Epilogue: A Dish Best Served Cold
"So when are we going to stop all this sneaking around, Steward?"
Faramir glanced back from tightening the girth on Wildfire's saddle to see Éomer standing behind him, arms crossed and a stern look on his face. "I still do not think it necessary that we do anything, Éomer. Merry and Pippin have been on their best behavior," he pointed out, pushing his dark hair away from his eyes and squinting slightly in the bright sunlight.
Éomer frowned, but could not deny it. Another two days had passed since he had first approached Faramir about avenging themselves, and he had to admit that so far the former Ranger's idea was working; they had made certain that Merry and Pippin had seen them talking together several times since, and the sight had been enough to keep both of the hobbits convinced that the combined fury of the two men would come crashing down on them at any moment. And yet, Éomer found himself chafing at the inactivity. "So far, yes," he argued. "But how much longer do you think it will last? Sooner or later, they are going to decide that we will not do anything. And then what?"
Faramir finished tacking up the horse, patting the stallion's neck to calm him. "If they decide that, they will let their guard down," he said with an almost-devious smile.
Éomer just stared at him for a moment, then shook his head slightly. He was rapidly coming to the conclusion that he had seriously underestimated Faramir before, and that it was far safer to have him as an ally than an opponent. "I had not thought of that," he admitted. "But then what?"
Now Faramir frowned slightly. "I have not quite gotten that far yet," he finally said.
"Good," Éomer said. "I may have an idea."
He quickly outlined his plan, and Faramir listened silently. He did not reply for a long moment, and seemed to be deep in thought. Finally, he asked, "It will not hurt them, right?"
"It should not," Éomer quickly reassured him.
"All right," Faramir finally conceded. "What do you wish me to do?"
Early the next evening, Merry and Pippin were sitting outside of the tent they were sharing, their sleeves rolled up to make the warm weather feel slightly more comfortable, when Faramir found them. Pippin looked up first, and seemed only slightly less relieved to see that Faramir was alone. "Hello, Faramir," he said. Merry weakly echoed the greeting.
"Good evening," Faramir answered cheerfully. "I was wondering if I could speak with both of you for a moment."
"Of course," Merry said as he and Pippin exchanged nervous glances.
"Could we go somewhere else? I do not wish to be overheard," Faramir asked, glancing around as if looking for someone.
"I…guess so," Pippin replied, and the two hobbits reluctantly accompanied him to the edge of the camp. Faramir smiled to himself as the hobbits kept giving each other worried looks and failing miserably at being inconspicuous about it. He had to choke back a laugh when he heard Merry whisper, "Do you think we should have told someone where we're going?" Pippin shrugged, clearly nervous. Faramir could not resist giving them a stern look and motioning for them to hurry up.
Once he had passed the last group of tents, Faramir glanced around one more time to make sure they were alone, then sat down on a nearby rock and said, "I just wanted to thank both of you."
"Thank us?" Pippin echoed, clearly surprised.
"For what?" Merry added.
"For helping me work things out with Éomer, of course. Your methods are a little…unusual, but I understand now why you did it." He smiled at them reassuringly.
"It was nothing," Merry said, looking more relaxed.
"We just want you and Éowyn to be happy," Pippin chimed in.
"I know, and I do appreciate it," Faramir replied.
"So…you're not still upset with us about that little incident with the tower?" Pippin asked hopefully.
"No, I am not," Faramir reassured him.
"Well, that's a relief," Merry blurted out. Faramir smiled, and looked down for a moment. As he glanced back up, he saw a slight movement back at the hobbits' tent. The need for a distraction was past. He felt a slight pang of guilt as Merry added, "I'm glad I don't have to watch my back around you all the time anymore," but quickly squelched it. This will all be over soon, and then things can go back to normal, he reminded himself. I hope.
"What are you doing, Éomer?"
The young king could feel the heat rising in his face as he turned from leaving Merry and Pippin's tent to face Aragorn, but quickly tried to hide his embarrassment at being caught. "I was just looking for something," he quickly said.
"In the hobbits' tent?" Aragorn eyed him suspiciously.
Éomer shrugged. "I let them borrow something, and I wanted to get it back."
Aragorn was clearly unconvinced. "Éomer, I know that there is something going on with you, Faramir, Merry and Pippin. You have all been acting so strangely ever since that supper. And I do intend to find out what it is," he added, looking at Éomer sternly. Éomer merely shifted his weight uncomfortably, unable to come up with a reply. After a moment of silence, Aragorn said, "I will be keeping an eye on you. All of you." Then he turned and left, much to Éomer's relief.
