The Mark of the Dragon

Éowyn's eyes were wide, and her voice shook a little as she recounted that awful afternoon. Faramir crossed the room to sit on the bench beside her and took her hands in his. Forgetting that she was cross with him, Éowyn squeezed his hands tightly before continuing with her tale.

"It felt like the storm went on forever," she said, "but I think it passed in only a few minutes. No noise of battle has ever struck as much fear into my heart as did that storm. When my father deemed it safe for us to emerge, we saw that our house had been reduced to nothing more than shards of wood and rock. Most of the other houses around us were destroyed as well. Half of Edoras had been flattened in that single storm."

Faramir gulped. "What of the other children?" he asked.

"All of those who accompanied my brother and me on our picnic were safe," Éowyn answered, "though Éothain had taken refuge in the house of Ceorl, and his mother feared him lost until the storm was past and they could be reunited. One of my friends was not so lucky. Olwyn was in her yard trying to get her chickens to safety when the storm hit, and her mother saw her fly straight up into the air and vanish with the entire flock. They did not find her body until the next evening, so far did the storm fling her."

Éowyn fell silent and gazed at the fire for a little while. Faramir tried to imagine what such a storm would have been like. He was familiar with flash flooding from spring rains, and with ordinary thunderstorms. He had heard reports of hurricanes in the Bay of Belfalas, though he had never experienced one himself. But never had he imagined a storm of whirling winds that charged across the open land, devouring everything in its path.

"What did you do after the storm?" he asked.

"We rebuilt Edoras, of course," Éowyn said. "My family and I moved into Meduseld for a while, for it was in the half of Edoras which the storm had not touched. I remember Théoden King sitting with Théodred and figuring how best to obtain the material to rebuild half a town. I believe that we imported much wood from Gondor, although I confess that I do not remember it very well."

"I remember," Faramir said. "I remember that I was allowed to observe certain of my father's council meetings that year. There was much discussion about loads of timber to be sent to Rohan. I did not see anything unusual about it at the time, but now that I look back, that timber must have been meant to rebuild Edoras."

"The houses were rebuilt," Éowyn said. "But it was long before our people and our herds recovered. Théodred lost his horse with our house, and it grieved him, for Hruth was a particularly fine steed. He never forgot that horse, and he often said that no later mount compared to Hruth."

"Did your family rebuild?"

"I remember that my father rebuilt our stables," Éowyn said, her gaze unfocused as she tried to recall the strange months after the tornado. "He intended to rebuild the house, but I do not recall if he ever finished it. We went on living in Meduseld, and it was but a year later that my father fell in battle. I do not recall if our new house was finished by then or not."

Faramir tentatively put an arm around Éowyn's shoulders, and she moved herself closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder. Faramir smiled and tightened the embrace. "I see that I find myself in your good graces again," he murmured.

Éowyn smiled a little. "I suppose I am not so angry with you now," she said. "I do not know exactly how it happened, but all my anger seems to have vanished, just like that storm."

"I do not believe that there will be such storms in Ithilien," Faramir told her. "I have patrolled that land for many years, and neither I nor any of the soldiers before me have ever reported such a dragon storm in that land."

"That is good," Éowyn declared. "I have already lived through one tornado, and I do not wish to test my courage against another."

"Your courage leaves nothing to be desired," Faramir assured her. "After all, you faced down a foe just as fearsome on the field of battle, and you were victorious."

"One may fight an enemy and win. There is no fighting a tornado," Éowyn said. "One can only retreat to a cellar and hope."

"Ah. Now we return to our original point of contention."

Éowyn sat up and scrubbed her hands across her face. When she faced Faramir again, her mouth was set in a thin, firm line. "I will have a cellar in that house, if I must travel to Ithilien and dig it myself."

Faramir opened his mouth to object, then shut it again. It struck him that he had perhaps been mistaken in his understanding of what kind of cellar Éowyn wanted. "You wish this cellar to be a shelter, not a storage room?" he asked.

