Disclaimer: Faramir, Eowyn and the rest belong to the Professor, of course. The original characters belong to me, and I'm rather fond of them. If you detest them, please say it quietly, no rude comments, but I'll always take polite feedback!
Note: This is rather a continuation of the story Conversations with the King, and it is all Raksha the Demon's fault! In that story I gave Faramir and Eowyn lots of kids, including a son Barahir. When Raksha pointed out to me that the Professor said Barahir was Faramir's GRANDSON, I instantly knew what had happened to mine. So, again, blame Raksha!
This story might go a little easier if you read the other one first. There you'll meet the kids when they are younger. If you choose not to, here's a quick catch-up: In this one it's about 30 years after the War of the Ring, and Faramir and Eowyn's seven (yes, seven) children are: Elboron – 27 yrs., Theoden – 25 yrs., Eomund – 23 yrs., Barahir – 20 yrs., Sam – 18 yrs., and Estel and Alasse – 15 yrs.
Chapter 1 – A Death
"See, the little crack here?" Eowyn spit on her finger and rubbed away a bit of mud on the hoof she held between her hands. "That's where the infection got started." Beside her a dark head bent to stare at the hoof.
"That little thing?" Eowyn smiled at her daughter's skeptical tone. "Are you sure?"
"I am sure, Estel. Now you must soak it in warm salt water and keep it wrapped until the inflammation bursts." She saw Estel's dark brows draw together impatiently.
"But Mother, that will take days. Can't you just pare it down with the hoof knife and open it up?" Eowyn released the hoof and the large grey horse flinched as the sore foot hit the ground. Turning her gaze to her daughter she suppressed a smile.
When her twin daughters had been born fifteen years ago, Eowyn had known they were not identical, Estel's black hair and Alasse's blond locks immediately showing their fraternal bond. But as they matured their differences became much more evident, and now as young women, Eowyn sometimes wondered if there was anything about them the same. Alasse had grown into a delicate, fair-haired beauty, reminding Eowyn of herself at a young age, except that her temperament appeared to be that of Faramir's mother Finduilas; she was quiet, shy, good-hearted and easily brought to tears.
Estel, on the other hand, seemed to have inherited every rough and tumble aspect of both her uncles, Boromir and Eomer. While Alasse sat happily stitching on the porch, Estel's greatest joy was to be racing across the fields of Ithilien on the back of her grey stallion, or spending time in sword drills with her mother or father. She was tall, broad, and strong, with a wild streak in her that had her parents faintly worried and already discussing marital possibilities, mostly among the Riders of Rohan, for a man capable of loving her while taming her impetuous nature. She crossed her arms before her now and frowned at the horse as Eowyn laughed out loud.
"No, I cannot just pare it down. It is too deep. You knew that when you asked me, didn't you?" Estel's guilty shift of her eyes gave her away and Eowyn sighed.
"You are too impatient, Estel. Now, take him back to the stables and get started."
"Mother!" Alasse's voice floated down from the veranda where she had been listening to the discussion and half-heartedly embroidering a coverlet. "Someone's coming."
Both Eowyn and Estel's attention was turned to the group of riders approaching the house. They made their way slowly across the meadow that lay below Faramir and Eowyn's home in Ithilien, the brilliant setting sun glinting brightly off bits of metal on saddles, bridles and – Eowyn frowned. There was no mistaking the tall rider in the front of the column even if the black banner emblazoned with a white tree did not fly above him today. There was no standard at all with the group, only the riders and a small wagon, but Eowyn had no doubt it was Aragorn and she straightened. It was not unheard of for the King of Gondor to escape his responsibilities from time to time and arrive at his Steward's home for a brief respite. She started toward the veranda, trying to think of anything already in the kitchen appropriately special for a late dinner, when something about the approaching riders drew her attention back to them.
This was too small a group, smaller than the other times Aragorn had come for a friendly visit. Eowyn narrowed her eyes and raised her hand to block the sun, trying to count how many there were as they came closer. The slight figure beside the King was a woman. Perhaps Arwen? Eowyn's gaze moved back through the group. The tall blond soldier riding behind the King seemed to guide his horse awkwardly, his arm in a sling and his face bandaged and Eowyn gave a little gasp. Elboron! Beside her, Estel looked at her mother with concern.
"Is that Bron with the King?" She said uncertainly. "He's hurt!"
Eowyn's eyes had already moved past Elboron and found another familiar figure. Theoden, dressed in his dark scholar's robes, but without his wife, who had recently announced the future arrival of Eowyn's first grandchild. Beside Theoden, his new armor flashing in the last of the sun's red streaks, Sam's fair head bent as though he was studying the saddle beneath him. The group moved slowly across the meadow, the wagon trundling along behind them, and Eowyn felt a tremor of fear crawl up her spine. "Go get your father," she said quietly, not even noticing when Estel turned and flew up the stairs into the house, calling for Faramir.
