Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Greetings. Welcome to this story. This one was a long time in coming, and the themes and relationships between the characters evolved quite a bit from its initial conception, and I am glad to be able to present it at last.
There are really two stories in this one. The larger story takes place in Gondor and Ithilien just after the War of the Rings, during the spring and summer of the year 3020 of the Third Age. Much of it grew from a feeling I have had for a long time that the marriage of Faramir and Éowyn seems somewhat abrupt. I do not doubt that they love each other, but I do not think that they know each other particularly well. In addition, they come of very different national and cultural backgrounds, and it is logical to think that their assumptions about life and marriage might be very different in the beginning. They are well matched for each other, but I think that their early relationship must have been uneven as both husband and wife learned about and made allowances for the other.
The smaller story, the story-within-the-story, is actually the first of the two stories to be planned out. It is set in Rohan during the spring of 3001. You'll meet some familiar people here in rather different roles than those in which you've come to know them. It is partially an exercise in a certain kind of writing, which I will explain once the story is done. It is also an exploration of certain of the perils inherent to Middle Earth that have nothing at all to do with the forces of evil. The land can be as dangerous as any Dark Lord, and each land faces its own distinct dangers. These dangers in turn shape the character of the people who live on the land.
Enjoy the story. I will see you at the end.
1. The Necessary Cellar
"Just a little further," Faramir said reassuringly. He steered his wife expertly over the uneven ground. Éowyn stumbled occasionally, as she was blindfolded, but Faramir caught her each time, and she did not fall. "We are nearly there."
"It had better be absolutely as wonderful as you promised," Éowyn groused. "I am growing distinctly weary of this blindfold."
"Just a few steps more, love," Faramir said. "There is a creek here, and . . . up!" He picked her up and placed her on the other side of the creek. "Here we are," he said happily. He fumbled with the knot in the handkerchief for a moment, then triumphantly whipped the blindfold off of Éowyn's eyes. She blinked for a moment in the sunlight, and then her sky-blue eyes grew wide with astonishment.
"Oh, my," was all that she could choke out.
"Is it not beautiful?" Faramir asked. "It is the best valley in all of Ithilien, the perfect place to build our new home."
Éowyn breathed deeply and smelled the honeysuckle that crept up around the trees. She took in the secluded valley ringed with large shade trees and the creek that flowed through, bringing fresh, clear water. Something silver flashed. The creek appeared to be good for fishing as well.
"It is perfect," she breathed. Faramir smiled.
"It is within a day's walk from the main road through Ithilien," he said, "although you would never know it since it is so quiet here. There is a good supply of water from that creek, and what you do not see is the piece of flat land over that ridge there that can be cleared and plowed for farmland."
"You mean to put a village here?"
"A village?" Faramir laughed. "Nay, no village. I plan to found at least a town that will, with luck, grow into a city. This is perfect countryside, ideal for settlement now that the danger from Mordor is so much less. The White City is beautiful, but it grows no smaller, and I fancy there would be plenty of families willing to leave the comforts of the city for a chance to farm such land."
"You mean to be a working Prince, then," Éowyn observed.
"Of course. Much as I love books and study, I was not raised to sit idle," said Faramir. "This part of Ithilien has the potential to rival the Pelennor as the breadbasket of Gondor, if it is administered correctly. The King gave the administration of Ithilien to me, and I intend to do that properly."
"Good," said Éowyn. "I would hate to think that I had somehow acquired an idle lord for a husband. Together we will make Ithilien bloom even more brightly than it already does." Another silver fish flashed by in the creek, and Éowyn scampered girlishly after it, raising a great splash. Faramir laughed. He knew he had chosen his land correctly. Ithilien would be good for him and Éowyn.
Faramir's life became very busy. In addition to his duties as Steward of Gondor, he now met nearly every day with the best architect he could find in all of Gondor. He drew maps of his valley, and took the architect to see it. Together, they began to design the dwelling for the Prince of Ithilien that was to be built in his valley.
Faramir did not want to waste a bit of the land, and decided to build the manor house out of the ridge that ran along one edge of the valley. Storage rooms and a library could be built directly into the living rock of the ridge, leaving the sun-drenched frame of the house for private quarters and council areas. He and the architect planned walkways and gardens, both practical and ornamental, which took advantage of the startling variety of flowers that grew in Ithilien.
Gimli had recently persuaded a few families of Dwarves to move south and settle in the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, and Faramir felt certain that he could negotiate their services in the excavation and shaping of the storage areas for the manor. He took Gimli on a short trip to Ithilien to inspect the ridge. Gimli hemmed and hawed, knocking the stone face of the ridge, pressing himself up against it to listen, and examining the vegetation that grew around and on the rock face. At last, he finished his inspection.
"This is good rock," he announced with a satisfied air. "It will take quite a few storage chambers and a library as well. It would also be a fine place to place a dungeon, should you so desire."
