his kind’s wont and instructed the citizenry to do the same. And the citizenry had complied with a vengeance, searing Éowyn’s ears ever since with a cacophony of joy she couldn’t escape. Just like she couldn’t escape this pretty, white-walled cage she’d built for herself, piling stones of folly one atop another until she’d constructed a gate big enough to ride a war-horse through and still not see. Whether she’d been chasing Aragorn, seeking a glorious death or punishing him for not returning her love, Éowyn couldn’t remember and didn’t care. She did remember that though its people revered her for her deeds, it had not been concern for Minas Tirith that had driven her to fight. Thus their joy was not hers. If the last battle of men had failed, she would have found the lovely, utter quiet of death. Yet now that it was won and days of new wondrousness were come at last, what had Éowyn to look forward to? She would not be queen of any majestic land, able to take her destiny into her own hands. She would return to her woman’s cage in the halls of Edoras to face the anger of her people at her desertion, and to play chatelaine to what was left of Rohan’s warriors until her brother married or found her a suitable keeper. Life would go on as before, while the glory of Gondor overshadowed everything she possessed. Éowyn stared out across the abyss beyond the walls and ran thin fingers across the cool stone. This was the prison she lived in now and could see—the dew-dampened walls of the garden, her unchosen abode for the last two, agelong weeks. Her ten-day sentence of healing had been imposed and fulfilled, but there was no exodus Éowyn yet wanted to join. The tedium of her captivity had been shared and alleviated somewhat by the presence of the Lord Faramir, now steward of the City. He had boldly admired her with his stern grey eyes and poetry of fair, sorrowful maidens. They had walked and talked and he had offered her flattery that was bothersome but at least preferable to the attentions of Grima Wormtongue; Éowyn had begun to wonder if he would offer her a match. As the days had passed she’d grown somewhat less averse to the prospect. She’d sensed keenly the aura of lineage that sat about his poet-warrior’s shoulders, and while the Lord Faramir was no King Aragorn, his position in Gondor was high and he was a quick-witted man—he would go far. At the very least a union with him would have provided an escape from disgrace in Rohan. But the day Faramir’s healing had been deemed complete he’d taken himself back off to the city and a considerable pile of work, and she’d barely heard from him since. So Éowyn stood alone once more at the city walls. Though it was early, the day was already too warm for her white wool dress. Since the passing of the shadow, spring had pounced upon the earth with startling aggression. The morning sun radiated unstinting yellow heat across the city and about the newly-green fields below. Éowyn leaned over the edge, ignoring the niggling discomforts of scratchy wool and sweat, to view the day’s action at the gate. No, not an exodus—only an influx, she thought. Far, far below her an unbroken line of horses, carts and people streamed across the field into the City, carrying enough flowers to have denuded every village for leagues about. The treacherous morning breezes, which should have cooled her skin, carried only notes of joyful song, up the walls of all six circles and straight into Éowyn’s tired ears. She was a bird in a cage, and the world sang to her since she would not. When she was young, Éowyn remembered, she’d liked the singing. As a girl she’d lingered quietly after dinner in walled crannies of the great dining hall of Meduseld, on high stools with feet dangling above the flea-infested rushes, and listened as the Riders had belted out the bloody and glorious history of Rohan with booming enthusiasm. Sometimes, if she’d been unobtrusive enough while the ale flowed, she’d been able to lurk in the shadows while the songs of battle segued into lusty and graphic ballads of the Riders’ glorious bedroll and bedroom conquests. Typically it would reach such a lewd pitch that her giggling would result in being discovered and sent to bed, but there’d been other nights and she’d always returned for more. Her girlish ears had thrilled with pride as the Riders congratulated themselves on being men of valor. As the years had passed, however, as the king and with him the grandeur of Rohan had faded into senility and obscurity, Éowyn had realized that those glories had never been meant for her. The filter of intervening years and maturity had revealed the words’ true meaning—they had simply congratulated themselves on being men. She loved her brother and was proud of Rohan’s regained respect. Éomer had even sent word to the city, begging her to join him on the victory field. But at the moment she didn’t want to face him or Aragorn, and could not share in their joy. She’d had enough of that here, listening to the returning Gondorians. At this thought, Éowyn drew back from the walls and sought the cooler, quieter shade along the stoned walks that threaded through the gardens. She wandered them without aim, here and there shoving aside a tree branch that drooped a leafy