In his study, Faramir heard Estel's frantic call. "Father!" He looked up from the frayed scroll he held before him on his desk as she raced into the room and smiled at her wide gray eyes and sweaty face; she looked so much like Boromir some days. Looking closer at her, however, his smile faded. "What is it?" She pointed behind her. "Riders are coming! It's the King, and Bron is with him and he's hurt, and Mother wants you."
Moments later he was beside Eowyn at the foot of the veranda stairs, his arm encircling her waist while she clutched at his hand. They waited as the group approached the house, coming to a stop only a few feet from them.
Eowyn raised her eyes to meet those of the King, feeling as if time were slowing down, grinding to a halt as the clear grey eyes of Aragorn rested on her, full of sadness and sympathy. He swung down from his horse, as did Arwen, her own face pale, and they approached her and Faramir as behind them Elboron and his brothers also dismounted and started toward their parents.
Eowyn suddenly found she was shaking her head and stepping backwards into Faramir's arms, away from the King, trying to avoid looking into that kind and compassionate face, knowing whatever news he brought would be a bitter blow to her heart. "No," she said in a faint voice. Anything that had brought Aragorn and Arwen to her home accompanied by her sons could not be good. Arwen came forward and grasped her hands.
"Eowyn," she said softly. "We come with ill tidings." Eowyn felt Faramir's arms tighten around her as Aragorn placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"My friend," said the King. "There has been an accident." He saw the grey eyes widen in shock and then cloud over with sorrow.
"Barahir." The name was torn from Faramir. He had also noted who accompanied Aragorn, and who did not. Aragorn's hand gripped the tense shoulder muscles and he nodded. He watched as the information settled over them, crushing them with grief, their hands clutching each other. Eowyn turned, pressed her face to Faramir's chest and they stood motionless for a moment, trying to absorb Aragorn's words.
Behind Aragorn, Faramir's sons stood waiting; waiting for the King's words to penetrate. On the veranda the girls stood in shock, their hands unconsciously straying to grasp each other. Faramir was the first to get control, forcing down the sadness, willing himself to master it, as he had learned to do with so many emotions long ago. "What happened?" he asked in a quiet voice.
Aragorn turned to Elboron, who seemed to stumble forward and bury his face in his mother's shoulder, and Eowyn found herself crying at the same time she soothed her firstborn, this grown man who stood nearly a foot above her. She ran a gentle hand down his face, taking in the bruises and the large gash the bandage covered, and carefully grasped the injured arm. "What happened, Bron?"
"We – he was assigned to my company last month – we were on the quay, in Osgiliath, loading ships." Elboron raised tear-filled eyes to his mother. "We were moving men south, thought ships would be quicker." He choked, sobbed, forced himself to speak. "A cart horse broke loose, something frightened the animal, it came charging down toward the docks - " he shuddered before he continued. "It ran right into us, several of us, standing there. He was thrown into the water, along with some others. I jumped in after him, but we had on our armor…and the water was rough. The boats were moving, tossing up and down on the water…I tried to find him." His voice broke and sobs shook his lean body. "I tried, Mother, I tried. I'm sorry."
Eowyn could only hold him closer to her as she felt her own heart breaking. Faramir's arms around her tightened and she felt rather than heard the quiet moan that escaped him. Hot tears blinded her and she could feel Faramir holding her close, whispering meaningless words in her ear and when she looked up the rest of her children had pressed around her and Faramir, each of them wanting to feel the closeness of each other. Theoden, more like Faramir than ever now that he was grown, kissed his mother's cheek gently before wrapping his arms around his father. The girls came down the steps together and clutched at Elboron, their faces white as the tears began to roll down their cheeks, while Sam, his own face streaked with tears, wormed his way between his father and Theoden, resting his head against both of their chests.
Aragorn stood a few feet away, waiting for the initial shock to subside. The boys had already wept, in Osgiliath and on the ride home, but he knew the sharing of grief could sometimes help heal it and he waited as they all wept together as a family. He saw Faramir finally raise his head and speak softly to Sam and Theoden, who released him so he could reach across and draw Elboron to him. He kissed him gently on the forehead and pulled him close, holding him as tightly as he could.
"I'm sorry, Father, I tried…I tried to find him…" Great wracking sobs tore through Elboron and his knees went as if to buckle, and for a moment Aragorn was concerned that Faramir would not be able to support the weight of his son, but he saw him straighten and shift to absorb the burden as he stroked the blond head on his shoulder. "Shh, it's not your fault, Bron, not your fault." He murmured consoling words as he reached over and took Eowyn's hand and she turned to him, keeping her arms around Alasse and Estel.