"I will consider it," Faramir said. "I do not wish to be an overly harsh ruler, but the matter of justice will not go away."
"Finish your plans with your architect," Gimli said, "and then send word to me. I and those of my folk who have traveled here will journey to Ithilien and begin the excavations. You have chosen good land, Faramir. A city would thrive in this plot."
"For that encouragement I thank you," Faramir replied. He and Gimli set off back to the clearing where they had left a liveried page watching over the tall horse and the stubby pony that had brought them to Ithilien.
When they arrived back in Minas Tirith, Faramir and Gimli held a great meeting with the architect to put the finishing touches on the plans for the storage portion of the manor. The architect seemed pleased to have the skill of the Dwarves to aid in the realization of his designs, and overall, Faramir had high hopes for his new home. The meeting went smoothly, and construction was scheduled to begin in a fortnight -- just enough time to gather the Dwarves and bring them to Ithilien.
Faramir was admiring the plans one evening when Éowyn returned late from the Houses of Healing, where she was informally apprenticed to Mistress Ioreth. Éowyn had not had much of a chance to contribute to the planning of the manor house, as the Houses of Healing took up much of her time, and there was a tacit understanding between her and Faramir that the manor was to be something of a surprise for her.
This night, though, Faramir did not put the plans away when Éowyn arrived. The designs were complete, after all, and he wanted his wife to share in the anticipation of the house to be built.
"Éowyn," he called. "Come and see the designs for your new home. They were finished just this morning."
"Already?" she asked. "Let me see." She sat down across the table from Faramir, and he pushed the drawings over to her side. She turned them around and sat studying them for a long time. Faramir waited to hear her verdict, almost certain that she would be as pleased as he was, but wanting to hear it from her own lovely lips.
"It's practical," Éowyn said at last. This was normally the highest form of praise she bestowed on any object, and Faramir felt himself relax a little. Éowyn smiled and turned back to the plans. "The living quarters and the governance areas adjoin most gracefully, and the passages between those areas and the storage chambers are quite clever."
"And the kitchens are accessible to both areas of the house," Faramir pointed out. "They are well ventilated, and we will have a covered passageway between them and the yards to shelter the scullery staff from rain."
"That is a good idea," Éowyn said. "That was always a problem in Meduseld. The kitchen is on the downstream side of the house as well, I see. You and the architect have done well," she concluded. "There is only one thing missing in all of these drawings."
"And that is?"
"A cellar," Éowyn said. "You planned and schemed so cleverly that you forgot the cellar." She laughed a little, as though this were the silliest of accidents. Faramir frowned at her, puzzled.
"A cellar?" he asked. "This house has no need of a cellar. All the storage areas are to be set deep into the ridge, where they will be just as cool as if they were underground. There is no need to make extra work by digging a cellar, too."
The merriment faded from Éowyn's face. "You intend not to have a cellar at all?" she asked. Faramir nodded. Éowyn swallowed back what Faramir was sure was a cutting remark. "Might I ask you to reconsider?" she asked stiffly.
"There is no need for a cellar," Faramir repeated. "It would be merely an added expense, and, while I grant you that the Steward of Gondor is not exactly a pauper, I would prefer not to make unnecessary expenditures."
All the color in Éowyn's face concentrated itself into two flaming spots on her cheeks. "A cellar is an important part of a house!" she said. "It is most certainly not an unnecessary expense. This house wants a cellar, and I will not live in it unless it has one."
"You will have all the storage you require," Faramir replied, feeling his grasp of the situation slip away. "I say again, you do not need a cellar."
"Then I will not have the house!" Éowyn jumped to her feet and stormed out of the room. Faramir limply tried to gather up the plans for the manor, wondering just what had gone wrong.
He did not see Éowyn at breakfast the next morning; the butler informed him that she had eaten earlier and had left. He did not say where she had gone. Faramir prowled the corridors of their quarters in the Citadel, but no fiery Rohirric princess appeared. He realized that Éowyn was avoiding him, and somehow, that fact hurt him more than her sharp words of the night before. He tried to ignore the hurt, as he was meeting with the King later that day.
When he actually did get to the council chambers, he soon realized that he need not have bothered trying to conceal his feelings. Try as he might, Faramir could not force himself to be at all interested in the restoration of Osgiliath. The image of the ruined fortress kept drifting out of his head, to be replaced by Éowyn's face, alive with anger directed at him.
"Lord Faramir! Is it possible for you to repeat back what I just told you?"
Faramir looked up guiltily, jerked back to reality by Aragorn's remark. Feeling his face burn, he shook his head. "Nay, my Lord. I must apologize. I -- my mind was elsewhere."
"That much is certain." A twinkle replaced the annoyance in Aragorn's eyes. "Something is troubling you today, Faramir," he said. "Would you care to tell me about it?"
