1. Taking Leave
“Sh-sh-shsh,” He bends down and kisses her brow. “Rest, rest.”
But she fights with the words; she will get them out; she is determined to remember how to say them.
“Freada. Where’s Freada?”
Freada? Freada has been laid in a little grave in Rath Dínen for forty-five years.
Forty years! That tiny little child, she would be a woman of forty-five now! Except that… that…
“Freada has gone on ahead,” he says to her. And as he continues, Faramir’s face begins to flush again, and he can only speak in a whisper: “You shall be together soon, with our daughter, your baby girl. Don't fret, my love,”
It had begun so quietly.
It was not so much that she was in the King’s study, packing the things that did not belong there into a bag; although it was early for her to leave for the season.
But she was doing it… so slowly. She would pick up an object, and just have a good look at it. And she kept stopping what she was doing, looking all around her, or gazing out of the window.
She turned, and smiled.
“My lord,” she said. She smiled. “What is it, my lord?”
“What are you doing, Éowyn?”
“I… I must ask your leave, my lord.”
“What, now? Where are you going?”
“The halls of my longfathers, my dear lord.”
“Your brother’s? Why?”
“No, my lord.”
“To my uncle, my lord. Amongst others.”
“To your… oh.” The king entered the room, and sat down. “Now I see.”
“Yes, my lord. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? It’s alright, you’re quite forgiven. Leave that, I wasn’t expecting you to tidy up after yourself before you, before you left me.”
“Oh, if I may, my lord… I am happy to do this one last time. It’s what I always do… before I go back to Emyn Annen. It’s what I always do, before I go on leave; I really feel that that is all that I am preparing for.”
“Well, please yourself, yes, do; that’s the main thing. Are you going to go there then?”
“Yes, my lord. A rider has gone to Faramir. He will come for me, and bear me hence as soon as he can.”
“Good. I am glad he-“ A crash- not great, but enough. He looked up to see her, holding onto the table, lest she fell. “Oh, in the name of- leave it, for now. Come. Sit. You are not as strong as you would have me believe, are you?”
“Hush! Just sit here. No, here.”
“I cannot see clearly!”
“It’s alright; I’ve got you; hush. My, you have hidden this, haven’t you?” Though not without his help, of course, had she deceived his eyes; he had not wanted to notice how thin she had become, how pale and shadowed her face was. True, it had been impossible to ignore her stays in the healing house, the creeping and spreading of the lumpy dressings to where they were just visible at the neckline of her gown. But what could be done? It had been she, she who had never let talk dwell on the days she had been absent, in her bed; she who had ever been clenching her jaw and claiming that she was in no pain… She who had just kept on being active. And so conveniently useful. He nursed her against him, until he felt her body slacken a little. “A little better now?” he asked her.
“Yes. Thank you. I just have… moments… you know,”
“So I see.” He knelt beside her. “It has infected your head, hasn’t it?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m dying, my lord.”
“How… how long…?”
“Maybe a week? Maybe a month,”
It was five weeks later, and they were still stood over her bed. But not much longer. It couldn’t be much longer, damn it!
Éowyn, what were you like! As if they had not had to snatch her back from the destruction that she had gone to such lengths to seek; and now here Aragorn stood, the same man looking upon her bed, and thinking: what are you doing, being still alive, now? Oh, she did not fear the pain, indeed! It seemed that it was worth it; her failing eyes might not have been able to make out the faces around her any more, but she knew that the house was full, full of her mourners, and she was loving that!
No, that was unfair, that was completely unfair; she might have been enjoying the attention; she was not enjoying the pain, and she was not enjoying her struggles to name the faces that leaned over to kiss her.
How long had she been ill, how long really? A year? Two? She had not said!
And how long had those lines on her brow been so deep? How long had her eyes been so creased? At last, now, it was plain how all this time she had been aging, but he had not seen it. Or he had not sought to see it. Only now, lying there, now that at long last the fire in her look was fading, did he see; at last, that that young maid had aged past him.
Did Faramir see it? No, it was clear he didn’t; in his eyes reflected the white and gold of the woman of twenty-four that he had once known- or rather, maybe he saw all that she had ever been, from the melancholic young maiden to the matriarch- mighty in her way- of some sixty-five years. Surely, though, he did not see this.