When Elboron finally stepped back, he pulled his little sisters back to him and Aragorn saw Faramir allow his formidable self-control to break down for a brief moment as he lay his head against Eowyn and she took him in her arms and kissed him, pressing her lips to the black hair now touched with grey. It only lasted a moment, however, and Faramir was once more standing upright, his eyes wet but his face carefully controlled. "When?"
"Early this morning," Aragorn replied. "We found him shortly after noon."
"And the others?" Faramir's voice was rough. Aragorn shook his head. "Three others injured, besides Elboron. No one else killed." He wondered if that was consolation or further injury to them, that Barahir was the only one. Beside him Faramir knew his thoughts. "So no one else has to bear this," he said. "That is good." Aragorn nodded slowly.
"I am sorry you must bear it, Faramir," he said, his voice soft and gentle as he looked on his beloved friend. "I wish I could spare you this sorrow. I would that I did not bear such news."
Faramir shook his head. "You are here, that is more than enough." He gave Aragorn the smallest of desolate smiles, nodded toward Arwen. "I am grateful." Arwen had been standing quietly, waiting. Now she stepped forward and put her arms around Faramir, then Eowyn, speaking quiet words of comfort. Eowyn nodded and rested her head on the Queen's shoulder as Arwen gently stroked her hair.
"I have sent word to Eomund in Pelargir," said the King. "I have given him leave to come home immediately." He nodded in the direction of the other boys. "Each of you is to take some time at home." They acknowledged him with bowed heads and "yes, Sire."
With a sigh, Aragorn turned back to Faramir and Eowyn and motioned toward the small wagon that had accompanied him from Osgiliath. "He is inside."
Eowyn steeled herself and turned toward the wagon, only to be checked by Faramir's grip on her hand. "Do you really want to, Eowyn?" he asked softly. She looked at him, knowing he was only trying to shield her, keep her from gazing on her worst nightmare, the sight of a child of hers dead. But the White Lady of Rohan had never flinched from hard tasks.
"I must see him, Faramir," she answered. She had looked upon death before, seen its cold hand upon loved ones; her parents, her uncle. Death was no stranger to Eowyn, and she would see Barahir's face once more. Faramir had known it would be her answer, had only stopped her to let her know he would spare her if she wished. Seeing the resolve in her eyes, he took her hand and they approached the wagon together.
It was small, the canvas covering keeping it deeply shadowed, and the blanket-wrapped body inside on a soft pallet was barely visible in the fading light as they climbed in. Eowyn knelt down, feeling as if she couldn't breath. Beside her, Faramir tightened his grip on her hand as he leaned forward and pulled the blanket back, revealing Barahir's white face. Eowyn gave a little gasp, seeing him there, Barahir, and yet not, the light in his eyes gone, the expressive mouth stilled. He appeared unharmed, whole, only the small bit of crushed skull beneath the fair hair revealing the place of injury. Gently she reached down and brushed his blond hair back from his face, placed her hand on his cold cheek, her fingers tenderly rubbing along his cheekbone. She rested her face against the cold flesh of her son's and gave him a gentle kiss, noting that he had been brought to them exactly as he had been found, his clothes still wet, his blond hair soaked with water and a small amount of blood. She knew Arwen had understood that preparing him for burial was Eowyn's duty, and her privilege and she silently thanked her Queen. Beside her, Faramir kept his grip on her other hand as he gazed into the still face.
Faramir had seen men dead, hundreds of time. He recognized the unnatural stillness, the strange pallor of the skin, the look of dazed surprise, as if the dead man could not quite comprehend the end of his own existence. But none of those soldiers he had seen on the many battlefields he had walked had been his own flesh and blood, certainly not his child. Unconsciously, he loosened his grasp on Eowyn's hand and took Barahir's, cold and already stiffening, and held it to his own cheek, now wet with tears, sudden flashes of memory racing through him.
Barahir arriving nearly a month early, a tiny, wrinkled scrap of flesh that cried insistently for the next six weeks, driving his parents to distraction and his older brothers to intense dislike. Learning to walk, left unattended for only a moment by the nurse and following Eowyn out the door of the nursery and to the stairway, tumbling down and landing uninjured, laughing at his mother's frantic hug. Age eight, riding the huge roan gelding that Elboron had taunted was too big for him, his blue eyes narrowed with determination. Fourteen, head over heels in love with the new cook's assistant, following her around and writing terribly rhymed love poems that were found by Sam and Estel and used to ceaselessly tease him. Eighteen, leaving for Minas Tirith in his new armor, his blond hair shining in the sun as he rode away on a black stallion given to him by his mother.
