1. A Common Language
"And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness." —The Return of the King
Ever since he had granted her permission to walk in the gardens, Faramir had seen Eowyn do so every day. It was certainly a peaceful place, that he had to admit, but it seemed almost as if she was frightened to be indoors. He had known men who were like that, who would shiver with fear even in Henneth Annun, and look as if the walls were to close around them at any moment. But she did not speak to him on the subject, and there was little he could do if such was the problem.
Now, there he was again, thinking on the White Lady and her troubles. Ruefully grinning to himself, Faramir shook his head. She was certainly the most interesting woman he had met, but it was not his job to fix all her problems. Still, the more he learned of her, the more he saw unexplained shadows in every word she spoke. For instance, she never spoke of what she loved, other than her country and family; if she spoke of herself she mentioned what duties she performed in Rohan. Faramir was a dutiful and diligent captain, but even he had times when he would do things merely for the enjoyment of them.
Music! The subject of enjoyment could not but bring that to his mind. He realized that he had not touched a harp in weeks, and felt a sudden urge to do so. Perhaps it would clear some of the shadows from his own mind. But convincing the Warden to let him leave the Houses would be a task that even a Steward would find difficult: the man was stubborn and adamant, especially when his instructions came from the newly-returned King. No, he would say, Lord Aragorn was insistent that your lordship stay here until fully recovered; fully recovered he said.
But it would not hurt to try. Leaving the window, he passed out of his chamber to cross the garden, the Warden's office being on the other side. He had not meant to eavesdrop, but he had not gone far before stopping in astonishment. A clear but quiet voice was singing in the Rohirric tongue, and it was a song that was filled with a foreign sadness, a sadness he could not quite understand. Mesmerized he stood, until the singer became aware of him.
"My lord, I beg your pardon. I did not know that anyone was near."
Faramir smiled—of course, it had to be the Lady Eowyn, just as he had succeeded in not thinking of working out her problems.
"My lady, it is I who must beg your pardon for listening. I had never heard such a song of Rohan before, and music has always touched me deeply. Your song spoke of such sadness, unlike any other that I have heard before."
She was not smiling today, and her face seemed slightly paler than usual. "It was a funeral dirge, my lord." She shivered. "I sung it at the funeral of my cousin. I will very likely sing it at the funeral of my uncle."
Reproaching himself for having opened such a tender topic, he quickly stepped in and apologized:
"Then I must beg your pardon again, lady, for I had no wish to disturb you in your memory."
She looked up at him, though, and a strange smile quivered on the edge of her lips. "You need not, my lord, beg pardon for every word you speak. I was not offended."
She began to walk down the path, and Faramir followed, seeing that she was once again burdened in heart.
"That song will be forever etched in my memory, as if it was my birth song, so often have I heard it sung over people that I loved. Sometimes I hear it in my dreams, as if a foreshadowing. And there are so few to lose now." Seeing that Faramir did not quite understand, she explained: "In Rohan, my lord, each house sings the same song over its dead, a song that has been passed down the generations, often considered even more important than the family name. One of the highest respects that a woman can achieve is for her husband's family to sing their song over her grave. The song you heard me sing was that of the house of Eorl."
"In Numenor there was once a similar custom," answered Faramir ponderingly, "but the song was one to Eru Illuvatar, and it was the same for all people. I had heard that the Rohirrim were people of song, but I did not realize how cherished such things were to them. Songs are precious gifts in Gondor, as well, but for the reason that they are so few. I have often considered it unfortunate, though I am rare in such a wish."
"Yes, in Rohan, we consider Gondor the land of words," said Eowyn with the hint of a smile. "But I am glad to know that you do not think our custom strange. You love music, then, my lord?"
"Indeed, lady, even from birth. My brother once told me that the only sure way to stop my tears was to sing to me. When my mother died the music left my life for a time, for she had been a great singer, and for years I was desolate, until I began to make my own."
"You sing?" asked Eowyn in surprise.
"Seldom," admitted Faramir. "You would be more likely to find a harp in my hands. But I have sung before, and have written my own songs, though I cannot boast the skill of the Rohirrim."
"We may be a people of song, my lord, but that does not mean that we are all skilled at it," said Eowyn dryly.