Once he was certain that Aragorn was no longer watching, he turned to see Faramir at the edge of the camp, talking to Merry and Pippin. Faramir glanced up briefly, and Éomer motioned that he had finished his end of it. Faramir nodded almost imperceptibly, and Éomer moved far enough away from the tent to avoid raising the hobbits' suspicions. After a few more minutes, Merry and Pippin walked away, and Faramir stood up and walked over to where the horses were picketed. He bent down as if he were checking Wildfire's feet for stones, then motioned Éomer over when he saw that he was watching.
Éomer bent over slightly to give the pretense that Faramir was asking his opinion on the horse. "Is it done?" Faramir asked softly.
"It is. But Aragorn suspects something," Éomer replied.
"I am not surprised," Faramir said, frowning to see that one of the shoes on the stallion had loosened. "Do you think this will hold until we arrive at Edoras? You are more familiar with the terrain here than I."
Éomer thought for a moment. It was mostly plains and gently rolling hills between where they were now and the rugged hilltop that Edoras stood on, but he would not risk a horse unnecessarily. "Two more days," he murmured. "Probably, but it would not hurt to nail it in more securely."
Faramir nodded, setting the hoof down. "How long do you think it will take them to find it?" he asked, going back to the subject at hand.
"It is hard to say." Éomer frowned. The Halflings were so unpredictable at times. "I am not entirely certain that this will work," he admitted.
Faramir scratched the horse's nose affectionately as he straightened. If nothing else, the man knew how to treat a horse, Éomer had to admit. "We should probably head back. If Aragorn sees us out here together for any length of time, he will get even more suspicious," Faramir said. Éomer nodded his agreement, and the two men walked back to the camp.
Sure enough, Aragorn was waiting for them. "Is everything well with your horse, Faramir?" he asked. Imrahil stood nearby, listening intently.
"Mostly," Faramir said, grateful that he had a legitimate excuse. "One of his shoes is loose, and I wanted a second opinion on whether it would hold long enough to reach Edoras." Aragorn looked at him for a long moment, then nodded, and Faramir quietly sighed in relief.
The four men looked up as they heard an indignant gasp, followed by coughing. Merry and Pippin were sitting by the fire, pipes in hand, looking as if they were choking.
"Are you all right?" Aragorn asked, concerned. The two hobbits continued coughing and sputtering.
"This… isn't pipeweed," Merry finally managed to gasp between coughing fits. Pippin mutely dumped out the leather pouch to reveal the dried leaves that Éomer had gathered from various weeds native to his lands and painstakingly dried by the fire the evening before.
Aragorn and Imrahil just looked at each other, unsure what to make of the situation. Faramir was having trouble suppressing a laugh, and risked a glance over at the King of Rohan. Éomer's face was turning red from the effort of remaining silent. The hobbits finally noticed, and Merry's face turned even redder. "You!" he blurted out.
Pippin looked up at the two men, wide-eyed. Éomer finally lost the battle with his mirth, and burst out laughing. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Faramir trying very unsuccessfully to choke back his own laughter. Pippin dropped his pipe and tackled Faramir, crying out, "For the Shire!" Faramir was caught off-guard and quickly lost his balance, falling to the ground. Éomer laughed even harder as the man of Gondor tried to get the irate hobbit off of him, which left him completely unprepared when Merry launched his own attack.
After a few moments, Faramir laughed breathlessly and held his hands up. "All right… truce?" he asked. Éomer pushed himself back to a sitting position, startled at the ferocity of Merry's attack and making a mental note to never again try anything that would affect a Halfling's ability to eat or smoke in peace.
"Truce," Pippin quickly said with a grin. Faramir sat up and pulled the hobbit to his feet, then stood up and brushed himself off.
Aragorn looked frustrated. "What in Arda is going on?" he exclaimed.
Éomer could see that Merry knew it had been his idea as the hobbit eyed him for a long moment. Then he grinned, and Éomer relaxed, knowing it was finally over. "Just a little matter of honor, my friend," Éomer said, smiling.
"Nothing for you to be concerned about," Merry added with a grin of his own.
Aragorn gave up when he saw there was going to be no answers that night, throwing up his hands in exasperation as he left. He could not quite keep a smile off his face, however. Imrahil eyed his nephew for a moment, then shook his head with a smile and followed Aragorn. Éomer looked over at Merry. "So we are even then."
"Yes, I suppose we are," Merry said.
"Good," Faramir and Pippin said simultaneously. Éomer just laughed, glad that the rest of the journey could go smoothly now.