Faramir felt the crushing pain deep within him, the pain that he had thought he had forgotten, had only felt a few times in his life, had hoped he would never feel again even as he had known it would not be possible. His hand lifted as though under its own power and lay softly on the pale hair and he let out the tortured sob he had been holding back as the grief tore at him. "My son." He found Eowyn's arms around him and they wept together, each of them clinging to the other for reassurance. Finally Eowyn pulled back a little, reaching up to lay her hand alongside his cheek. She saw the agony in the grey eyes and pulled him close to her again, knew that only she would see the depth of his sorrow, and as soon as they stepped from the wagon, Faramir would retreat into the reserve and control where he felt most comfortable as he faced the others. She pressed her forehead to his for a long moment, until his labored breathing had steadied before whispering in his ear. "Ready?" He nodded, squeezed her hand, and they climbed down from the wagon.
The others waited, standing uncertainly at the steps of the porch, Elboron still hugging both the girls closely, Sam, Eowyn was slightly surprised to see, leaning with his face buried in the King's shoulder, Aragorn's arm wrapped tightly around him. Theoden was nowhere to be seen. Noticing her searching look, Alasse spoke up. "He went to get Nan, Mother. He said she would want to hear it from one of us."
Eowyn nodded, once again seeing Faramir in her second born. Of course Theoden would think of Nan. Nan, over seventy, excused from all her household duties in her last years and content to stay in the small cottage Eowyn had had constructed for her near the house. She had helped Eowyn birth all of her children, had rocked them and fed them and it was right that now she would be nearby as they prepared Barahir for burial. Burial. Suddenly Eowyn looked over at Faramir. Would they lay Barahir to rest here, in Ithilien, or should he be taken back to Minas Tirith, to lie in the tombs among his many ancestors? She selfishly wanted him near, perhaps on the small knoll that could be seen from the back part of the veranda, close enough for her to walk to the grave whenever she might wish. But as a son of the Steward, it might be argued his place was in the city, among the people. She saw Faramir's grey eyes resting on her and knew he could read her thoughts as they raced through her mind.
"He shall stay here, near us, among the fields and trees he loved," he reassured her softly, even as his own gaze lifted to the King's as if seeking agreement. Aragorn nodded and gently disengaged himself from Sam to approach his Steward, his friend, laying a steadying hand on his shoulder.
"I thought that would be your wish. I would ask, however, that you allow us a memorial service in the city." He paused and looked at them. "The people love you, Faramir, and they will want to show their grief for your loss." Faramir merely gave a short nod of understanding and Aragorn continued. "I have sent riders to Rohan and Dol Amroth. Are there others you would wish to notify?"
Faramir was thoughtful, then shook his head. "None that I can think of." His eyes were distant and dark, the sadness in them nearly a tangible thing as Aragorn turned to Eowyn.
"Where shall we take him, my lady?"
Eowyn loosened her hold on Faramir's hand and drew herself up straight. "Into the hall, my lord." She gestured toward the small meeting hall that had been constructed on the far side of the house, nothing large or ornate, but sufficient for those times when the Prince of Ithilien had to entertain or host meetings. Now it would hold the body of her son.
"My lady!" Nan's ancient, cracked voice came to her and Eowyn turned to find the old house matron approaching, her wrinkled hands clutching Theoden's as she leaned on him, tears streaming down her face. "My lady," she said again, reaching out to lay her hand along Eowyn's face. "'Tis a hard and bitter day," she said softly. "A hard and bitter day." Eowyn nodded and Theoden released Nan into Arwen's care to join his brothers, his father and his king as they removed Barahir's body from the wagon and carried it into the hall, the five of them easily sharing the burden. Eowyn could not hold back her moan as he was carried past.
Inside the hall Faramir nodded in the direction of a tall stone table along one side of the room, and they lifted the body and reverently placed it there, Sam being the last to release his hold, clutching at his older brother's clothing for a few desperate seconds before turning into Faramir's arms. "Father," he choked and Faramir hugged him close, knew the agony of losing a cherished older brother, the protector, the companion. He spoke no words, could only hold him tightly and share his grief.
The new house matron, Ardith, as capable as her predecessor, appeared with a trio of housemaids, each carrying a basin of warm water and towels and anything else that might be needed. Ardith herself carried Barahir's best tunic, a richly embroidered blue silk that had matched his eyes. Faramir saw Eowyn flinch when she saw it and he stepped back, taking Sam with him, as she approached Barahir. She let her hand rest on his brow for a moment and Faramir saw the tears fall onto the still, cold face. He turned and motioned for all the others to leave the hall. "Leave us, please." The look on his children's faces was almost more than he could stand until Aragorn stepped forward and shepherded them toward the door.