"I hardly think it is an important enough matter to consume your time," Faramir mumbled.
"But I think it is important," Aragorn responded. "Especially since it seems that I will get no further with you until whatever is troubling you has been resolved."
Faced with that logic, Faramir had to admit defeat. "Éowyn and I . . . had words last night," he admitted.
"Yes. Not all of them were pleasant."
"Ah." Aragorn steepled his fingers and looked off into the middle distance for a moment. "What was the subject of these words, if I might be so bold?"
"They concerned our house, the one I mean to build in Ithilien," Faramir said. Aragorn looked at him and said nothing. "I engaged the best architect in Minas Tirith to design the manor," Faramir said. "We worked for several weeks to ensure that the building took the best advantage of the terrain, that it was useful and gracious, and that not an inch of space was wasted. Last night, I showed the plans to Éowyn, and she . . . she . . . "
"Yes? What did the White Lady do?"
"She asked if there was to be a cellar. I told here that there was no cellar, that the house had no need of a cellar. All the storerooms she could ever want are to be delved into the ridge. A cellar is unnecessary. And then she grew angry. We had words, and she left in a temper. I have not seen her since," Faramir finished.
"Ah." Aragorn was silent for a moment, digesting what Faramir had told him. Faramir began to feel mildly uncomfortable under the scrutiny; it reminded him of all the times he and Boromir had quarreled, and their father had broken up the fight and passed judgement upon them. Faramir sternly reminded himself that he was an adult now, and that it was bad form to squirm in front of a King.
At last, Aragorn seemed to come to a decision. He looked solemnly at Faramir. "It seems," he said, "that a cellar is indeed necessary. I do not think the house needs a cellar, but I do think that Éowyn needs a cellar. Do not forget, a house may be gracious and useful, but it is still a dwelling for people who must live inside it and who may have requirements other than grace and usefulness."
"But what could Éowyn possibly need a cellar for?" Faramir asked. "She has all the storage space she could possibly want."
"I do not know why Éowyn needs a cellar," Aragorn said. "But Éowyn knows. Ask her, and she will tell you."
"I will do as you say, my Lord," Faramir said softly.
"That is good. Perhaps you will learn something from it. Now, then, shall we turn our attention back to Osgiliath?"
When the meeting was over, Faramir stiffened his spine and went in search of Éowyn. She was not in their quarters, nor was she in the gardens with the ladies. He was about to go wander the streets of the White City in search of her, and then his hunting instincts kicked in. Why stalk the prey when the prey would come to him eventually? He settled himself down in the sitting room of their quarters to wait for her.
Faramir had waited for several hours, and was beginning to lose his nerve, when Éowyn finally appeared at the door. She began to shed her light spring cloak, then caught sight of him and hastily started to put the cloak on again. "Stay," Faramir blurted.
Éowyn paused for a moment and glared at him.
"Please," Faramir said. "Please, I have something I wish to say to you."
"Is it an apology?" Éowyn asked sharply.
"Part of it is an apology, yes."
"Then I will stay." Éowyn marched over to the far side of the room and primly seated herself upon a bench. Faramir took the hint and stayed where he was.
"Éowyn," he began. "I wish to apologize for our fight yesterday evening. I was wrong to snap at you, and I deeply regret having done so. Will you speak with me again?"
"It was a fair apology, so, yes, I will speak to you," Éowyn said. "Have you anything else to say?"
"My wife, I would ask a question of you. Will you tell me why it is that your heart is so set on having a cellar? For truly, none is necessary to the design of the house, yet it appears to be necessary to you. What use would you have for a cellar?"
Éowyn was silent for a moment before speaking. "It is not precisely a use that I would have for a cellar," she said after a while. "It would make the house feel . . . more secure . . . to me. All the houses in Rohan have cellars. I do not believe I could ever truly feel at peace living in a house that did not have one."
"But why?" Faramir persisted. "What is so special about an underground cellar?"
Éowyn stared at the fire, entranced by its flickering light. For a long while, Faramir did not think she would answer his question. He was just about to repeat it when she spoke. "My life was saved by a cellar once," she said softly. "I do not wish to live without one."
"Did you escape marauding Orcs in your cellar?" Faramir asked.
"Not Orcs," Éowyn said. "It was something much worse than Orcs, something that I do not think I shall ever forget as long as I live."
"Would you tell me, Lady?"
Éowyn sighed. "It is hardly the season for telling tales, husband," she said, quirking a small smile at him. "But since you seem so eager, and since you did make such a nice apology, I will tell you the tale.
"It happened in the springtime. I had just reached six years of age and was full of spice and fire. I had been given my first pony, and I was eager to go out riding with my brother Éomer and his little friends. The spring had been stormy, and we had been kept inside all winter. I think that we had driven our mother to distraction with our antics, for she sent us far away on a picnic that day . . ."