Disclaimer: I looked into the whole ownership issue of this Tolkien stuff, and...it's still not mine. And a note: this chapter doesn't exactly further the plot, but I've wanted to do it for awhile, so I did. Because it's my story. But don't let that deter you from reviewing! And also, I'm thinking that another beta reader would be good for me, since I'm mostly doing all my own revisions and editing and it would be great to bounce ideas off someone else. But I only want someone who's really going help me out, so if you think my work is perfect, then that doesn't work. But I hope no one does. As always, thanks to everyone who reviewed--this chapter wouldn't be getting posted right now if not for you. Anyway, story. Chapter 3!

Chapter 3

Éowyn slowly opened her eyes to the bright morning sunlight and stretched her arms above her head languidly. She remained in that position for awhile, still half asleep, and then, turning on her side, she met Faramir's grey eyes. "Good morning," she said with a smile.

In answer, he pulled her to him and kissed deeply. When they separated, he replied with a grin, "Good morning. You slept late."

"Have I? Why didn't you get up?"

"I was enjoying watching you," he told her, tracing the line of her jaw lightly. "You looked so peaceful."

"I was dreaming."

"About what?"

"Rohan." Éowyn paused and closed her eyes, trying to recall the images of her dream. "It was spring and all the wildflowers were blooming on the plains around Edoras." Opening her eyes and meeting his gaze, she said, "I must take you there in that season sometime and show you."

Faramir smiled and nodded, studying her intently all the while. "Éowyn," he suddenly said, "Will you tell me something? Something about your life…before you met me?"

"Why would you want to hear about that?" she asked with a small smile.

"Because sometimes I feel as though I hardly know you."

"You know me better than anyone ever has," she assured him.

Faramir gently ran his fingers through her hair. "All the same, I would be grateful if you indulged me."

"In this, as in all things, I shall obey, my lord," she acquiesced, eyes twinkling.

Faramir rolled his eyes good-naturedly at her, but his eyebrows drew together when her expression saddened. "What is it?"

She sighed. "My childhood does not hold many happy memories. And when I recall one, it's very bittersweet."

Faramir gathered her in his arms. "Oh, Éowyn, I don't want to cause you pain. If you do not wish to tell me--"

"No, I will tell you." She smiled at him. "But then you must return the favor."

Laughing, he returned, "You are sly, my dear shieldmaiden, but it shall be as you say. Come, though, tell me something."

She closed her eyes for a moment, then slowly began.

~

It was April in Rohan. Spring had come late that year, and there was still a bit of a chill in the wind as it whipped around the Golden Hall. The hillside of Edoras, however, was nevertheless blanketed in simbelmynë, and Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, lay among them, staring at the clear blue sky. She had discarded her cloak in favor of letting the sun fall fully upon her, despite the warning of the maidservant in Meduseld that she would catch her death. Éowyn cared naught for the warning--it was sunny and she had been trapped within the walls of the Golden Hall for far too long, for it had been the harshest winter she had ever experienced in her eleven years. When she did come outside, she made sure to face east always, hoping every day for the reappearance of the king and his riders. They had ridden out months ago--the king, her cousin, and her brother. She had never felt the loneliness so keenly, for her brother had always stayed behind at Edoras in the past. But he was fifteen now, old enough to accompany the Rohirrim when they rode out to slay orcs. Somehow, though, she could not picture Éomer spearing orcs--after all, she was still capable of knocking him senseless!

The girl sighed. Day after day she watched the horizon, and they did not come.

She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warmth on her lids, drifting into a light doze. Sometime later, she was awoken by vibrations, like the echo of thunder, shuddering through her body from the ground. She sat up swiftly and was just able to make out a cloud of dust several miles away--like that kicked up by horses charging across the plain.

Excitedly, Éowyn leapt to her feet and bounded into the city and up the hill to Meduseld, where she could better see the approach of the Rohirrim. It was some time before they arrived at the city, and they did not appear to notice her as they rode through the gates. Éowyn searched vainly for her family, but from such a distance and with them in full armor, it was impossible to identify anyone. She watched as they rode into the stable, suppressing the urge to rush there and greet everyone. They would, no doubt, know she was waiting.

Her hopes were not disappointed, for not twenty minutes later, footsteps rang out in the Golden Hall and a voice called, "Éowyn?"

She turned and cried, "Uncle!" happily racing into his outstretched arms.

He lifted her right off her feet, laughing, and kissed her cheek while she giggled. Setting her back on her feet, he asked, "How are you, Éowyn?"