"We will wait for you at the house," he said softly and Faramir nodded his thanks, glad the king understood, and then turned and dismissed the maids and Ardith. He and Eowyn alone would see to Barahir, prepare him for the last journey.
"He will be missed, my lord," said the man, a rough, laborer-looking personage with gapped teeth and a scar across his nose. "He was always a good lad."
Faramir tried to say something, to acknowledge the man's words, but in truth he was too tired to do more than nod and grasp the calloused hand the man offered. He could not remember how the man had said he had known Barahir; something about doing carpentry work for him once, he thought. It didn't matter. This man was just one of the hundreds of citizens from Minas Tirith and the surrounding area who had passed by Faramir in the last two days. They blurred in the Steward's memory until all he could remember was a mass of people, each offering a hand and words of condolence. Faramir's back ached and his shoulders had small points of fire in them. He had not slept at all last night. Beside him Eowyn smiled mechanically and took the carpenter's hand as he passed by.
Aragorn watched the Steward and his wife from across the room, noting the grey tinge to Faramir's face and the sharp angles in Eowyn's. They were both brittle with grief and fatigue and Aragorn made a small motion with his hand to a guard beside him. "How many more are waiting outside?" he asked when the man bowed before him.
"Hundreds, my lord," came the soft reply. "They are lined up nearly to the next level."
Aragorn frowned. He had asked Faramir to bring Barahir back to the city for a memorial service, and he had done so, even though Aragorn could plainly see he would have preferred to stay in Ithilien. But Faramir recognized that the Steward's family belonged to the people of Gondor, and so he had agreed to let Barahir lie in state in Minas Tirith, in the Citadel, and to receive the people. They had come by the hundreds, passing by for hours, and two days later it was beginning to take its toll. Aragorn knew the people wanted to express their sympathies to the Steward and his family, but he could see from their faces that Faramir and Eowyn must have a break soon. Earlier the strain had sent Alasse back to her chambers in a fit of weeping. She had returned in a short time, but the King saw her exhaustion mirrored on the other faces before him. Estel's eyes were swollen from crying, while Theoden's young wife Elabet, already going against the healers orders to be in bed because of her morning sickness, looked ready to drop. He pursed his lips thoughtfully, then spoke to the guard once more.
"Go outside and bar the outer door." He kept his voice quiet, knew if Faramir heard him he would protest, would stand beside Eowyn and greet the people until both of them fainted dead away. "Say to the people that the Steward and his family must take some food and rest, and will be available again tomorrow morning."
"Yes, my lord." The guard dipped his head and smoothly rose and left the room, totally unnoticed by Faramir, Aragorn was glad to note. In a few minutes the line of visitors had slowed to a trickle and soon after the room was empty except for Aragorn and the small retainer of honor guards and Faramir and his family. The King saw the Steward look up with a mixture of surprise and relief when the last man in line had passed by him. Aragorn crossed the room and slipped an arm around Faramir's shoulders, noting the tense muscles under his hand.
"You must take some rest, Faramir," he said softly.
"But, there were others, still waiting-"
Aragorn shook his head. "They will wait, my friend, and you need to rest."
"As does your wife." Aragorn added the one thing he knew would change Faramir's mind. Immediately Faramir's gaze turned to Eowyn, took in the lines around her eyes and mouth, the exhausted droop of her shoulders. He put his arm around her waist and she let her head rest against him. Nearby Elboron gathered his brothers and sisters to him, speaking softly as he encouraged them to rest a bit and try to eat. Theoden was leading Elabet toward their chambers but he paused to offer a place where they could all be together.
The sound of the door opening turned Aragorn, frowning. He did not want Faramir and his family disturbed any more today. They had given enough of themselves to the public and he was ready to send whoever entered right back out. Instead, he checked himself when he saw who it was. Eomund had arrived from Pelargir.
Aragorn watched as Faramir's middle son strode across the room. Eomund, who had all of his father's grace and none of his humility; all of his mother's passion but none of her gentleness; all of his grandfather's sharp tongue and none of his shrewdness. This son of Faramir's had given his heart to the sea at a young age, his life direction set during a visit to Dol Amroth when he was only a boy, and he walked with the easy, rolling gait of a man at home on either land or water. He was tall and good looking, his black hair worn long and loose, past his shoulders, his dark blue eyes glittering under his brows and he reminded Aragorn very much of Denethor as he had known him in his younger years as he crossed the floor with proud strides. He paused before the ornate bier that held Barahir's shrouded body and his shoulders suddenly slumped as his hand reached out to lovingly rest on the brilliant white satin that covered his brother. A long moment passed and then he straightened, ran a hand over his face and moved toward his family.