Her eyes focused upon her husband’s face.
“My arm hurts,” she croaked in Rohirric. Faramir touched her forehead.
“Very well. My lord…?”
“Yes, of course.”
Éowyn’s head turned.
“My lord? You are here?”
“I have been here for the best part of a month, lady,”
“I know, I know!” she snapped. Then- “I… I’m sorry, I… I forgot…”
“No, speak nothing of it. I’m sorry. It is you who is ill, not I,”
Éowyn closed her eyes.
“I am not deranged, though, my lord,” she whispered- the Common Speech though in a far heavier accent than usual. She opened them, looking him in the eye- so she could see, for now. “I know I am… confused. I am forgetful. But I am not mad. If I am insolent, it is not because I am insane.”
Only because she had forgotten her protocol, really forgotten it. And why should she remember it, when it was enough effort to remember the names of her own sons!
Faramir pressed his forehead low against hers.
“A minute, my lady,” he said. She murmured her consent; he nodded to his king, and exited. In the privacy of his mind, the king beat his steward about the head, shouting: ‘In the name of Eru, Faramir, weep before my face, else bid me leave you! Do not skulk in antechambers as if I were your father!’ He hoped that Faramir had found it in himself to weep all he needed before his wife- though how he would bear her passing then presented another problem.
“Poor Faramir,” Éowyn said, her voice really quite fluent, and in the Common Speech, too. “I do fear this is hard on him.”
Aragorn knelt beside her.
“I thought you were lingering,” he said.
“You mean you think… that I… should be gone by now?”
“I wonder that you are still alive, it is true. I confess… when you sleep, I… remember our last exchange, taking it to be our parting one. And then you keep on waking. And you keep having outbreaks of being really very rational. You are full of surprises, Éowyn of Rohan.”
A smile crept across her lips, and she tried to raise a hand to him- then winced in pain. Her shield-arm.
“Does that still pain you?”
“My arm? Yes, sometimes. When I am ill; or… when I am in other pain. It is as much my mind that triggers it as anything.”
“Do you want a draught to quell the pain?”
“I have had three already for my head and breast and belly.”
“I could allow you another.”
She needed aid to raise her head enough to swallow. Then, with the cup at her lips, she hesitated.
“What is it?” Aragorn asked her.
“I know enough herb-lore still,” she said. “This is too much, isn’t it? Four?”
“It… would be.”
“So… you… it will hurry… things along?”
“This much? No. The damage would not be lethal, and would not show for some time. It is a risk I am prepared to take. Too much is what you need, to quell all your pains. I would not have you in more misery than I could possibly spare you.”
She looked up and fixed his eyes for a second or so- then the light become to much for her and she jerked back, screwing her eyes up.
Her elbow joslted something in the bed beside her.
"What in the... what's this rag-doll doing in here? One of Míria's cast-offs, I think. Does that man think I'm in a, a second childhood?"
"Oh, my," Aragorn murmured.
"I think it was supposed to be Freada. When you had a bad patch earlier and the boys came down to you, you were asking for her, so..."
She looked blank for a moment. Then she smiled, though there wasn't mirth in it as such.
"Did it work?" she said. "I don't remember."
"I'm not sure. You passed out shortly afterwards. But, well, when I came in she was in your arms,"
"Ah." She stroked the doll's hair, then glanced at him sharply. "You can laugh, if you like. I know it's droll; I don't mind at all."
"Indeed. Come. Swollow."
She did, little by little. Halfway down the cup, she pushed back his hand.
"A breath," she said.
"I do." She blinked, heavily. "These draughts are heavy," she said. "You will soon have me quite sotted." And her grip tightened on his wrist. "I don't mean to waste the... oh, though I suppose I might well soon... ah, me,"
"What is it?"
"I would to speak with Faramir. Better than I have of late... I do not mean to never- well.. you know. There are things that must be said. Only, well, expected things I know, I do not have the art of saying them as they have not been said before but... there are- things that must be said. You understand me?"
"Absolutly. But you cannot speak in ernest if you are in too much pain,"
The cup was drained, and she lay back, trailing a bony hand, searching for his. He gave it. Her eyes, unfocused again, turned to his face.
“No, lady. Shall I call him?”
