2. The Shieldmaiden and the Steward
The Queen smiled, dimpling mischievously. “And I told Eowyn it would be a kindness if she could divert Faramir’s mind from his sorrows.”
Idril stared at her, then laughed. “Incorrigible the both of us. Matchmaking on the brink of doom - we must be mad!”
But Arwen shook her head. “Already Faramir has helped Eowyn,” she said now quite serious. “and I trust will help her more given the chance.”
“And better for him if he thinks of her rather than broods over his losses.” Idril agreed.
Eowyn paid her first visit to the Citadel the next morning. The Warden insisted she be carried in a chair the short way up the avenue and then up the long flight of steps leading to the Court of the Tree. She nearly rebelled - then reminded herself she was getting her own way where it mattered most and submitted tamely to being tucked into the chair under a fleecy lap-robe.
The two bearers seemed to find her a light burden judging by the pace they set, far faster than she could have managed on her own feet, and her two Women trotted silently behind. At first the people on the street; children and old folk, and some wounded Men, paid her no attention. Then somebody recognized her and called out her name, and somebody else raised a cheer. Faces appeared at the windows and Women and children came out of the open doors of the great houses to see her pass.
“Eowyn! Eowyn!” They shouted, “Hail the Lady of the Shield Arm!”
She forced herself to smile, and bow acknowledgement, feeling her face burn. Always she had dreamed of performing some great deed that would make her name live forever. And now she had - but she couldn’t enjoy it. There was a weight of guilt on her heart. Theoden had forgiven her, and Eomer, but what must their people be thinking of the Lady who’d abandoned them? And what was happening back in Rohan, what if they needed her and she was not there? She was glad when they entered the long tunnel up to the Citadel and the stone walls shut out the cheers.
The bearers put her chair down gently on a circle of grass before the hall and one offered his hand to help her rise, she accepted it absently staring up at the shining white stone facade looming over them. *’Boromir always said his father’s hall was far larger than Meduseld - and we did not believe him!’* She shivered; Meduseld was built of warm wood made gay with gold and green and red paint and scaled for Men and Women not gods. The great hall of the Lords of Gondor and its tower were of white stone, chilly and forbidding as the mountain behind them, and much, much too large. In the center of the green lawn there was a fountain overshadowed by the bleached hulk of a dead tree. Four guards, black cloaked and black masked under their winged helms stood motionless around it.
Eowyn knew this was Gondor’s White Tree and that it and the Men guarding were part of an unthinkably ancient heritage going back to the Elder Folk and even to the gods - King Elessar’s heritage. Again she shivered. *’I don’t want this. I don’t want to sit as Queen in that cold hall and bear children who are as much Elf as Man. I don’t want to leave Rohan’s green fields for this city of stone. Aragorn was right, I was in love with a dream - this is the reality; a power and a burden too great for a simple maid of Rohan.’* She turned her back on the hall and looked east.
Shadow, blacker than any thunderhead, brooded over the sharp edged mountains beyond the silver ribbon of the River, under-lit by red fire. She looked at them steadily and this time she did not shiver. She knew the darkness far to well for that. Then she noticed the Man leaning on the parapet with the pale morning sun shining on his fair hair and after a moment’s hesitation walked to join him.
“Give you good day, my Lord Steward.” she said politely.
He started as if roused from an evil dream then his sad face transformed as he smiled down at her. “An ill day, as all are in these times, but a fair one now.”
Oh if only Aragorn had once looked at her like that! “I do not understand you, my Lord.” she said primly. “How can an ill day be fair?”
“Would you have my plain answer?” he asked.
“I would.” she said, a little defiantly - but who or what was she defying?
“Then, Eowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely.”
Eowyn felt her face flaming as it had when the people cheered her. Aragorn had never called her fair, Grima had but he’d been trying to bespell her. “I thank you, my Lord, for your courtesy,” she said stiffly. “but I do not desire the speech of Men.” She moved a little ways down the wall from him, looking determinedly eastward but no longer seeing the Shadow. Her mind was in turmoil. How dare he?... He couldn’t mean it, no doubt it was just an idle compliment... She didn’t want to hear such words - not now, not from anyone...had she been rude? she had after all asked him to speak plain.