Faramir chuckled, glad to see that some of the darkness was lifted from her face. "I have only heard surpassing skill from your minstrels, but my experience is, I admit, limited. I would gladly hear more of it, though."
He did not say it, but the unspoken when the war is over hung in the air, and brought to their minds again the Shadow in the East. Was it not still a matter of "if" rather than "when"?
"May I be permitted to see your harp, lord?" asked Eowyn suddenly, withdrawing her gaze from where it had strayed eastward. "I should love to see what skill lies in Gondor, for I did not know that there were any who appreciated music."
"Of course, lady, if I can persuade the Warden to fetch it for me. I am afraid that even a Steward is not allowed to leave the premises without his permission."
He had not meant to bring that subject up, for it had been restlessness under the healers' care that had first brought her to him, but she laughed.
"Then Rohan and Gondor are similar in that respect. In my land also healers can be bold."
But when Faramir spoke to the Warden, he did not protest, and the harp was soon brought to Faramir. Eowyn's eyes lit up as she saw it, and she took it gently in her arms as other women hold children, and examined it with a skilled eye.
"This is excellent craftsmanship, my lord," she said. "I do not doubt that you learned to love music if you first heard it from such an instrument as this."
"Yes, it was my mother's," he said, and as he remembered his first grief, a cloud passed over the sun. Eowyn looked up at his face, and he saw that there was pity in her eyes, and that seemed a matter of irony to him, though he was grateful for it. She spoke no word, but gave the harp back to him, and he began to play a soft melody.
The tune started out low and poignant, as quiet and unobtrusive as an old grief, but still sad in its essence. As it branched out from its simple beginning, the notes grew higher and more accented, and the melody became more complex, bringing to the mind a picture of a newer grief that is not fully understood. But such was the power of the piece, that throughout the melody the original tune wove its way, still low, still unobtrusive, but ever-present, a grief that laid a foundation for further deeds. When the harp could no longer hold the fullness of the song, Faramir began to sing softly, slowly bringing the new grief to a crescendo of both the beauty and the sorrow, finding harmony even in pain.
Though the words were in Elvish, and the style unfamiliar, Eowyn felt the music flow through her veins, and her mind began unconsciously to put her own griefs to this song. By the time the song had reached its height, the old grief had become significant to her as the loss of her parents, and the new grief as the loss of her uncle, complex and tangled even still in her mind. The song reached into her heart, and though it pulled her grief to the front, it brought a peace and understanding to her that no words could have achieved, as if she was seeing her life for the first time as something understandable, with a pattern to be seen.
The song reached its climax, and then gradually came back down, letting the melody unwind until it was simple and slow again. Faramir's voice had now stopped, and as the last note left the string, he let out a deep breath as if he had been holding it. There were two tears on Eowyn's cheek, and he smiled apologetically at her:
"I am sorry. I did not mean to sing of sorrow."
"No," she said, brushing the tears aside, "I thank you. It was a precious gift to share with me, and one that I did not expect. Even in Rohan I have not often heard such a song."
"Praise indeed, lady," he answered, his face lightening. A bell rang for the afternoon meal, and they looked up.
"Shall I escort you, Lady Eowyn?" he asked, offering her his arm. "Perhaps we shall speak of music again some time."
She took it gratefully, and answered: "I would be glad to, my lord, if you would do one thing for me."
She looked up at him, and then answered the question in his eyes with a smile:
"Only this, my lord, that you will try not to beg pardon for everything you say."
"If my lady so wishes," he said, bowing low and smiling, "then I will do all in my effort."
As they walked to the meal, it remained still unspoken, but in that song, both of them had come to a new understanding that was deeper than even thoughts could express. Though in words their tongues were similar, their minds had up till now seemed foreign to each other. But now they had found a common language, and it did more for them than a thousand words.
Author's Notes: I was inspired to write this story by a comment in the Appendices about Faramir: "a lover of lore and of music". Tolkien portrayed Rohan throughout the Trilogy as a culture of song, and I wondered at how that shared love might have influenced Faramir and Eowyn's relationship.
The piece that Faramir plays, though not consciously based off of an existing song, I now realize is unconsciously based off of a piece of music by Ludwig Van Beethoven, the second movement from his Seventh Symphony. It is one of my favorite pieces of music, and though I thought of Faramir's song as being slightly more beautiful and Elven, it is a good example of what I had in mind.