Faramir smiled as he looked around the hall. The carved and painted wooden pillars and tapestries on the wall gave the room a warmth that the marble halls of the palace in Gondor often seemed to lack. And despite the reason for this feast, to honor the late king Théoden, it was more relaxed and enjoyable than many feasts he had attended in the Citadel for happier reasons. Of course, he reflected with a smile, the company is much more pleasant too.
He suddenly realized that Éowyn was nowhere in sight. He felt the bench shift slightly as someone sat down beside him, and again on his other side. He glanced to each side to see Aragorn and Éomer. Though he was used to seeing Aragorn in his royal robes, it was still somewhat of a shock to see Éomer in the richly-embroidered velvet tunic and golden circlet he wore on his head instead of the armor he was more accustomed to seeing.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Faramir?" Aragorn asked with a smile.
"Of course," Faramir said. "I was just wondering where Éowyn went."
"Oh, she will be back shortly. She ran off with that unbearable cousin of yours," Éomer replied nonchalantly. Aragorn and Faramir smirked at each other knowingly, but did not reply as Éomer added, "It is time. Are you ready?"
"Are you certain about this, Éomer? I do not wish to dishonor your uncle," Faramir said, a note of concern in his voice.
"I told you already, it is fitting. He would have loved to see this," Éomer said, his tone indicating that he would not be argued with. "Unless, of course," he added with a wicked grin, "you have changed your mind?"
A horrified expression crossed Faramir's face, causing both Aragorn and Éomer to laugh. "Of course not!" he protested.
Aragorn glanced towards the door. "There she is," he said. Faramir followed his gaze to where Éowyn and Lothiríel were re-entering the hall. Éowyn had exchanged her dark funeral garb for the white she so often wore, and Lothiríel had arranged her hair around a thin golden circlet in such a way that half of it still tumbled down her back in golden waves that gleamed richly in the torchlight. She looked every inch the royalty she was, and Faramir's breath caught in his throat to see her.
Éomer grinned to see the Steward struck speechless. "Come on then, before I change my mind," he teased as he rose to take his sister's arm.
He led her around to the front of the table, and she smiled brightly as she caught Faramir's eye. Faramir was still unable to take his eyes off of Éowyn, and was only startled out of his near-stupor when Aragorn nudged him with his elbow. "Go on, Faramir," he whispered. Faramir's face reddened slightly as he quickly walked around the table to stand on Éomer's other side.
Éomer turned and picked up a golden goblet, raising it to signal that he was going to speak. He waited until the hall fell silent before he began in a loud voice, "Now this is the funeral feast of Théoden the King, but I will speak before we go of tidings of joy. He would not grudge that I do so, since he was ever a father to Éowyn, my sister." He and Éowyn smiled at each other fondly, though with a touch of sadness at the memory as he continued. "Hear then all my guests, fair folk of many realms, such as have never before been gathered in this hall! Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and Prince of Ithilien, asks that Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, should be his wife, and she grants it full willing. Therefore, they shall be trothplighted before you all."
Éomer stepped back and lifted Faramir's hand, setting Éowyn's in it. He bowed his head slightly as he did so, and Éowyn reached out with her other hand to set it on her brother's shoulder. "Thank you," she said softly, understanding how hard this was for him. Éomer nodded silently as he stepped back.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Merry jump up on the wooden bench, an ale mug in his hand. "To Faramir and Éowyn!" he called out cheerfully. Pippin quickly followed suit, and the hall soon echoed with similar sentiments as cups were raised and the guests drank to the couple.
Éomer watched as Faramir lifted Éowyn's hand and kissed it tenderly, a wide smile on his face. It had been strange seeing them together since their arrival in Edoras, as if Éomer was truly seeing them together for the first time. It was obvious to him that he loved her deeply, and she returned his affection with no less enthusiasm. Éomer was finally forced to admit that perhaps this was the best thing for her.
Even stranger, he was actually beginning to consider Faramir to be a friend, in spite of their differences and much to the relief of everyone else. Perhaps I can tolerate his presence in the family after all, he thought with a small grin as he stepped forward once more. "Thus is the friendship between the Mark and Gondor bound with a new bond," he said, smiling at Éowyn before turning to Faramir and adding, "and the more do I rejoice." He was surprised to realize that he meant every word of it, as he and Faramir clasped hands. However, he could not resist leaning forward and adding so that only the three of them could hear, "Of course, if you do not take good care of my sister, I will still kill you, Steward." He smiled wickedly.
"Éomer!" Éowyn groaned. Faramir just laughed.