“Lady if I have offended you I heartily ask your forgiveness.” he had come up beside her without her notice, so close she could feel the warmth of his breath on her hair.
“I...I am not offended.” she stammered. “But this seems to me the wrong time for such words.”
“Perhaps you are right.” she felt his sleeve brush hers as he leaned beside her upon the parapet. “It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart if, while the Sun yet shines, I could see you, Lady.”
“Look not to me for comfort,” she said bleakly, “I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle.” then, belatedly, she remembered what Queen Arwen had said about the Lord Faramir and made an effort to speak more kind. “But you have my leave to look at me if that will give you ease. Now pray you let us speak of other things - is there any news?”
“No. And I fear we can expect none until - after.” he answered.
“If there are any to send, or any left to hear.” she said.
“Let us not speak of that either.” said he.
“No.” she agreed and essayed a wan smile. “We run short of subjects, my Lord.”
“Faramir.” he corrected.
She smiled again, less wanly. “And you must call me Eowyn.”
“Men are still coming in from the western provinces,” Hurin told Arwen as she stood between him and Laebeth on the ramparts of the second wall, “drawn by the rumor of the King’s return. We have almost too many hands for the rebuilding.”
She looked down into the first circle. The busy figures of Men were everywhere and the sound of hammering and clink of stone came faint to her ears. “They are not disappointed to find themselves set to hard labor rather than following the King into battle?”
Hurin grinned a little. “Maybe a little. But these are small craftsmen from town and village and farmers from the countryside, not trained warriors. I think in their hearts they’re relieved to be given work they understand.”
Arwen nodded. That seemed very likely. “Certainly they can have no doubt that they are needed where they are.”
Walking back up to the Citadel Arwen and Laebeth encountered Idril, with her usual retinue of maids, collecting estimates of their losses from the merchants in the third circle.
“Though what we can do about them I do not know.” she told Arwen ruefully. “We have been living hand to mouth for more years than I’ve been alive, and the treasury is near empty.”
Arwen could only shake her head. “Gondor is still a rich kingdom,” she offered, “once we have peace we will find a way to restore her old prosperity.”
“I think that might be a harder task than overthrowing the Dark Lord.” Idril answered wryly.
As they continued on their way Arwen asked Laebeth; “Why does Idril never seem to go anywhere without her maidservants? I cannot think she feels such a great need for their company.”
The other Woman smiled faintly. “Here in Gondor a lady never goes out alone, the higher her rank the greater the number of attendants.”
Arwen looked at her in dismay. “You mean as Queen I must have a similar train at my heels whenever I step out my doors?”
Laebeth, who given the solitary ways of the Northern Dunedain must have found the custom no less onerous, looked sympathetic. “Perhaps as Queen you may change the custom as you have already changed the fashion for dressing hair.”
“I have?” Arwen asked blankly.
Laebeth smiled again. “You haven’t noticed all the Women with unbound hair down in the City?”
“No. Or rather I thought nothing of it. It is the fashion I am used to.”
“Here in Gondor Women braid and pin their hair and cover it with veils.” Laebeth explained. “Or rather they did. If the Queen does otherwise - why then as loyal subjects the Women of Gondor will follow suit.”
Arwen laughed a little. “Well I hope this custom of maidservants proves as easy to change!”
“You see that gallery up there?” Faramir pointed to a row of arcaded windows high above the great doors of the hall. “The first winter we lived in the City there was a snowfall and my sister and I stood up there and dropped snowballs on Father’s advisors.”
Eowyn laughed. “What naughty children! And what did the Lord Denethor have to say about that?”
Faramir grinned. “Father never knew. But Boromir did and gave us a good scolding - which would have been much more effective if he hadn’t been so hard put to keep from laughing.”
“It was the same with Eomer and me.” Eowyn said. “I think Boromir enjoyed our mischief even more than we did.” her smile turned sad. “Theodred never made mischief. It was not only that he was so much the elder, the burden of being Heir of Eorl weighed on his spirits - even as a child.”