"I'm well," the girl replied, grinning. "Where are Éomer and Théodred?"

"I sent them to their quarters to clean themselves up a bit." Théoden King looked at her fondly. "I am glad you were not overly lonely. We were gone longer than I had expected to be."

Éowyn shook her head fervently, not wanting her uncle to think her weak. "I wasn't lonely, no."

Théoden knelt and put his hands on her shoulders. Something seemed to occur to him, and he said sternly, "You shouldn't be out without a cloak, Éowyn. It's still cold."

"I haven't been out long," she lied, knowing another lecture would be on the way if she said otherwise.

He raised his eyebrows but said no more on the subject. Instead, he picked up a satchel that was sitting behind him and held carefully. "I brought a gift for you."

Éowyn's eyes lit with curiosity. "You did? What?" Théoden loosened the ties on the satchel and pulled it open. After a moment, a small, black nose appeared over the edge, and Éowyn inhaled sharply. Reaching a hand out, she peered inside and exclaimed, "A cat!" She carefully scooped out a scrawny kitten with smoky fur and wide yellow eyes. It gave a chirping little meow and sniffed at Éowyn's nose, then batted a paw at it. The girl giggled and said, "She's pretty. Where did you find her?"

Théoden scratched under the kitten's chin with a finger and replied, "Outside an abandoned village. She probably lost her mother." He paused and told her seriously, "You must take care of her if you keep her. She'll be your responsibility."

"Lost her mother…" Éowyn murmured. Just like her. The girl stroked the kitten and cradled it close to her chest as a twinge of pain shot through her. She wouldn't think of her mother. Meeting Théoden's eyes, she said in an earnest tone, "I'll look after her, Uncle."

Théoden put a hand on her head affectionately. "What will you call her?"

Thinking for a moment, Éowyn decided, "Catte."

With a smile, Théoden said, "A noble name." He turned around, and looking at Éowyn again, told her, "I believe I hear your brother coming."

Éowyn grinned, and holding Catte carefully, went to meet Éomer.

~

Éowyn was silent for awhile after she finished speaking, and Faramir did not intrude upon her thoughts. Finally she sighed and said, "Wormtongue came to Edoras only months later. That is one of my last fond memories of the Golden Hall."

Faramir kissed her cheek lightly. "Thank you for telling me. I know your uncle was important to you, but you speak of him so rarely…"

"It's hard," she said simply. "You know that. Isn't it why you speak so rarely of your family?"

"Yes," he replied. "But I promised to tell you something of them."

"You did," Éowyn agreed. "But it's not necessary if you don't want to."

"Of course I do," Faramir said. "After all, you can never meet Boromir, and I would like you to know about him." The young man paused momentarily and thought, and then his face brightened and he began.

~

All was quiet in Ithilien as the sun set. No smoke from cooking fires rose into the sky--the last of the inhabitants of the ravaged land had fled long ago, most to Minas Tirith, but some to the coast; and the Rangers entrusted with protecting the area were all gathered at their base camp, Henneth Annûn. They were happily celebrating the inauguration of a new captain, who had managed to slip away from his jubilant (and inebriated) men for a few minutes. The young man stood above the falls, gazing not at the sunset, as he often did, but at a narrow path below. It remained untraveled, despite (or perhaps because of?) the man's unwavering watch. He knew he could not remain outside long--his men would soon find him and bring him back to rejoin the celebrations that were in his honor.

Suddenly the clatter of hooves on stone reached his ears, and he peered down into the growing darkness. Spotting a dismounting rider, he grinned and quickly made his way to the path. The rider spotted him immediately and laughed before going to him and pulling him into a hug. "Faramir!"

"You've come!" Faramir replied, an even wider grin on his face as he returned the gesture. When he saw that his brother was alone, however, his expression faltered a bit.

Boromir noticed this and said, "No, he has not come with me. But we will not let the old vulture ruin this night for you."

Faramir shrugged and put his father's absence out of his mind, saying, "It's well you arrived now--I was about to go back inside, and then how would you have found your way?"

With a chuckle, Boromir replied, "I may not come here often, but I do remember how to find the entrance."

"Ah, of course." The younger man laughed at the half-annoyed look on his brother's face, then put a hand on his shoulder and led him to the entrance of Henneth Annûn.

