8. Eowyn and Faramir
Obeying the command of his King, though with some inner qualms, he advanced loans to the City’s merchants and artisans that they might replace their lost tools and goods and reopen their shops. Certainly it needed to be done - but could even the wealth of the ancient Elven Kings stretch so far?
Yet, preoccupied as he was, he did not fail to note the many new faces in the Citadel and how its brooding silence had been broken by a merry chatter of voices and even laughter. He saw Eowyn several times but always busy about some domestic business, surrounded by servants or attended by the new household officers. She continued to look pale and wan and it seemed to him that she deliberately avoided his eye and his company. Had he offended her somehow? Or was she perhaps embarrassed by the memory of the kisses and embraces they had exchanged on that terrible, wonderful morning when Sauron fell? He wished he could talk to her.
Worry about Eowyn distracted him from his hardest task, finding a way around the laws barring King Elessar’s succession. “The act that gave the crown to Earnil II and his heirs is void as there are none left of that bloodline,” he said, “but since the line of Tarondor has failed there is the claim of the Telemirioni to consider -”
“There is not.“ said Idril, sitting with a heavy tome in her lap in the window embrasure of his little study. “The heir of the Telemirioni is both a Woman and of impure blood, and has no intention of standing in the way of the King! Besides, the line of Tarondor has not failed - Elessar is descended from him though Firiel and so is rightful Heir of Anarion.”
“If one allows inheritance through the female line.” her brother pointed out.
She snorted. “The exclusion of Women from the succession is custom, not law, and easy enough to get around - as you know very well, Faramir!”
He grimaced agreement. A simple act of the Council had twice allowed the Stewardship to pass to a sister’s son or grandson. It would be perfectly possible to make a similar dispensation for Elessar. The real, and Faramir feared insurmountable, difficulty lay elsewhere. “That would be true, Idril, if not for the Law of Earnil II which specifically forbids the succession of any claimant bearing the blood of Isildur.”
“That was prudent of him, considering the questionability of his own claim.” Idril said grimly.
“Worse still this was not a law made in Council to be changed by the will of a later Council, but a statute passed by the Lords and Commons which can only be overturned by another such assembly.”
Idril frowned. “There is no opposition to Elessar now - but let the matter drag on and old fears and prejudices may well awaken.”
“I agree.” said Faramir. “But a law made by the People cannot be unmade to suit the whim - or even the need - of the moment.”
“Nor should it be.” she sighed, then looked down at the book in her lap and suddenly started turning the pages rapidly to the beginning. “Perhaps we are not going back far enough for our precedent. Faramir, do you remember how Isildur and Anarion were made Kings of Gondor?”
“By general acclamation of the People.” he answered automatically, then his eyes widened in realization.
Idril smiled. “The will of the People must not be overruled by the arbitrary whim of King or Council, but their voice can be heard outside of formal assemblies.”
“Yes!” Faramir slapped the dark marble surface of his writing table. “That is the answer!” He picked up the goblet standing on a corner of the table and took a hearty swallow then smiled at his sister. “I should have thought of that at once.”
“You were mired in the welter of laws made after the kinstrife,” she answered, “and have had much else to think on.”
“Yes.” one of those preoccupations came immediately to mind. “The Lady Eowyn looks ill, and she seems to be avoiding me.”
“Not ill but troubled, and she is certainly avoiding you.” Idril agreed.
“Do you know why?”
She shook her head. “No. But I can guess - and so can you! Don’t play the fool, Faramir, it doesn’t suit you.”
“My hopes cloud my judgment.” he said ruefully.
“King Eomer has begged her to join him at Cormallen in every letter but she will not go,” Idril said, “and I don’t think it’s a fondness for housework that keeps her here!”
“Perhaps she cannot yet face the King.” Faramir said quietly.
“Or perhaps there is some one she is reluctant to leave.” said his sister.
Among the new Queen’s housewifely skills was the distilling of essences for perfumes and incenses and the brewing of liquors and medicines. She and Idril and Eowyn were in the large, cool stillroom in the undercroft of the great kitchens with Hiril, Beregond’s wife, now the Queen’s Apothecary, inspecting the stores of fresh and dried herbs and spices.
“Faramir has noticed you are avoiding him, Eowyn.” Idril said suddenly, closing a drawer filled with dried whitethorn.
Arwen looked at her startled, hands full of lavender seeds, then turned thoughtful. This seemed a strange time to raise the question - but perhaps Idril knew what she was doing.
Eowyn flushed painfully, keeping her eyes firm fixed on the filters she was sorting. “I am sorry he thinks so, it is just I have been so busy -”
Idril cut her off flatly. “Nonsense!”
Eowyn wheeled around in anger, knocking over a row of glass flasks. One rolled from the stone counter and broke upon the floor. “What business is it of yours who I see or do not see, Idril of Gondor!”
“None at all, save that this is my brother and I do not wish to see him further hurt.” she answered coolly.