Éowyn nodded. "It need not be large," she said. "But I wish to know that there is a place underground where I might take a family to shelter from an enemy -- or a storm," she added. "You have drawn a fine manor house, Faramir. But if it is ripped from the hillside, there is no protection for the chambers cut into the rock. All I ask is a small underground chamber, where I might be assured that children would be safe from harm."

Faramir got up and retrieved the plans for the manor from their box under the bed. He spread them out on the table and studied them for a while. He did not much care for having a trapdoor set into the floor of the reception hall or the morning chamber, and the iron ring would be a hazard in the corridors. But there was one small room off at the north end of the house that might suffice.

"Perhaps we can tunnel underneath the floor here," he said, pointing the room out to Éowyn on the plans. "I had thought to use the room for hanging cloaks in, but I think the trapdoor would fit here nicely."

"We may still hang cloaks there," Éowyn said. "The little room would have two uses, then, and it would be just as clever as the rest of the house."

Faramir smiled. "I will talk to Gimli and the architect about it in the morning," he told her. Éowyn gave him a real smile then, and he realized that she was just as glad as he that they were speaking again.

The architect took the minor change in the plans in stride, even pointing out the most efficient way for the trapdoor to open. "I believe it would be a simple thing to install such a cellar," he assured Faramir. "Though I would ask a week's leave to travel to Rohan and see their construction for myself."

"I suppose that a week's delay will not make too much difference," Faramir said. "Let it be so, then. Go to Meduseld and study the design of the cellars; I will write a letter recommending your errand to Éomer King. I am certain he will be only too glad to offer his assistance in such a project."

Éomer indeed proved eager to help, even sending Faramir a message that chided him gently for even thinking of building a house without a cellar in the first place. Faramir accepted the letter with good grace, but his cheer did not last long. He had already made one mistake in the design of the manor, and he began to examine every innovation and detail in the plans again. This time, though, he did not look on them with pride so much as with apprehension. He wanted nothing more than for everything about the manor to be perfect, a fitting gift for his bride. Every evening before Éowyn's return from the Houses of Healing, Faramir pored nervously over the plans, wondering if there was still a flaw in the design to be corrected or if he had left out some other important thing.

The first Dwarves were arriving from Aglarond, and Faramir brooded as he watched them in the stable yard of the Citadel loading pony carts with building materials for the trip to Ithilien. In the center of the confusion, he noticed Gimli and the architect in a brief conference. As he moved closer, they looked up and broke off their conversation as they caught sight of him. Gimli hurried to meet him.

"Lord Faramir," he said jovially. "It is indeed an honor to see the Steward here. We are moving our tools and supplies today, and we expect to be building tomorrow."

"Good," Faramir said. "Then perhaps I am not yet too late. I wished to discuss one more aspect of the plans with --"

"Er, if I may suggest it," Gimli broke in, "I think that we should take a little walk. We need not go far. The fountain in the next courtyard will do. It is private and out of the way of the Dwarves." He took Faramir by the elbow and steered him out of the stable yard and into one of the Citadel's side gardens.

It was quieter in the garden, and the splashing of the fountain blocked most of the noise from the adjoining stable yard. Gimli deposited Faramir near the fountain and turned to face him, an unreadable expression on his weathered face. "I believe," he said, "that you were about to engage us in yet another lengthy talk about the placement of doors in the morning room, or the angle of the corridor outside the second guest chamber."

"I -- it was -- I mean --" Faramir stammered. Then he looked at his feet and felt his cheeks grow warm. "It was the angle of the window in the master bedchamber," he said quietly. "I wished to ensure that it was at the proper angle to admit the most light during the winter mornings."

Gimli laughed. "Never fear, Lord Steward," he wheezed. "You will have every drop of light that the sun provides, all the year round. You must only have faith in those you have entrusted to build your house."