The minute they stepped into sight, they were met with cheers and the sounds of both of their names being shouted--for Boromir was also well-loved by the men of Gondor. Mugs of ale were thrust into their hands, and it seemed that everyone wanted to speak personally with Faramir to congratulate him. He sipped slowly at his drink during the festivities, knowing that if ever there was a time for drunkenness it was then, but not wanting to lose control over his senses. Particularly since it was one of the rare occasions that his brother was there.

Boromir, he noticed, didn't lose himself in drink either, and as the festivities lasted long into the night and men began disappearing to get some sleep, he motioned to Faramir, and the two of them went outside to sit in the darkness for awhile. "So, Captain," Boromir began, "how are you? I haven't had the chance to ask."

"Very well," Faramir replied, leaning back to take in as much of the star-studded sky as possible. "I enjoy being in Ithilien. Truthfully, I didn't expect to be given command of the Rangers--and certainly not so soon. Apparently I must be doing something right, though." "I'd say so," Boromir remarked, smiling. "You're one of the youngest captains I've ever heard of, and this is a difficult command."

"My job will be made much easier by the quality of the men here. They're all remarkable."

"You have a good relationship with them," Boromir observed. "I don't need to tell you how important that is."

"No, you don't." Faramir agreed. He considered his next words for a moment, then added, "They really are more than just my men--I consider them all friends." Suddenly looking at his brother, Faramir asked, "And what about you? You're moving up through the ranks."

Boromir waved his hand dismissively. "Let's not talk about me tonight. You're the man of the hour, are you not?"

With a grin, Faramir said, "Now you're making fun."

"Would I really mock my little brother?"

"Yes."

The two of them looked at each other for a moment, and then burst out laughing. Clapping the younger man on the shoulder, Boromir said, "Congratulations, Faramir. You deserve this post. We're all proud of you."

Faramir raised an eyebrow at this. "We? Who would that be?"

"Me, for one. Uncle Imrahil--he was in Minas Tirith and had hoped to get the chance to see you. You were here, though, of course." Boromir hesitated for a second before adding, "And Father."

"Father?" Faramir's eyebrows shot even higher.

"Yes, Father," Boromir sighed. "Though he wouldn't tell you to your face."

Looking closely at his brother, Faramir said in a somewhat surprised tone, "You fought with him about it."

"And what if I did?" Boromir asked casually.

Brow furrowed, Faramir responded, "You don't need to fight with him on my behalf. I know his opinion of me, and it's my lot to deal with it." This statement seemed to annoy Boromir, so Faramir put a hand on his shoulder and added, "I appreciate that you stand up for me, you know I do. But--" And here he smiled a little wryly. "You cannot protect me, not from the shadow of Mordor, and not from Father. I was forced to protect myself early in life from all the harsh realities that make up this world of ours. And, after all, I am now the Captain of the Ithilien Rangers." He stopped, concerned that he may have said too much. Truly, he didn't mind his older brother's apparent need to shelter him. There had been a time when that wasn't the case, when Faramir was eager to prove himself to the world and, perhaps more importantly, to his father. They had exchanged harsh words in what was one of their few real fights. Now, though, he saw Boromir so rarely that it was something he allowed his brother to do.

Boromir, however, was smiling. "I always make the mistake, somehow, of thinking I've aged while you've remained…young." He stopped and then added, "I'm sorry."

"You're forgiven," Faramir assured him, a crooked smile on his face. After a moment, he abruptly said, "Remember when we were younger, we'd ride in Ithilien and camp?"

"Yes, in more innocent days." Boromir leaned back against the rock face, staring upwards. "You were forever spotting fantastical creatures in the stars and forever frustrated that I didn't see them as well."

Faramir chuckled. "I spotted the mundane, as well."

Boromir glanced at him, then grinned. "Oh yes, I'd forgotten about the great saddlebag of the heavens."

"You see? I'm not completely lost in my imagination." Faramir returned the grin and pointed at the sky. "Tell me, brother, can you see the oliphaunt just above the horizon there?" When Boromir punched him lightly, Faramir laughed and said playfully, "Don't you think you're a bit old to be instigating one of these scuffles?"

Boromir opened his mouth to reply, but stopped at the sound of footsteps on the rock. The two men turned to see who had joined them, and both jumped to their feet when they realized who it was.

Bowing, Faramir greeted, "Father, I did not expect you."

Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, almost looked at a loss for words--which was, of course, impossible. His eloquence was his chief weapon, and he never lacked for something to say. Or, usually, someone to say it to. Now, however, it was several long moments before he replied a bit gruffly, "No. I did not know I would make the trip myself until merely a few hours ago." Looking at Boromir, the Steward commanded in a hard tone that he usually reserved for everyone but his eldest son, "Leave us."