greeting in her path, or staring unseeingly at the cheery blaze of color presented by banks of scarlet and yellow flowers. In the periphery of her vision the stooped and grey Warden of the Houses of Healing hovered, eyeing her and wringing his hands. Éowyn disregarded his presence and his worry over her. He had been thus since the day she’d first sought him-- kind and versed in healing-lore but dithering and unhelpful. While her slippered footsteps whispered along the cobbled paths, Éowyn ruminated on stories of great and powerful Elven witches who had shaped the wildernesses of the earth and who ruled their realms with astonishing power. Aragorn and his companions had spoken reverently of such a female. Nevertheless, in the land of mortals where Éowyn lived and breathed, men held the reins. She finally found a familiar stone bench in a vined bower and sat out of habit, ignoring the tranquil beauty that surrounded her in favor of her own memories playing out behind her eyes. She had snapped those reins of control, once. She had disobeyed the orders of her king, disguised herself as a man, and had ridden to battle seeking death. Yet she was not dead, and where had she ended? Back where she had started, under the care of men who urged her, ever with gentle respect, to keep her place. Faramir had been—was—such a man. When she’d first met him, she’d tried to prevail upon him to release her. At that time she’d still thought there was a chance to die with a sword in her hand. But he’d only counseled her, ever in a gentle, pitying tone, that it was wrong to cross the healers in the matter of their craft. And all the while a light of desire had kindled behind the compassion in his eyes. It would ease his heart to see her, he’d said, and he’d not released her. In the days after he’d sought her out upon her walks and chided her for her despair. ********** The first time Éowyn had stood alone in the sunshine upon the walls of Minas Tirith, the sight of clouds in the east had drawn her eyes and ensnared her thoughts. Thus she had not known that the Lord Faramir had come out in search of her until he’d called her name. She joined him, though she was not sure she wanted to. The night before he’d dragged her sordid history from her hobbit esquire, Meriadoc, and Éowyn was sure he’d prepared a lecture she had no wish to hear. But he merely smiled and came up to meet her, taking her good elbow in light fingers and leading her to a bench that nestled in a wooden trellis. Early vines crisscrossed the latticework, but their leaves had not fully sprouted and white, splintered strips showed through the gaps in the greenery. Éowyn stared at the flaking paint for a moment before finally turning to face her companion. His gravely handsome face was open and polite as if he waited to gauge her mood. She spoke first. “My lord, I have been thinking over your words of yesterday,” she began carefully, to head off his questions. “You were right about our duty, but it is hard for me to accept the waiting. An anonymous death is a coward’s death, or so I and my people have been taught to believe.” There, she thought, a balanced opening. It recognized his wisdom, but held a touch of pride, and of warning. He appeared to consider her words for a moment before he replied. “Perhaps,” he conceded, “but you can not now, nor ever be considered again, anonymous or cowardly. Why not rest on your honor for a time, before seeking to lose all?” Éowyn stared at him for a moment. “So you think I have honor, sir?” she asked, finally, knowing it sounded coy but unable to think of a better retort. To her further surprise he laughed. “You cannot say you know otherwise, O White Lady of Rohan,” he said. Éowyn straightened her spine and glanced half-away to display her annoyance at his choice of humor. “Is that what the people call me, then?” she asked, chin ever so slightly in the air. “Nay,” he said, and watched her intently. “That is what I call you, for that is what you seemed as I saw you yesterday and this morn, on the wall. A wild shieldmaiden of Rohan, demanding to return to battle, dressed in white and eyes seeking glory far away.” “You mock me.” “I do not. Suffice to say I am intrigued, because I have known no women like you,” he said on a sigh, and turned to look away. “I have known few women, in fact, since I was first sent to battle years ago. ‘Tis why I said it would ease my heart so, to see you and talk with you. And it does indeed.” Éowyn looked at him for a moment, not sure how to respond. She’d told him not to look to her for his ease, yet surprisingly he persisted. But Faramir continued. “It is indeed clear to me that Rohan is no land of cowards, if even their women are called upon to battle.” Now who was being coy, Éowyn thought with a touch of anger. “Surely you have heard, my lord, that I rode where I was not bidden?” “Perhaps.” “Perhaps?” She was losing patience with him. “Either you have heard it or you have not.” “I have,” he admitted finally at her insistence. “Yet I merely wished you to know that I do not judge you for it. I find it intriguing, as I have said.” “Indeed,” she merely replied. She did not want to continue this conversation, and turned it to less uncomfortable matters. And so they passed the