He stopped and spoke briefly to his brothers and sisters, giving Elboron a brusque hug, while still managing to be careful of his injured arm, gripping Sam gently on the shoulder, brushing a fleeting kiss across Elabet's cheek as he grasped Theoden's arm tightly and their foreheads touched and soft words were spoken. The girls were gathered into his arms and held tightly and Aragorn could see Eomund whispering into their ears as he kissed each of them, his lips pressing first against Estel's dark head, then Alasse's fair one.
Turning away from the twins, he reached for his mother and Eowyn melted against him as her tears started afresh and his arms went around her automatically, holding her close and pressing his cheek to hers. "Mother," was all he said.
In only a few moments Eowyn straightened, dashing her tears away with her fingers, and Eomund faced his father. Faramir reached out his hand to welcome him, and Eomund took a quick step back. "Murderer," he hissed softly enough so that only Eowyn and Aragorn heard him. Eowyn gasped. Faramir's face blanched and his arm dropped as he stiffened in shock and surprise. "You killed him," said Eomund. "As surely as if you ran him through with your sword, you killed him."
"Eomund-" Faramir's voice held a vaguely pleading note.
"You knew he hated soldiering!" Eomund kept his voice low but it was still full of venom. "Yet you forced him to stay in the army." His face twisted with anger and grief as he looked at his father. "You of all people should know how that feels, to be made into something you are not."
Faramir closed his eyes for a moment and flinched ever so slightly, as if the words had struck him physical blows and Aragorn considered intervening, but when Faramir looked up, the blank curtain had fallen, the veil that he had learned to use so early in life and that he had perfected through years of hard, necessary practice when facing his father. Now he faced his son with an expressionless face and steady voice. "I have always done what I thought best, Eomund, and I thought it best that my sons knew how to defend our lands."
"He hated it." Eomund's voice rose and the others in the room turned to stare at him. "He told me so."
Faramir nodded tightly. "He told me also, and I asked no more of him than I have of others, that he give three years to the army. After that he could choose something else, as Theoden did."
"Your own son, Father! How could you?"
Suddenly it was the Steward of Gondor who faced Eomund, and the flat grey eyes hardened as they fixed on the young man. "How could I ask of others what I do not ask of my own sons? How can our armies remain intact if we do not train new soldiers? How can we defend our lands? Peace is not certain, Eomund, we must always be prepared-" He broke off, realizing everyone was listening. Aragorn saw a muscle twitch in his cheek and he seemed to stare past his son for a moment. "It was my decision and my duty and I need not defend myself to you."
Eomund glared at him with revulsion and anger. "Well, now you can do your duty and bury him," he said fiercely, his blue eyes snapping.
"Eomund!" Eowyn's voice cracked like a whip as she stepped forward, sliding her hand into Faramir's and facing her son. "You will not speak to your father in that way!"
Eomund gave Faramir another look of loathing. "I don't know where my father is. I am speaking to the Steward of Gondor." He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then bowed his head slightly toward his parents. "I do not wish to trouble you with my presence. I will return to Pelargir today, so as not to cause you any further discomfort." With that he made an elegant, mocking bow to Faramir, spun on his heel and left the room, his boots ringing sharply on the polished stone floor. Elboron and the others, having only heard part of the conversation, watched with puzzled faces.
Aragorn saw the hurt flit across Faramir's face for a moment before his features set into an expressionless mask and he turned to Eowyn. "Let me take you to our chambers, so you can rest a little." His voice had a faint tremor to it as he spoke and Eowyn gripped his hand harder.
"He is upset," she said softly. "He spoke out of grief, Faramir."
He nodded. "I know." He bowed his head toward Aragorn, "My lord," and he and Eowyn turned walked toward the door, pausing before the bier where Eowyn stroked her hand across the white satin. After a moment they left the room holding each other, their steps slow and weary. Aragorn turned to the door, intent on following Eomund, only to be stopped by Elboron, who motioned his brothers and sisters to go on without him.
"He said something cruel, didn't he?" Elboron's green eyes were narrowed in his bruised and bandaged face as he questioned the King. Aragorn nodded, but did not repeat Eomund's accusations. Elboron sighed with annoyance. "He can be so spiteful, say such hurtful things. And he and Bara were very close." He looked down at the floor for a moment before squaring his shoulders and straightening. "I had better go talk to him. He cannot leave, it would hurt Mother too much." He paused. "And Father, although I suspect right now a little distance between them…" he left the thought unfinished. "With your permission, Sire?" Aragorn nodded and followed Elboron through the door.
They caught up with Eomund as he was mounting his horse, a small, rangy beast that Elboron knew he must have purchased in Osgiliath for the journey home, since he spent most of his time on the water and owned none of his own. Upon seeing Elboron coming toward him, Eomund quickly gathered up his reins and was preparing to kick the horse into a quick escape, but when he glimpsed the King behind his older brother he grimaced and waited, chewing his lip angrily. Elboron reached out to grasp the horse's reins and Eomund glared down at him.