"I do have faith in you and the builders," Faramir said. "And I have faith in the one who designed the house. What I lack is faith in the one who conceived of the place to begin with."

The smile faded from Gimli's face, though the twinkle remained in his eyes. "Ah," he said. "Now we come to the heart of the matter. You worry that, having forgotten one thing that would please your lady, you have forgotten another. Am I correct?"

"You are, indeed, Master Dwarf," Faramir said. "I would not have thought a Dwarf to be so apt at reading the hearts of Men."

"One may learn new and interesting things in all the days that one walks the earth," Gimli commented. "And if you will hear me now, you will learn something else." He paused for a moment to ensure that Faramir was listening to him before he continued.

"All of your worries concern a house that does not yet exist. Therefore, your choices are endless, and the array is too varied for you to comprehend. Somehow, amidst all this variety, you have made the choices that pleased you the most. All you need do now is trust that your instincts are correct. And, as the house takes form and what was once dream becomes reality, you will see that you indeed made the right decisions, for your house will seem fair to your eyes."

"And then it will be the home that I wished for Éowyn and for myself?" Faramir asked.

"Hardly," Gimli replied. "It will be a house, but not yet a home. It will become a home when you dwell in peace there with your lady and the empty chambers and halls are filled with life and merriment. And when that happens, the angle of the window in the master bedchamber will no longer be important, for your home will be perfect."

Faramir was silent for a moment. Gimli's observations seemed simple and straightforward, yet Faramir was amazed that such thoughts had not occurred to him before. The reasoning was beautifully seductive, and he wanted very much for it to be true. "I do wish to believe your words . . ." he began tentatively to Gimli.

"Do not take them on faith," Gimli broke in. "You may see it for yourself. We are now in the courtyard of the Citadel of Minas Tirith. This building has been occupied by many generations of Men, you among them. Now, the house has a new master. Would you not agree that the sensibility of the home is much altered, though the King lives in the same house as did you as a child?"

"It is very different," Faramir agreed. "Oftentimes, I feel that I hardly recognize the place, so different does it now seem."

"Well, then," Gimli said. "You see the importance of the inhabitants to a dwelling. You have completed the first step, my Lord Steward. You have conceived of a house most grand and gracious. Now it is time to put that step aside and attend to the next task, preparing a home with the Lady Éowyn."

Having said his piece, Gimli leaned back on the fountain and waited to see what effect his words would have on the Steward. For his part, Faramir turned away from the Dwarf and focused his attention on the gently splashing fountain. Gimli did not press him for a response, but neither did he leave. It took Faramir a moment to identify the strange lightness in his heart as relief that a worrisome burden had been lifted from his mind. The business of establishing a home in Ithilien seemed much easier now. Faramir turned back to Gimli and smiled.

"I thank you for your words, Master Dwarf," he said. "I believe they are words that I much needed to hear. I had often thought it to be a father's duty to advise his son in such matters, but I do not think that my father would have spoken so fairly as you have done."

"I think Boromir would have given you his counsel, had he lived," Gimli said. "He was a wiser man than he knew, and he cared for you a great deal." Faramir smiled a little, the memory of his older brother bittersweet in his heart.

"Perhaps," he replied. "But Boromir is not here, and you are with me now. And so I thank you for advising me as my brother would have done."

"Always," Gimli said. "You have but to ask, Lord Steward. Now I must return to my work upon your house. Go now to your lady and work upon your home."

There must have been a conspiracy between Gimli, the architect and Aragorn to keep Faramir away from the building site, for it seemed that he hardly ever had sufficient time to travel to Ithilien and observe the progress of the manor. Aragorn set him numerous assignments to research the smallest particulars of the government of Gondor for the past thousand years. Every time Faramir returned from the library with dust in his hair and sneezing over another armload of musty scrolls, Aragorn would laugh and explain that they both had much to learn if they wanted to rule their realms wisely. Although Faramir questioned Aragorn's motive for so much study, he could not deny that it really was necessary.