rest of the morning in undemanding discourse about the flowers, or the weather, and the hope that the darkness would not return, and that the men at battle should be victorious. *** Éowyn sat in the gardens and remembered. So he’d found her intriguing, while she had found him maddening. His regard over the next few days had become outwardly even warmer. Without resolution, she thought. Éowyn was dragged from her introspection by the sound of another set of shifting footsteps slithering down the cobbled path. A man cleared his throat and Éowyn looked up to see the Warden of the Houses looming over her with grey obsequiousness. “My lady,” he said, giving her a small bow. “Are you well?” “I am fine, thank you,” Éowyn said, hoping he’d go away. But he did not. He wavered for a moment, then seemed to dredge up the courage to speak again. “I ask because you are so thin and pale! The White Lady of Rohan was left in my care, and I do not wish to see her--” “I do not lack for care. Thank you,” she repeated. She did not correct his nomenclature; since Faramir had half-jokingly called her “White Lady” the name had stuck, at least here in these Houses. “I merely await my brother’s return.” Giving up, the old gentleman nodded at this and backed away, mumbling to her that all she needed to do was call for breakfast and it would be brought to her. He finally shuffled off to perform other duties. Éowyn sighed and stood from the bench. She did not wish to offend the kindly man, but she couldn’t tell him of her boredom and despair and he couldn’t have helped her if she had. What would he do—find her a husband? Convince her that Rohan’s thatched roofs would welcome her with more dignity than a position as nursemaid or wife to an unlettered marshal? Éowyn was tired of ruminating on the past but the present offered only song and the future no better diversion, so she walked the too-familiar paths and let her memories cavort about in her mind as they would. Her memories and feet led her to a high-walled alcove in the gardens. It was almost an open-air grotto with white stone for cave walls and a small glittering pool burbling in the center. She sat and rested at the top of the small stair that overlooked it, and thought about her last, unsuccessful bid for independence. One night she’d dressed herself and simply tried to walk out of the Houses, seeking a horse and death in battle. But the guards at the gates, set there to protect the wounded, had stammered that they could not release her except under order from the Warden or the Lord Faramir. Such an order was not likely to be given. The next day, Faramir had twitted her about it in his gentle, pitying way. **** The morning of her fifth day of healing had brought with it an unabated weak sunshine, but a hint of bitter chill tainted the air. Numbly Éowyn had eaten and allowed herself to be dressed and her arm to be re-bound. She’d known nothing would stop her from going outside to take advantage of what little freedom she possessed, though there was every expectation that she would see the Lord Faramir. He had undoubtedly discovered all of what had transpired last night and would remonstrate with her as benevolently as ever. But Éowyn did not much care. Worse would come soon enough: inglorious death or an inglorious return to Edoras. Faramir and his witticisms and poetry were infinitely bearable in the meantime. Once outside she climbed to the walls again to watch the gathering clouds. After a few minutes alone with little thought to keep her company she heard the shuffling of feet behind her. It was Faramir, who in his polite way was trying to warn her of his coming before he spoke. “Good morning, my lady. Would you care to walk?” Without speaking, Éowyn nodded and allowed him to take her elbow but did not raise her eyes to his. She saw his tanned hand, and an arm clad in fine dark blue cloth. Next to her own white sleeve and the paleness of her skin, his looked positively swarthy. This day he led her to a small courtyard accentuated by a stone-ringed fishpool. A fountain in its center chattered with watery happiness, oblivious to the gathering cloud of disaster boiling relentlessly across the sky from the east. They sat and were silent, Éowyn simply staring at the weak glints of sunshine reflecting off the ripples of water in the pool. “Are you chilled?” Faramir finally asked. Éowyn shook her head. “Your injured arm pains you, then?” She shook her head again. “I only ask,” he continued, “because you are clutching yourself so.” “Oh!” she said, and self-consciously uncrossed her good arm from around the sling on the other. Still she did not look at him. “Nay, I am merely lost in thought. Is there news of the battle?” “None yet,” he said, then thoughtfully: “I found I did not want to look east this morning, for the darkness returns despite all our wishes. This place is pleasant and sheltered; do you find it so?” “Aye,” Éowyn said, and at his too-mild tone finally turned to look at him. But his eyes held no accusation, and his face was handsome and pleasant and full of pity as ever. “But how long do you think this shelter will endure?” “We must ever hope for victory,” was his noncommittal reply. He leaned back on his hands and lifted his face to the