Eowyn’s eyes dropped in shame, then she bent to collect the broken glass. “I don’t want to hurt, Faramir.” she said, voice slightly muffled. “He has been a good friend to me.” She straightened and found a cloth to wrap the broken glass in a cloth. “But I am tired of being pitied!”
“Then stop being pitiable.” Idril said reasonably.
Eowyn glared and Arwen thought it wise to intervene: “Is Faramir not more than a friend to you Eowyn?”
“No!” she said, far too emphatically, then swallowed. “I love the Lord Aragorn, your husband, my Lady. As you well know.”
“Perhaps you love them both.” Arwen suggested mildly.
Eowyn flushed again in anger and embarrassment. “That’s impossible!”
“Of course it’s not.” Hiril said, startling them all. Like her husband she was careful to keep her place, but this was Woman talk and of all of them she was the longest married and the most experienced. “One can easily love two different Men for different reasons and in different ways - and many Women have.”
Eowyn’s face glowed scarlet. “The more shame to them!”
“Not at all.” Hiril said, unperturbed. “One can, for example, love one Man dearly as a captain and a friend, and yet love another just as much as a companion and mate.”
“I have broken all my oaths.” Eowyn said in a strangled voice, “But I will not be false to my love.” then fled the room, slamming the door behind her.
“Oh dear.” said Arwen unhappily, looking after her.
“No.” said Hiril, “Anger is a good sign. It means she is beginning to doubt.”
“Poor Eowyn,” said Idril, with no sympathy in her voice. “It must be rather more than embarrassing to nearly throw your life away for love of a Man - and then find yourself falling in love with another.”
Faramir came back early from the courts and systematically searched the Citadel for Eowyn. He ran her to ground at last in the laundry, pinned into a large apron with a cloth over her hair, overseeing the bubbling vats of dirty linens. She stared at Faramir as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. The laundresses were all staring too, curious and excited. Faramir ignored them.
“Lady I would speak with you.”
“Now?” Eowyn asked incredulously.
“I - “ she looked helplessly around at all the bright, interested eyes, and gave in. “Very well.”
The yard between laundry and kitchens and the various alleys leading off it were full of busy people, in the black and white livery of the Citadel, all looking with surprise at the Steward and the Lady of Rohan. Faramir took Eowyn by the elbow and steered her through the winding ways to a stair that led up to the ramparts of the Citadel wall overlooking the northern half of the City.
Eowyn, pink from the heat of the laundry - and perhaps other causes - pulled the coarse cloth from her hair, tried vainly to smooth her vast apron and said edgily, “Well, my Lord Steward?”
He remembered her preference for plain speaking and came straight to the point: “Eowyn, why don’t you join your brother at Cormallen?”
Her eyes veered from his and she bit her lip. “Do you not know?”
“I can think of two reasons,” he answered, “but which is the true one I do not know.”
“Oh don’t play riddle-games!” she exclaimed impatiently. “Speak plain!”
“Very well then. Maybe you do not go because to see the Lord Aragorn again would give you pain rather than joy. Or maybe it is because I do not go and you wish to be near me.” His voice became even more gentle. “Or maybe it is for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them. Eowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?”
“I desired to be loved by another.” she said in a muffled voice, looking down at the hands twisting the folds of her apron. “But I want no Man’s pity.”
“You wanted the love of the Lord Aragorn, as you wanted renown and glory.” he answered. “You loved him as a young soldier loves a great captain. But he returned only understanding and pity, and so you fell into despair and sought a brave death in battle. Look at me Eowyn!”
She looked up, almost unwillingly, and was caught by the steady power in his blue eyes. “Do not scorn pity,” he told her, “for it is the gift of a gentle heart. But I do not offer you pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have won renown that shall not be forgotten. And you are beautiful beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. I love you, Eowyn. Do you not love me?”
For Eowyn it was as if the sun had come out, banishing the last lingering shadow of her winter. It was not that her heart changed but that, finally, she understood it. She did love the Lord Aragorn, and always would, but she saw now that it was the same kind of love as her brother felt for him; that of a soldier for his captain, a comrade for his shield friend. Aragorn was not the Man for her, she’d realized that long ago, but Faramir was and suddenly she understood that loving him did not betray that first love but merely put it in its proper place.
“Yes.” she said, and laughed for joy at the brightening of his face. “I will lay down my sword and be a shieldmaiden no longer. I will even come and live in this cold white City of yours.”
Faramir’s smile shone down upon her, warm as the sun. “Long ago, in the days of the Kings, my ancestors dwelt across the river in Ithilien, in the hills of Emyn Arnen. There we will build our house, with a fair garden and wide parks where the White Lady of Rohan may ride at her pleasure.”
It sounded wonderful. “And your proud folk will say of you: ‘There goes the Lord Steward who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North!’” she teased. “’Were there no Women of the race of Numenor to choose?”
“None.” he said, and bent to kiss her. She put her arms around his neck and returned it warmly. Lost in their own little world neither heard the cheers from the people watching eagerly from below the wall.