In the evenings, Faramir would sit with Éowyn and listen as she described the various hangings and furnishings she would have in each room. To his surprise, Faramir found that he quite enjoyed this imaginary decorating. He would sit happily holding a skein of yarn looped around his hands as Éowyn wound it into a ball and told him about a particular tapestry from Meduseld that Éomer had promised her as a remembrance of her home. In return, he mentioned several old pieces of furniture that were locked away in storage in the Citadel. Some of the furniture belonged to his family and not to the throne, and he promised Éowyn that he would select the very best of that furniture to take with them to Ithilien.

They spent many such evenings together in conversation. They shared stories of their childhoods, and Faramir learned far more about the ways of the Rohirrim than he had ever imagined. He told Éowyn all that he could remember of his mother, of her beauty and gentleness, and of her sweet scent that had lingered among her clothes for months after she died. Boromir had once come upon him sitting in their mother's wardrobe smelling her old dresses. Faramir had been horribly embarrassed, but Boromir had smiled and confessed that he, too, had crept into the wardrobe on occasion.

"The blue mantle you gave me is from your mother," Éowyn said. "I shall take special care of it."

"Already it begins to smell of you," Faramir told her. "It smells like you and my mother. I cannot think of anything that could be sweeter."

"When we have a daughter," Éowyn said with a mischievous smile, "I shall wrap her in the mantle. Then it will smell of your daughter as well, and it will be so sweet you will not know what to do with it."

"Save me!" Faramir laughed. Life was good, now that his worries about the manor house were out of his hands. For the first time, he began to feel as if he really knew his bride. He found himself able to relax in Éowyn's company, and he realized happily that she was becoming his friend as well as his beloved.

Near the end of the summer, Gimli announced that the construction of the Prince of Ithilien's manor was completed. The only thing that remained to be done was plaster and whitewash work. He wished to begin moving furniture to the building site so that it would be ready to move in as the rooms were finished. Faramir showed Éowyn the storage chambers where his family's belongings were kept, and over the course of two days, they selected the best pieces for transport to Ithilien. Éowyn and Arwen spent another day packing linens while Faramir sent a message to Éomer requesting that Éowyn's tapestry and other household belongings from Meduseld be sent to Minas Tirith.

The day that the wagons arrived from Rohan, they joined the caravan already packed with furniture and linen and set out for Ithilien. Now, Faramir and Éowyn began to pack clothes, books and smaller objects into trunks, for they knew that the day was near at hand when they would at last make the journey across country to settle in their new domain. Éowyn wrapped dishes carefully in Faramir's shirts, while Faramir packed his books with clean, dry straw.

The night before they were to depart, they ate bread and drank milk. Éowyn rinsed the plates and cups, wrapped them and put them on the top of the last trunk. Faramir sat on it as Éowyn latched it shut, and then they stood and looked around their bare apartment one last time.

"My stomach feels fluttery," Éowyn said happily. Faramir smiled, secretly glad that he was not alone in feeling thus.

"Just think," he said, "tonight we sleep one last night at home. Tomorrow, we shall ride in the wains all day and then we will arrive at home once again."

Éowyn took his hand. "And the King and Queen will escort us there, so that it will be merry once we arrive. Now we must go to sleep, for we rise before dawn."

The next day, as they slowly rode over the hills towards Ithilien, Faramir alternated between gut-wrenching nervousness over the prospect of presenting the house to Éowyn and numbing boredom. Éowyn slept for much of the ride, and several times her soft breathing lulled Faramir to sleep as well. The sun had gone down and the chill of night had descended by the time they began to draw near. The cold woke Faramir, and he was just pulling a blanket over Éowyn when Aragorn called him softly.

"Look, through the trees. Do you see the lights?"