sky, and closed his eyes as if seeking the unseen touch of the sun. “The king has returned; I must have hope that our armies will return here before our enemies, and that our days will ever be spent contemplating a pleasant future free from the threat of Mordor.” Éowyn was surprised to hear him say the name of the dark land to the east so pointedly, but she was more surprised at his sentiment. “You do not wish for battle!” “I do not.” He opened his grey eyes at this and gave her a frank stare. “I have endured war all my life, as have you. Should we wish for it?” “I did,” she said, deciding to bring what he would not say into the open. “Waiting for doom is more painful than seeking it.” He gazed at her steadily. “Talking with you makes the waiting more bearable by far for me. I am sorry that you do not feel the same, and that your wait is thus more onerous.” “I did not say that,” Éowyn retorted, exasperated, and turned her face from his. He knew, but did not understand. “I did tell you not to look to me for healing. Why should you expect mere words to soothe me in turn? Yet I do not find your company onerous.” As Éowyn said it she knew it was the truth, though she had not expected it. Spirited conversation with anyone was indeed preferable to contemplation of a last, pathetic stand before the walls of Minas Tirith. “Thank you for that,” he said with a falsely hurt tone, belied by the smile in his eyes. Then he sighed. “Yet I despair to see such a beautiful and valiant lady so careworn.” “I do not wish to air my cares. Nor do I wish to argue.” “Nor do I,” he said mildly. Silence reigned for a few minutes following this statement. Éowyn found that she was slightly disappointed at his willingness to relinquish that point so easily. She finally broke the uneasy silence by saying, lightly, “So have you made plans, then, for when the king returns to deliver us?” “But of course. I should swear my service to him yet beg to return my office of Steward, for it was unlooked-for, and hope that he will allow me to retire somewhere peaceful. Somewhere like this,” he said, and waved a casual arm around the Houses’ garden courtyard. “You would retire to become a healer?” Éowyn asked, unable to help the burble of laughter that accompanied her statement. “With such patients? Nay. But perhaps some sort of noble landowner. I could then at least help heal the scars on the earth,” he said, and brushed his eyes over the peace of the garden, admiring it, and her. “I fear I am something of a disappointment to my people. I have ever wished for what my brother and father did not.” The words might have been self-pitying, but his tone and demeanor belied any regret at his situation. “Your brother was accounted a great warrior,” Éowyn said, and realized belatedly how it sounded. She’d meant it as praise, but in consideration of his own speech and their earlier words, it could be construed as insulting. And he’d lost his father and brother only recently and under dark circumstances in each case. Her own despair did not excuse a lack of charity-- she had lost her king but her brother still lived, as far as her heart knew. But Faramir only nodded. “He was.” Obviously it was something he’d come to terms with long ago. Éowyn still decided to offer an apologetic condolence of sorts. “I am sorry for your loss. I know what it is to lose one’s kin.” He nodded acceptance of her statement. “Yet I am not alone. I still have family, and I do not think I shall be forced to dwell on my lands in solitude, if I marry.” His glance slid to her with admiration and a hint of a question as he said this last, and Éowyn felt a slight shock tremble through her. That had certainly been bold, she thought. Was he viewing her as a potentialwife? It was certainly possible. Gondor once more saw Rohan as a valuable ally. Éowyn was sister to the king, as long as Éomer lived. And Faramir had certainly made his desire for her plain, with his vexingly warm gazes and words. Éowyn felt heat suffuse her cheeks, and knew he saw it, but did not care. She had to think about this. “Indeed,” she grated out, then stood to shake out her skirts before continuing. “I am weary, and wish to rest for now.” He had stood with her but did not move to follow as she left. “Until later, my lady,” he said and nodded his acceptance of her discomfiture. Still his tone held a slight but unmistakable disappointment. *** Days later, Éowyn sat on the stone steps and remembered that scene clearly, remembering as well how that had been the first time she’d begun to consider another alliance--one that didn’t include Aragorn-- as a possible escape from the tedium of her life. She’d lain on her bed that night and ruminated upon the prospect. Would she marry the Lord Faramir, if he asked? She hardly knew him. Though a captain of Gondor’s rangers, he appeared to prefer scholarly pursuits to war. That hadn’t necessarily been a mark in his favor, but at least he seemed a gentle sort and not the kind of man to beat or harangue a wife. He was not horrendous to look upon, handsome if a trifle grave. And his teeth were good, white and straight and evident of long care. Perhaps as a husband he would pay attention to his duties and leave her alone most of the time, to run a civilized