It was inevitable that the euphoria of the King’s Return should fade. The strain of waiting grew as the days passed with no word and the weather changed too, bright sun and unseasonable warmth giving way to the grey overcast and damp chill usual in early spring.
Faramir watched in concern as Eowyn’s spirits fell. “The sun has lost her warmth.” she said on the fifth day since the army rode as they walked together in the House’s garden.
“It is but the first of the spring rains.” Faramir answered but she was not consoled. Fear for her brother consumed her.
“I cannot lose Eomer too. If he dies it will kill me.”
“No it will not.” Faramir said gently but firmly. “You will live for the sake of your people and your House.”
“They will have no use for a forsworn Shieldmaiden, a disgrace to her House and country alike.” she answered bitterly.
Faramir was a poor comforter for in truth he was not much better off himself. He feared for his King and for little Peregrin, for Beregond, young Beren and his other friends and kin in the army, but most of all for the Ringbearer.
The memory of the frail Halfling, already near to breaking under the terrible burden he carried, and of his determined gardener, armed only with innocence, haunted Faramir. He had let them go, knowing at least dimly what they faced. But still he had let them go and the treacherous Gollum with them.
“I do not regret it.” he told Queen Undomiel, met later that day at his sister’s house. “It was the best, the only possible course. But Frodo, poor Frodo. Even if he succeeds how can he survive? Or his Sam.”
She looked equally unhappy. “I know my husband will return and so it must be that Frodo fulfils his quest. But what will become of him afterward I have not seen and cannot guess.”
“It is hard that such a burden should be put on a Halfling.” Faramir said.
“Hard indeed.” she agreed. “But he was the one appointed. And he accepted the charge willingly.”
“I do not doubt it. They are a brave folk.”
“They are.” she said, then added in sudden grief. “But we may never know exactly what happened - and what shall I say to Bilbo?”
Eowyn did not meet him in the gardens, as had become their custom, on the sixth morning but sent one her nurses to say she meant to keep to her rooms that day.
“She’s very low, m’Lord.” the Woman confided unhappily. “I know she cries when we’re not there to see. And she was doing so well!”
“It is the strain.” Faramir answered. “It is hard on us all.”
“Especially those who were poorly to start with.” she agreed. “My sister’s full of megrims and vapors too. And I can’t say I feel very happy myself.”
“Nor I.” Faramir agreed wryly and the Woman gave him a sharp look, reminded that he too was a patient.
“Queen Undomiel is certain all will be well,” she said firmly, “and being an Elf lady is likely to know.”
“Very likely.” Faramir smiled. “Were she not here I might almost think the King’s return had been no more than a dream.”
“More like the ending of a nightmare.” said the nurse. “But I know what you mean, m’Lord, looking back it doesn’t seem quite real does it?”
Instead of walking with Eowyn in the gardens Faramir went with Idril to the Hallow to inspect the ruin of his fathers’ tomb.
“That’s sure to cheer you up.” his sister had said dryly when he proposed it.
“It is something to do at least.” he’d answered.
The walk to the Silent Street was almost too much for him but Idril knew better than to even suggest a carrying chair. They walked slowly and rested frequently on folding stools carried by the two menservants who, along with Luinil, made up their train.
Faramir had been told the House of the Stewards was gone, but even so the sight of the empty place, hemmed in by other tombs, came as a shock.
“I had the ruins cleared away for safety.” Idril told him. “the stones and the remains of the monuments are stored in the tomb builder’s yard. What bones were found I had put in a casket and laid in the House of the Telemmirioni for now.”
“A single casket?” Faramir asked, shaken. More than thirty Stewards, from Hurin of Emyn Arnen on, and their near kin had lain in the House of the Stewards. How could they all be reduced to a few fragments of bone that one box could hold?
“A large one,” his sister said, “as large as that of Elendil.”
His mother, so lovely in her robes of blue and rose. His grandfather with his wise, gentle face. Dearest grandmother. Poor Uncle Belecthor who had died in his youth before his nephews could know him. Hurin’s father, Uncle Beren, fallen valiantly in battle. The great Stewards: Ecthelion I who had rebuilt the White Tower; Boromir the Brave, his brother’s namesake and hero; Mardil the Faithful...all gone. All ashes.
“Sit down.” Idril said sharply. Some one held a cup to his lips. “Drink this. I should have known better than to bring you here so soon.”
He swallowed the wine. “It would be no easier later.”
“No but you’d be stronger to bear it.”