Faramir blinked. Sure enough, there were flickers of light visible among the trees. He prodded Éowyn awake, and they both rubbed the sleep out of their eyes in time to ride in through the gates and gasp at the sight that met their eyes.

Every window of the new manor house had a candle burning. Light spilled out of the open front door, where Gimli stood dressed in his finest clothing.

"Welcome, Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn!" he called. "Welcome to your home!" A company of Dwarves and Men surrounded the wagon, carrying the boxes and trunks into the house and assisting Arwen and Éowyn down to the ground. Faramir and Aragorn climbed out after them, and they walked into the entrance hall.

It was almost exactly as Faramir had pictured it, cozy near the door, then widening gradually to open into the great room. A fire was roaring merrily in the hearth, and a bright Rohirric tapestry from Meduseld dominated the wall above. The table was laid with bright pewter dishes, and Faramir could smell something appetizing waiting in the servery beyond.

"We took the liberty of unpacking some of the boxes and preparing a meal in your kitchen, Lord Faramir," Gimli explained. "I had thought that the place should appear welcoming and homely from the start."

"You have outdone yourself, Master Gimli," Faramir murmured, stunned. He wandered through some of the halls near the great room. He knew them, and yet he did not. He knew where every curve and angle ought to be, and they were there, but now he was seeing them for the first time, and their reality was strange in its familiarity. Éowyn, by now thoroughly awake, strode eagerly through the house, running up the steps to look at the second floor before returning downstairs to find the cellar. Faramir had a small moment of panic when he could not find her, but he heard the thump of the trap door, and Éowyn emerged from the cellar.

"It is paneled in wood," she said, "and there are benches along the wall to sit on. It is even better than the one in Meduseld. The house is perfect, Faramir!"

At these words, something broke free in Faramir, and he laughed out loud. With Éowyn's approval, the entire house seemed to breathe easier, and its warmth and welcome finally permeated his bones and allowed him to relax. "It is perfect," he agreed. "My thanks to you and your people, Master Gimli. You will be richly rewarded."

"But no reward will be sweeter than the approval of the lady," Gimli replied gallantly. "Now then, Lord Faramir, will you keep your King waiting? It has been an idle day of travel for you, but as for us, we have worked hard all day, and a good dinner would be most welcome."

"Of course," Faramir said. He gestured to the table. "Will it please my Lord and my Lady and our gracious guests to dine at our table."

"It would indeed, Lord Prince," Aragorn replied. He took Arwen's arm to escort her to the table. Faramir seated Éowyn at the head, with Aragorn on her right and Arwen on her left, then signaled to the waitstaff in the servery. He sat down at the foot of the table and looked at Éowyn. She smiled regally at him, her hair glowing and her eyes shining in the firelight. It seemed to Faramir then that they were truly wed, lord and lady together of a home they could call their own.

END

Afterword

Thanks to everyone who has read this story. I am especially gratified by all the comments on the children. I must confess, I do enjoy writing little kids, especially in such an adult-oriented world as this one.

Tornadoes are among the most destructive storms on earth. They are born in the same type of storm system, a "supercell," that spawns thunderstorms. Although they are most prevalent in the portion of the American Midwest known as "Tornado Alley," it is possible for a tornado to strike anywhere in the world, on any terrain. There is even a record of one tornado striking in the Rocky Mountains. There are any number of myths and legends concerning various geographical features said to be able to stop a tornado. None of them are true. Tornadoes have jumped over hills, scraped valleys, and even crossed the Mississippi River.

Part of the reason that I wanted to write about a tornado was to try my hand at a certain type of writing; that is, writing a story in which the villain's role is taken by an impersonal force of nature. Even though the story is about this terrible dragon storm, the storm itself cannot be the focus of the story, as it is not alive and has no agency. Rather, the exercise is to tell the story of the storm through the people who experienced it and their personal dramas and reactions. That was the task I set myself with the second chapter, and I do hope that I have succeeded.

Thanks again for reading. I'll see you next time!