"Whatever you have to say, Bron, I don't want to hear it." His blue eyes looked hard but Elboron could see the glimmer of tears on the dark lashes.
"Don't go, E'mun," he said simply. "Stay for the funeral."
"I can't." Eomund's voice was shaky but he forced himself to concentrate on his anger and the quaver left. "He's dead and it's his fault." The memory of his father's quiet response further enraged him, gave him the strength to pull the reins away from Elboron's grasp. His older brother could only stare at him.
"Whose fault, E'mun? Father's? Do you really believe that?" He shook his head. "Maybe you think it's my fault, too, then. I was there." Neither man remembered the King as they stared into each other's eyes, and Aragorn stayed quiet, realizing there was little he could say that would reach Eomund better than his brother's words.
Eomund tore his gaze away from Elboron's and looked down at his hands. "I cannot stay, Bron. I cannot stand there and look at Father, not when I know Bara begged him to let him leave the army, to let him do something else." He raised haunted blue eyes to his brother.
Elboron awkwardly took the horse's reins in his good hand again, leaned against the beast's bony shoulder and stroked it, a stray thought in the back of his head absently comparing it to his own Rohirric mounts and finding it sadly lacking. "I know he did, E'mun. He told me so, last winter."
"Then you know Father refused."
"Yes." Elboron nodded. "We talked about it, he and I, and I agreed with him."
"What?" Eomund's voice shook at the imagined treachery. "You agreed?"
Elboron sighed, forced himself to look up into Eomund's face, saw the hurt and grief and anger all mingled there. "He only had another year, and he was doing better. He would have never made a great soldier, but he could do his duty. Theoden hated it the first year, too, and," he raised an eyebrow at his little brother, "be honest, so did you." He shrugged. "It is something that has to be done."
"No." Eomund spoke decisively. "It does not. There are plenty of soldiers in Gondor, we do not need to take those who are clearly not."
The older brother shook his head. "No, it is not that simple." He stroked the horse's rough nose and scratched its ears before he spoke further. "We must set the example, E'mun. The people look to us, it is our responsibility to lead the way." He sighed, a deep, painful rush of air, decided not to rehash an old argument. "Please don't go. If you do, it will hurt Mother and you don't want to do that. She needs all of us here." There was a pause, no angry retort from Eomund, and Elboron sensed he was weakening. "We need each other." He looked up into the hard, haughty face of his brother, saw his grudging nod and held the horse as he dismounted.
"I'll stay for Mother," he said, "and for you and the others. Not for him." Elboron nodded and put an arm around his shoulder.
"Thank you." He slid the horse's reins between the fingers of his injured hand and motioned toward the Steward's chambers in the Citadel. "They were going to Theoden's rooms. I'll meet you there." Eomund hesitated, started to turn to go, then turned back and pressed close to Elboron, hugging him tightly and Elboron returned the embrace, saw the tears that had escaped Eomund's eyes. "Go on." Eomund turned and quickly headed for the doorway as Elboron allowed a sigh of relief to escape him.
"You are truly your father's son." The King's voice startled him, he had forgotten he was there, and he shrugged with embarrassment and resignation.
"If he did not stay, not only would it hurt Mother and Father, but one day it would hurt him, knowing he had not been here for the funeral."
Aragorn placed a hand on Elboron's shoulder and smiled at him. "Well done, my lord. Now, you go and get some rest, also." He pulled the reins from Elboron's fingers. "I will take this sad excuse for a mount to the stables." Elboron gave a quick nod of agreement and hurried to catch up with Eomund as Aragorn started toward the stables.
Eowyn stood and watched as the sun rose above the horizon, flooding the sky with brilliant golden light and catching each dew drop on the grass, turning the ground beneath her into a carpet of diamonds. A chilly wind blew past, just enough to stir her hair and shake out the white banner that the honor guard beside her held before him. It flared in the breeze, licking out in the wind to its full length before it snapped back and fluttered around her. Opposite the white standard stood one of black, its white tree visible only occasionally when the wind strengthened enough to unfurl the entire length of black satin. A few feet away the green of Rohan rode the wind, the slightly smaller flag's white horse seeming to leap forward as the air stirred the cloth.