The Man beside her nodded. “It was the same with Boromir. After our mother died he felt himself responsible not only for Idril and me but for our father as well. It was his misfortune, and Theodred’s, to live in dark times when the burden of their rank was especially heavy.”
There was a brief silence, then Eowyn said; “The winter after you came to the City, you said, you have not always lived here?”
“Idril and I lived at our villa in the Pelannor fields when we were small.” Faramir explained. “My mother died of the wasting, and I had it too as a child - for years my father and brother feared they would lose me as well. And Idril too was frail. They thought the villa would be healthier for us than the City.”
“I was sickly too.” Eowyn said quietly. “I fell ill with the red fever when I was seven. My mother nursed me through it but she caught it from me and died. Then Uncle Theoden took us to live with him, and was so careful of me that I was afraid I would die too.”
Faramir nodded. “Yes. Father and Boromir tried to hide their fears from me, but I knew. Children always know such things, I think.”
Eowyn smiled. “Luckily for me we had a wise healer at Meduseld who told Uncle that it was exercise and fresh air I needed not coddling in bed.” she laughed. “And so I was allowed to run wild with my brothers until I was almost a Woman, when my grandmother stepped in and made a lady of me - or almost!”
“I remember how hard it was to put aside the poetry and ancient lore I loved for law and arms and statecraft, the things even a Steward’s second son must know.” Faramir said quietly. “And I know from my sister’s training that becoming a lady is more burdensome still.”
“Having to wear long skirts all the time was the worst of it.” Eowyn said lightly. “But Grandmother liked riding and hunting better than housekeeping herself and so didn’t try to keep me completely from horse and hound. Nor did she mind a shieldmaiden granddaughter. And she didn’t make me learn all the things your sister must have, languages and music and the like, knowing they’d be no use to a daughter of the Mark. But Meduseld needed a proper mistress badly - and once I got used to the work I found I liked feeling useful.”
“Yes,” Faramir agreed quietly, “commanding the Rangers may not have been the work I would have chosen but it was needed. And I think I learned to be good at it.”
“Very good from what I hear.” Eowyn said firmly.
Faramir grinned. “From Boromir? Don’t believe everything a fond brother says, Eowyn.”
“I am a shieldmaiden and a judge of such things.” she reminded him. “I have heard of your defense of the outermost wall - and against the Chief Dwimmerlaik himself, no less.”
His eyes seemed to darken at the memory, then he smiled. “If the Lady of the Shield Arm calls me a good warrior I must believe her.”
“I do so call you.” she said solemnly, looking him straight in the eye. “I say that Faramir of Gondor is the equal of any Rider of the Mark, even the greatest.”
“High praise, my Lady.” he said equally grave. “Thank you.”
Arwen saw Faramir and Eowyn sitting side by side on one of the benches edging the fountain garth, with their backs to the Shadow, and smiled. She went up the path to speak to them. “My Lord Faramir we have not properly met; I am Arwen Undomiel, wife to King Elessar.”
He rose and bowed. “Welcome to Minas Tirith, my Lady and Queen, I am your servant as well as your Lord‘s.”
“I will hold you to that, my Lord Steward, once you are fully well again.” she answered, then glanced at Eowyn. There was color in the girl’s cheeks, perhaps more than fresh air could account for, and her eyes were bright. “You look well, Eowyn, but you must be careful not to over try your strength - and you too Faramir. It is near time for the midday meal and surely past time you were both back in your beds.”
Man and Woman looked at the sun, almost directly overhead, and then at each other in dismay. “I had not realized it was so late.” Faramir said. “The Warden will be cross with me I fear.”
“With both of us.” Eowyn got to her feet and gave the Queen a rueful smile. “I will let them carry me back to my bed and stay there for the rest of the day.” she promised. “I have no wish to fall ill again.”
“Nor I.” Faramir agreed. “I hope I will see you again tomorrow, Eowyn?”
“I would like that.” she answered, and it wasn’t the cool breeze that made the color rise in her cheeks.
Arwen hid a smug smile. Her course of treatment was clearly working very well indeed - on both patients.
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.