“L’d Ar’gorn? No, ‘salright. ‘M fine.”
Lord Aragorn? He hadn’t realised she still thought of him by that name- she hadn’t spoken it in, what, forty-five, fifty years? Again something caught his attention, and he looked and was almost amused- the shadows under her eyes, the pinched look of her face, the habitual look of tension born of that accursed head-ache; he was reminded not so much of her in age, but of the prematurely care-worn young woman, barely more than a girl, who he had first looked upon. Almost amused, but not quite.
Her hand wondered across, with the lack of her sight; she touched the bedside table, and her hand strayed downward…
…to her sword.
Éomer had brought it there, and placed it in her hand, days ago now; she had been almost blind at the time and slurring her speech so badly it was hard to tell whether or not she was lucid enough to know all that stood around her- her sons and their children, the king and queen and their kin, her brother and his, Meridioc Brandybuck! how had he managed it, so very far? And others, Legolas, and so naturally Gimli, notables from the city; it was as if her bedchamber was suddenly counted among the halls of Gondor- such a ceremony that Éomer had tried to hide his tears, with little success. Had she known that they were watching? For what she had known was the feel of the sword when it was placed in her hand. Her fingers had closed around it, her grip a perfect warrior’s hold. And she had smiled.
“Merry still here?”
“Yes. Do you want him?”
“Maybe. How old is he now?”
“Didn’t think he was that old!”
“The halflings live long years. More in the manner of Númenor, than of most men.”
“What of Pippin?”
“He is but eighty.”
“And whatsit? Samwise?”
“Hmm… oh yes. Eighty-eight.”
“What of Gimli?”
“I am not sure, in truth; Legolas would know; I think about a hundred
and eighty-something.” Where was all this leading to?
“And how old are you, my lord?”
“I, I am one hundred and forty.” And just at times like this, he could begin to feel it.
She was laughing. Really laughing, and it did not seem that she was raving, either.
“Younger than you all!” she gasped. “Éomer, and Faramir, too, and the elves! And I shall do what none of you have managed yet!”
Now, of course, Faramir did arrive, and was, in a way, more unsettled to see his wife cackling than he would have been had she been weeping. No fear- soon she was every bit as crotchety as could be expected in her condition, and he seemed soothed to have her complaining at him again. He must have forgotten his liege-lord, at last, for he lay on the bed beside her, and embraced her, and kissed her face.
Oh, how Aragorn had derided him, insulted him, even if it was even in thought! His wishful mind was not deceiving him; and he did not see his wife as other than she was! Faramir was still in love, deeply in love, with this crumpled, confused, cross little face that now lay on the pillow; not overlaid with a memory of what she had been, but what she was.
Could it ever have been him, lying there? Aragorn had wondered, at times. Éowyn had always been so very useful to him; he could scarcely have thought better of any mortal woman than
Aragorn thought of his own wife, immune to earthly sickness, unaging, or at least not fast enough to show any change in the lifetime of any man- himself included.
And suddenly felt: there was something here, that he would never know, never feel, never understand… and for the foreswearing of which, he felt the faintest pang of sorrow.
The door opening, a soft step within, the glow of a small candle. Aragorn raised his head. Míria, her lovely pale, golden hair plaited for bed.
“No. Your granddam is stronger than she looks, I deem. She’s asleep. Go to bed, nin iell.”
“I am old enough to go without, and help here,” she said.
“Yes, and you have. You watched last night; and you are tired. Go. Nineteen, and I must still order you!”
“Ada, I am glad you are here,” she said. “I am glad that you are my kin, too.”
Yes. It seemed incredible. Had Éowyn dreamed of that, when she was little older than Míria was now? Éowyn’s first granddaughter was his own, too! Of course there was barely a more natural match for his daughter than Faramir’s son- or, as the young man’s cousin had put it: “The lady must marry beneath herself, or else very unnaturally.” Still he searched Míria’s pretty oval face, looking for confirmation. Of course there was that Rohirric hair; but Faramir had always claimed to mark elven beauties in the girl’s face, and her slender hands- how Faramir did adore this girl! but Aragorn wondered at how his Steward had failed to note the intelligent grey eyes and the flair of her lip for his own… but, well, the two of them, Faramir and Aragorn, could well be taken for kinsmen, but- was there not just the slightest familiarity in the girl’s cheekbones and nose…?