household that kept the hay and fleas where they belonged-- in the stables. Politically, as well, it would be an excellent match. If Aragorn returned victorious and became king, such an alliance would ensure that Rohan would never again slip from the consciousness of these proud Gondorians. But those thoughts and hopes had proved to be unfounded. The Lord Faramir’s pretty speeches had apparently meant nothing to him, for now he was nowhere to be found. Éowyn’s stomach rumbled for the first time in two days, as if disgust at being led on so easily had reawakened an angry humanity deep inside her. She remembered the Warden’s offer of breakfast, and left the grotto to make her way back to her room. There the servants happily brought her such huge piles of eggs, cheese and bread that she could not possibly consume them even in a ravenous week. I must be thinner than I know, she thought. But at least the rations have improved since the end of the war. Soon Éowyn was left alone in the room though the servants ever passed her door, laughing and trilling and humming their exultation at their deliverance from the Shadow. Her earlier touch of anger faded again to be replaced by numbness. Every jubilant, golden note threw her dark gloom into sharp, uncomfortable relief, as if she were a damp and hidden patch of dirt that warm daylight could not penetrate no matter how the sun swung about the sky with the seasons. Even now sunlight crept through a crack in her curtains, highlighting the sparkling dust motes that flurried about in the still air of the room. Éowyn lingered moodily over her sweet ale, and her memories danced about like the dust, returning unbidden. The sun had shone only for the earliest and latest days of her captivity, and with the coming of dark clouds it had quickly grown cold. By the sixth morning she’d refused to walk in the gardens, preferring the warmth of her room and trusting her window-frame to provide a glimpse into the wider world. Apparently Faramir had wanted to continue their walks, for he’d knocked at the door of her room during a solitary breakfast days ago, bearing a gift and expressing a hope that she could be lured back outside. *** “I can see the Shadow from my window, my lord,” Éowyn had said to Faramir as he stood in her doorway. “And I can feel its chill on my skin already. I do not need to venture out of doors to greet it.” Faramir smiled his familiar half-grin and shook an arm draped in rich blue cloth at her. “That is why I have sent for this. It was woven for my mother, and I would be pleased to see it grace the shoulders of a graceful woman once more.” Éowyn half-ignored his poetry and reached out a finger to trace the tiny silver stars embroidered about the hem. The material shone with deep blue velvety richness, promising elegant and warm comfort. He mistook her admiration for hesitation. “Though our hearts may be dark, at least the outside air and memories of the sun will lend them some semblance of life,” he said. Éowyn knew he was speaking of her, of course. She decided to humor him; he would certainly not offer marriage to a woman who persisted in being inaccessible. Though the fact that he offered her a cloak last worn by Finduilas of Dol Amroth, his own mother, was telling in itself. Thankful for the promise of warmth, she turned and obligingly gathered her hair in her hands, holding it up to clear her shoulders. Faramir fastened the cloak about her neck. She hurried to drop her hair but only succeeded in trapping his hands beneath its weight. His fingertips lingered there for a moment in the warmth of her nape, and suddenly Éowyn was all too aware of them searing her through the wool of her gown, and of the scent of cedar chased by old roses that hung about the cloak. She sensed rather than saw his head lean into her hair and his own scent entered the mix, piercing the hint of dusty flowers with its green sharpness. Éowyn froze in place, more cold than before her enshroudment in the rich cloak. It was too intimate—his touch, his attitude, everything. His fingers slid down to her shoulder in a bold caress, and even as he backed away from her as if burned, she could feel the simmering intensity of his eyes. Still she was cold. She knew she would have to face more intimacy than that, and intimacy more intended, if she wed him. And it had to be marriage that he had in mind, for she was sister to the King of Rohan, not some farmer’s daughter to be trifled with. Remembering her dignity, she jerked away and swiveled to face him without meeting his eyes. Though she had privately decided to accept him if he asked, she was not practiced in the game of seduction and did not know how far she should let him advance or what her next move should be. She simply gazed at his chin and said, “Thank you. ‘Tis a queenly gift.” *** So they’d gone outside for their now-customary stroll about the gardens. She’d worn the cloak on every walk thereafter until the day which brought about the end of the war. That day the earth had trembled, the danger-fraught atmosphere had been whisked away by the freshness of the western wind, and the Eagle had come with his song of deliverance. Yet Éowyn was still not delivered. Faramir had held her, clutching her hand, rambling