He took the cup from Luinil’s hand and drank more deeply. He hadn’t expected it to shake him so. The embalmed bodies in the House of the Stewards were but empty shells, he knew that, their spirits had long since passed into the West and beyond. But he had looked upon his ancestor’s faces every midwinter vigil and seen how the sorrows and triumphs of their lives had marked them. And he’d confided boyish secrets to his mother and grandfather’s unhearing ears and imagined they heard him and understood. And now he would never look on his mother’s face again in this world - or his father’s.
Grief shook him. It would have been a comfort to see his father’s face, at peace at last beyond the pain of the world, to tell his empty shell all the things left unsaid and hope, somehow, his spirit heard them too. Faramir knew he needed to say a proper farewell to Denethor. But now he never could, and the wound of that loss would never properly heal.
“Oh, Father, how could you.” he whispered aloud. But he must be fair; Denethor had not meant to deprive him of consolation. He had intended for them to go into the dark together taking all their House with them. He had abandoned hope, which was a sin, but not his son.
Faramir felt the tears on his face and wiped them away. Then looked at his sister standing nearby in her bright scarlet gown, watching him in concern. “You do not wear mourning for our father.”
She smiled crookedly. “I did my grieving for Denethor while he was still alive. Now I am done with mourning and bootless regret.”
Faramir gazed on Idril and wondered for the first time what harm her constant nearness to their father‘s bitterness and despair might have done her. Wormtongue had poisoned Eowyn‘s spirit. Had Denethor, unmeaningly, done the same to his daughter? “I am sorry.” he said. “We should not have left him so much to you, Boromir and I.”
She shook her head. “There was nothing you could have done.”
There was some truth in that. How could they have protected her from their own father, even if they’d understood the need? “Still I am sorry for it.”
“I can forgive him everything save abandoning our people in their great need.” she said.
He frowned at that, perhaps because it reminded him to nearly of Eowyn’s bitterest self reproach. “You are hard, Sister.” her eyebrows went up at his tone and he continued more gently. “You don’t know what the madness of despair can drive a Man to.” or a Woman.
“Don’t I?” Idril said. “Perhaps not.”
Faramir had resigned himself to seeing nothing of Eowyn that day and so her invitation to join her at dinner came as a most welcome surprise.
The table was spread on a porch overlooking the gardens. Eowyn wore a blue gown and a determined smile - that vanished at her first sight of his face. “Faramir! What is it, what has happened?” she paled in sudden fear. “Is there news?”
Chagrined at being so easily read - when had he become so transparent? - he said quickly; “No, nothing like that. Today I went to see the place where the tomb of my fathers’ once stood and the sight grieved me more than I expected.” her face clouded with sympathy and he found himself adding almost against his will. “I will never see my mother’s face again, Eowyn, or my father’s. Perhaps it is foolish but it would have soothed my heart to see them lying side by side, at peace together.”
“It is not foolish at all.” she said firmly.
“We parted badly, Father and I, with anger and hurt on both sides. And now I can never bid him another, better farewell“ he felt the tears come and demanded in anguish: “How am I to bear it?”
She got up from her chair and came round the table to put her arm around him and press her cheek to the top of his head. “That is hard.” she said quietly. “Whatever else I may regret I will never be sorry I was there to bid my uncle and second father farewell. You must believe that Denethor loved you and would have forgiven you had he been given the chance - as Theoden forgave me.”
“I do believe it. I know it.” he said. “But how I wish we could have said the words to each other before it was too late!”
She hugged him once, hard, then went back to her own chair and sat down. He scraped up a smile. “Thank you, Eowyn. I am sorry to be so poor a guest.”
She shook her head. “It does me good to be reminded there are others with sorrows as heavy as mine. Sometimes I am too self-pitying.” the servants brought the first course, fish cooked in herbs, and she changed the subject. “Tomorrow is the day.”
“Yes, the seventh since they marched. They must reach the Black Gate by then.”
“So the waiting is almost ended.” she said, picking at her fish. “By this time tomorrow it will all be over, for better or worst.”
“New hope or the end of all hope.” he agreed quietly. “Let us speak of other things, Eowyn.”
“Yes.” she forced the determined smile back on her lips. “Tell me, what kind of fish is this?”
Note: Women who can afford it often use carrying chairs as a way of showing their consequence, but no Man will allow himself to be carried unless he is very old or crippled. For once Faramir’s pride outstrips his good sense.
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.