Though Boromir obviously did not want to and looked as though he was going to protest, he disappeared back inside. For what seemed like a long time, Denethor just stared at Faramir. The young man braced himself for a reprimand of some sort, since that was what usually met him when he and his father exchangd words. However, as the silence between them lengthened and the sounds of the night were the only thing to be heard, Faramir began to wonder why he'd come. Surely if Denethor was angry about something, he'd have made it clearer by now. As long as Faramir could remember, he'd been quick with angry words and blows as well. This silence was unnerving.

Finally, Denethor cleared his throat and asked, "Do you like it here?"

Surprised, for a moment Faramir didn't know how to answer. But, warily, he replied, "Yes. I have always been fond of Ithilien. Being stationed here is not a great hardship."

Denethor nodded and turned his gaze on his son, studying him. His eyes were unreadable; flat and grey, as they often were, and so unlike Faramir's own eyes. It was only after many years of practice that he was able to leech all emotion from his eyes so that when anyone would look into their grey depths, they would see nothing. The technique was most useful when it was necessary to meet with his father. Now, however, he kept his gaze averted to the ground.

He didn't look up when Denethor said, "This is a difficult command. It's dangerous. Do you think you can handle it?"

Faramir contained the surge of anger that the question brought. Of course, his father wouldn't know anything of Faramir's life or the skills he'd obtained while in Ithilien. He had never paid enough attention. "With all due respect, Father, I have been trained as a Ranger for half of my life, and I have served as one for ten years. Yes, I think I'm capable of commanding these men."

Nodding, Denethor said, "Good. Those were my thoughts exactly. I wanted to ascertain that you felt the same way."

At this, Faramir's eyes shot up and met Denethor's gaze. His father's grey eyes were still unreadable, but for a second, Faramir though he caught a flash of pride in them. They stared at each other for a long moment, and it was, for what seemed like the first time in years, a gaze without rancor or anger.

Without saying anything more, Denethor turned and disappeared inside. Faramir remained where he was, unsure of what the encounter had meant. Had his father ridden all the way to Henneth Annûn only to say that? Was he here to make sure Faramir didn't somehow botch his newly received command within the first few hours? The latter seemed more likely, but for some reason, Faramir couldn't help hoping it was the former. He felt a small smile settle on his face, and he sat back down against the rock wall, looking at the sky and waiting for his brother to rejoin him.

~

Faramir glanced at Éowyn when he'd finished speaking and said, "I hope I haven't bored you."

"Not at all" she replied, snuggling closer to him. "You've just made me wonder once again what you saw in me."

He raised an eyebrow. "And why should my story make you wonder that?"

Éowyn thought for a moment. "You told it with such happiness on your face. You're always so hopeful, even when all hope seems lost."

"If you mean to disparage yourself," Faramir said, "I must warn you that I shall spout horrid poetry on the subject of every single one of your multitudinous merits, and you'll beg for mercy before the end."

He grinned wickedly as she laughed. "Spare me, husband. Your poetry is more terrible than the Dark Lord."

In a grieved tone, he lamented, "And my lady's tongue is sharper than the blade that doomed him." He buried his face in the bed-sheets.

A struggle ensued, the end of which found Éowyn breathless, giggling, and planted on top of Faramir, who was still shrouded in the sheets. "This isn't fair," she complained. "You're stronger than me."

His face appeared. "You admit defeat, then?"

"Nothing of the sort. I call for a rematch."

Abruptly, he sprung from beneath the blankets and pinned her arms to her sides. "There's your rematch, my lady. Will you admit defeat now?" When she only glared at him, he laughed and kissed her, then rose from the bed and pulled a tunic over his head.

Éowyn also stood up and put on a plain brown dress over her shift, asking, "Do you have much work today?"

"Not all that much," he replied, "though I'm expecting to be called to Minas Tirith soon for reconstruction matters."

Raising her eyebrows, Éowyn remarked, "It sounds excruciatingly dull."

Faramir laughed. "It isn't so bad. And it has been awhile since I was in Minas Tirith."

"Perhaps your letter will come today, and you will be able to plan for a journey."

"Perhaps," Faramir agreed.

At that moment, a knock came on the door. Faramir went to answer it, and a harried-looking maidservant outside said, "Begging your pardon, sir, but the king of Rohan is here to see Lady Éowyn, and he won't sit downstairs any longer."

~