about Númenor and repeating her name—even kissing her forehead on that day. The next, he’d been gone, with only a note here and there since about the business of the city. She’d had a week to think of new options for her future, but even now, as she sat in her room and drained the last of her ale, she’d thought of none. No one forced her to remain here in these Houses, or even in the city—it had been days since the period dictated by Aragorn for her healing had passed. Yet still she lingered. What was she waiting for? Certainly not for Faramir to return. She may as well join Éomer and the other Riders she’d followed to war, to escape this city and its people, who had proved so disappointing. The sunlight beaming through her curtain had nearly reached the table where Éowyn hovered over the remains of her breakfast. Almost without thought she whipped out a hand to snatch at a dust mote that danced before her eyes, teasing her with a fluttering and happy twinkle. She opened a hand and saw her future. It was infinitesimal and insignificant laying against her palm, but it was hers. Renewed purpose swept through her nerves, and Éowyn stood at its bidding before she could once again lose heart. She was going to remove herself from the comfort and boredom of these Houses, and ride out to the Cormallen to meet her brother and what was left of her future head-on. She had just decided to search for a pack when a hollow knock on the wooden doorsill caused her to spin about. It was the Lord Faramir. He was dressed richly in a black tunic and hose with a golden chain about his neck, looking more like a noble of the city than the grinning man who’d led her about the gardens. He leaned against the frame but appeared uneasy, not with the signs of his office but with his interruption of her morning. Grey eyes searched her, lingering pityingly on her thin face and bony wrists. Éowyn, startled to see him, offered no greeting but simply stared back a moment, waiting for him to state his business. Finally he broke the silence. “My lady. I am pleased to see you once more, if surprised to see you here.” Éowyn simply nodded and let the silence stretch between them for a few more moments. “Ah!” he said finally, on a small, uncomfortable laugh, ending with the familiar half-grin. “You would have me mind my own affairs, which now are many. Yet you are under my care and are therefore one of them.” “Your affairs go well, my lord?” “I hope,” he replied, smothering his earlier smile. “I would like to walk with you again, and talk a while. Will you come?” “I will,” Éowyn decided. Before she left the city she would tell him just what she thought of him, but not here, with the servants hovering about. He backed away from the door and gestured with a black-clad arm for her to precede him into the hall. Éowyn sailed through and led the way outside, where she allowed him to take her elbow in warm fingers. Taking the lead, he paced with her along the familiar cobbled footpaths that trailed to the walls at the edge of the city. “The days have grown lovely once more,” he ventured, lightly. “It is as if darkness unescapable has been escaped forever, and winter will never return.” “It is indeed lovely,” Éowyn said, thinking of no retort she could make to a innocent comment about the weather. Then she thought of one sly dig she could offer. “It seems as if I shall no longer require the cloak you so graciously lent me, my lord. I shall return it to you with thanks before you leave today, unless you would rather I sent it with the servants.” He winced, almost imperceptibly. That had struck a nerve, thought Éowyn with satisfaction. But he recovered and shook his head. “That is not necessary; please keep it.” Éowyn nodded without speaking, not finding it in herself to be ungracious enough to refuse the gift. Soon they reached the walls, and Éowyn stretched out fingers to trace the grooves in the warm stone, fancying that she had worn even more in them during her stay here, and thinking that an uncomfortably warm morning had turned into an even hotter and more uncomfortable day. She would need to find other clothing were she to ride out. Faramir spoke again, interrupting her reverie. “Éowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cair Andros, where your brother awaits you?” Surely he knew that, Éowyn thought. Had he not already seen into her heart with his penetrating grey eyes, and dragged out her cares to be aired and ridiculed? She decided he must simply want her to say it. However, in this, she would not humor him. “Do you not know?” she asked. But he persisted. “Two reasons there may be, but which is true, I do not know.” As ever, he was trying to take control of their discourse. Yet she would not say it; this was not how she’d planned to reproach him, and she was in no mood for his tricks of speech. “I do not wish to play at riddles. Speak plainer!” she told him. And so he was forced to pour out the words, of her reluctance to face her brother or Aragorn, and of the possible preference she’d acquired for himself. But at the end he caught her attention, by asking, “Do you not love me, or will you not?” Love! When had that entered into this? Éowyn wondered. She had never really wondered nor cared if Faramir’s heart