Míria kissed him.
“Grandfather will miss her so,” she said. “He will miss her a long time, I deem.”
She was right, of course. How long had Faramir to live? Twenty years? Easily. It was hard, these days, guessing how long a man of Gondor was born to live- their fathers and grandfathers for the most part had been cut down early, and those that remained were often so scared by war as to cut their appointed long years short. Thirty years? Not improbable- the faintest of the colours of youth were discernable in Faramir’s cheek even now. Forty? Maybe.
Aragorn patted the girl’s hand.
“You shall comfort him, I think, Míria. You are very like your grandmother, in younger days. Next to her, he loves none more than you.”
"Ada? There's but one thing..."
"She was saying earlier that she meant to, well, have words with my Grandfather. You know what sort of words. I hope she did...?"
"Oh yes. In full and several times over. She had forgotten I was here, I know that. He knows all; he already did, of course, but yes, t'was said. To bed with you now!"
It was at first light that Arwen began weeping in her sleep, as she lay beside her husband. She did not quite wake, though she hovered on the threshold. He had been sleeping fitfully to start with, awaiting a call at any moment; thus he had slept but a few hours, and felt still as tired as when he had gone to bed.
It may be just a dream like any other, he thought to himself. He listened to the words that his wife was whispering in her sleep, and groaned inwardly. And it may snow in Ithilien in June, but if going thence he would in all probability not wear his winter cloak.
He hesitated to bend down to pull on his breeches for fear that the movement would cause him to carry on falling forward, and end face down on the floor. Oh, weariness! He must have been growing old, or else to accustomed to home and its comforts. Was he not once a ranger who would- oh, leave it. He hadn’t liked going for weeks without any real sleep then either; he had merely endured it, and that was a different matter altogether.
He entered the chamber and suddenly- and quite irrationally, as far as he could see- felt something akin to his spirits rising, or at least a sensation of an unhappy burden lifting. The chamber was warm, not so much from the dying fire as from a shaft of gold that had burst in though the window- east-facing, of course, very funny, Faramir, the joke was on you that you could see the Mountains of Shadow from your bed. And Faramir, to Aragorn’s blatant surprise, had gotten into that bed in the night, and lay with his wife wrapped up in his arms. His face was wrapped in deep and well-needed sleep, and she… was she sleeping, too?
Aragorn looked closer.
So, she had managed it; never had she withered away in a cage of fears and miseries, as Theodwyn had done. Though, equally, she had never managed to get herself run through with a sword, as had Éomund. Cancer? Not particularly swashbuckling, it was true. Well. Her operations- that she had never discussed- in the Healing Houses, who could do much but could not wield a scalpel and knife without it causing all the pain a blade is wont to; her returning to her work running the Foundling Hospital and administrating the Houses a fortnight later; her soothing her little grandson in her arms til he was laughing, when her face was white and grey with agony, would have to be enough.
The thing to do, of course, would be to wake her husband and inform him, and lay her out properly.
There was a chair by the bed. Aragorn lifted it as quietly as he could, and set it by the fire, where he reckoned it to be just out immediate sight of the bed. He’d reveal himself when necessary.
The garland was of lilies, of course. What else?
What did surprise him was that, as Arwen made her way along the passage, she was hanging back.
“What is it?”
“Estel… I know this sounds strange but… I have not known many
mortals, Estel, before I was wed, and…” Oh. Who would have thought it? “Estel, I do not believe I have ever said ‘Namarië’ to any who could answer- none but near-strangers… before now. ‘Tenna' ento lye omenta’, of course; to many.” She toyed with the ribbon on the garland. But she had farewell to enough close kin!- close kin living, though. “Even though that has turned out to be mistaken, in the circumstances.” Oh, dear. Had she ever seen a friend dead before? And surely it was going to bring on… forbodings…. Oh dear, oh dear, Arwen, this was hard, wasn’t it?
“I did not think that I would be.”
Aragorn kissed her.
“I’m sure you will not get it wrong,” he said. “What’s to mistake?”
“I know… it’s just… I have never done this before.”
“Well, neither had Éowyn. But all in all, I think she managed it pretty well, don’t you?”
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.