had been truly engaged. If it was, it had been through no action of her own, and was not her concern. Her heart would not be penetrated a second time. Éowyn did not think she could abide having it laid bare ever again, or to become once more a weak and pitiful creature. All she could hope for was to offer him an alliance with the sister to the king of Rohan, and to settle into a comfortable existence of her own direction and choosing. But his words made her wonder if she had misjudged him. Or, perhaps, if she had misjudged her own actions—had wrongly considered her own deliberate lack of discouragement as an encouragement. If he loved her, then perhaps she had seemed too cold after all. There was not much else she could have done, however. She had been cold, and had warned him from the first of the shadow over her heart. Perhaps, even he had been drawn to it. Then again, he had not said he loved her, and she’d learned that she could assume nothing when dealing with him. “I wished to be loved by another,” she admitted. But she wanted no man’s pity for her folly, and told him so. “That I know,” he said. He’d obviously heard her emphasis on wished, for he continued on about Aragorn even more, each acutely knowing word driving pins of shame into her heart. “Look at me, Éowyn,” he said, finally. And she did, for she was tired of the shame, and if he had come here only to tell her why he had not offered marriage, then she would hear it, and leave. He asked her not to scorn pity that was the gift of a gentle heart. “But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once, I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without any fear or lack, were you the blissful queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?” Éowyn did not. But she did not hate him and no longer hated his absence from her, knowing now that it had been brought about by uncertainty and not faithlessness. She was redeemed and her earlier worries proved foundless, for this was a declaration he could never deny. As with all men, he held the reins, but he had offered one for her use. Accept it she would, and gladly. Overwhelmed by relief, she smiled more brightly at him than she ever had before, and told him that her shadow had departed, and that she was finished with shieldmaidenhood. Perhaps I could become a healer, she thought to herself. That is a noble occupation and would give my hands plenty of work in the days to come. She let the idea escape from her thoughts to her lips in the hopes that it would please him, and it did, but even here at the sticking point she could not lie. Her dignity, both as a woman scorned and a woman of honor, would not allow her to lie, to say that she loved him in return. “I no longer desire to be a queen,” she added, to soothe him. A small worm of guilt wriggled in her soul at this deception of omission, but some other small part of her was comforted by the fact that is was not she who struggled now with unrequited love. But if he had noticed her omission, he did not comment and his eyes showed only delight. “That is well, for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will,” he said, and described the land he’d earlier admitted to desiring; he wanted Ithilien, and Éowyn had no objections. It was a lovely place, and far enough from Minas Tirith that she would not have to face Aragorn every day for the rest of her life. Her earlier objections to his graceful manner of speech seemed to have diminished as well. His speech had not changed, but her ears had. It was odd, to feel free after agreeing to be bound. She supposed being freed of her past and her future had overcome that obstacle for her. She couldn’t help twitting him, however, about the length of time he’d taken to ask her. Pretending it was her lineage that had held him back, she teased, “Then must I leave my people, man of Gondor?” though she secretly had no objection to that, either. “Would you have your proud folk say of you, ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North?’” “I would,” he laughed, happier than she’d ever seen him. Then he did something unexpected: he wrapped his black-clad arms around her waist, trapping her in place with their warmth, and she was forced to look up, startled, into his smiling face with white teeth and eyes gone almost as dark as his hair. And he kissed her, in front of all the servants and people who stood below. His mouth was demanding but soft and he held her for a long time, forcing her take breath from his lips if she wanted to breathe. In the circle of his too-real arms an acute awareness struck Éowyn-- she was delivered from the future she’d dreaded, but now she would have to sleep with her deliverance. She had not won herself a statue, or the cold embodiment of the honor and glory of Gondor’s house of stewards. He was flesh and blood. Éowyn thought she might become accustomed to it. She supposed she must; only time would tell. Her choice to do so or not was her own now. She felt a little like singing. *******

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.

Story Information

Author: Jedishampoo

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/18/04

Original Post: 03/03/04

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