She was glad her brother had made it for the burial. It had been seven days since Aragorn had arrived in Ithilien with his terrible news, and when she and Faramir had chosen the day they would bury Barahir they had done so in the hope that Eomer and Lothiriel would be able to reach Ithilien in that time. And they had. The royal family of Rohan had arrived last night, tired, dusty, aching with sadness, but in time and behind them had trotted Gimli and some of the dwarfs of the Glittering Caves. Eowyn had wept once more when Eomer had flung himself down from his tall horse and taken the steps two at a time to reach her. Behind him, Lothiriel had kissed Faramir gently, their features so alike they appeared more brother and sister than cousins, before moving onto her nieces and nephews. Now today, they stood in silence beside the rest of Faramir's family, Lothiriel soundlessly weeping as her husband held her close, his mouth pressed into a hard line, their children behind them, chastened and shocked by the death of their cousin.
Eowyn forced herself to look away from the sun, turned her head to see Aragorn staring into the dawn also, his grey eyes dark with sadness. Beside him, Arwen stood tall and silent, always uncomfortable around death, but determined to be there, with Eldarion to her left holding his little sister's hand. Nearby stood Legolas and those woodland elves who had made Ithilien their home for so many years, their fair faces quiet and still in the morning air. They were joined by Gimli and a few others, close friends, trusted companions, each of them there because of their love of Eowyn and Faramir.
Faramir. He stood beside Eowyn holding her hand, his face impassive, his grey eyes bright with unshed tears. His shoulders were straight and his expression betrayed none of the anguish that Eowyn knew he suffered. Only the occasional movement of his throat as he swallowed uneasily showed his misery. Her heart ached and she squeezed his hand, felt the gentle pressure returned.
The slow beat of a solitary drum startled each of them. The pallbearers, members of Barahir's company, lifted the covered slab from the wagon that held it and slowly paced toward the new, hastily constructed burial mound. It had been built on the knoll near the house, where Eowyn had wished. Built quickly and lovingly by the members of Faramir's White Company as a gift to their lord. Built with Legolas' Elvish knowledge and skill and finished only yesterday, made ready to receive the body of Faramir and Eowyn's son. The builders had excavated the ground and shored up the cavern they carved from the hillside with rock and timber, and sod stripped from the ground had been used to roof the small mound so that it appeared to have sprung out of the ground instantly, and yet somehow to have always been there. Above the door that would soon be sealed shut bloomed a small simbalmyne plant, carried from Rohan by Eomer, gently pressed into the soil only moments ago. The pale white flowers nodded gently in the cool morning breeze. Eowyn shut her eyes.
When the drum was directly before her, she opened them again, saw the young men who had served with Barahir each exchange their place with a member of his family, so that he would be carried into the burial chamber by his father, his brothers and his uncle. Eowyn saw Faramir's jaw clench as he moved away from her and shouldered the heavy wooden slab, the barest tremble of his lower lip betraying his distress. Behind him his sons took their places, Elboron's face grave and drawn beneath the bandage, Eomund still as a statue. Theoden was opposite his father and they looked like two sides of the same coin, the same aquiline nose, same dark hair pulled back in a leather clasp, the only difference being that Faramir's was shot with faint streaks of grey. Eowyn paused. Was there more grey than just a week ago? Behind Theoden Sam was openly weeping, the tears falling thick and fast down his cheeks. Eomer took the last place, his face pulled into a familiar scowl, although even that could not disguise his hurt and sorrow.
The men took the last few steps and entered the small door, and Eowyn knew she was supposed to begin the song of mourning, the song that had been sung at the burials in Rohan for generations, but her voice caught in her throat and she could not, could not force the ancient words past her lips. Finally she heard a faint voice behind her, raised softly in the bright morning air. Alasse, gifted with the Rohirric love of music, sang the song her mother could not. A song of sadness and broken hearts and dreams destroyed. As she sang, Estel joined in, her low alto mixing with her sister's soprano in a duet of sweet sorrow, and Eowyn whispered the words, her own voice breaking. Other voices united with them, Aragorn, singing strong and true, Lothiriel and her children, the reedy voice of Nan, standing behind her mistress. Together they sang as Barahir was laid to rest in his tomb and his mother covered her face with her hands and wept.
Afterward they returned to the house and stood about restlessly, as mourners do after the rituals have been completed. The day, which had dawned bright and clear, had turned overcast, the clouds sending down a light drizzle, the grey mist that rose up already hiding Barahir's grave in snatches of fog. Eowyn stood on the veranda and looked through the rain, feeling as if each cold raindrop fell directly into her soul.
"Are you going to be all right?" Eomer's voice was soft and he pressed one large hand against her back.
She nodded, leaned back against his broad chest, felt his grip tighten slightly and looked up into his worried face. "I think so."
Eomer's dark eyes held hers for a moment and he returned her nod. Glancing over to the other side of the veranda where Faramir and Aragorn were talking quietly, he raised his eyebrows. "And Faramir?"
Eowyn hesitated. "I don't know, Eomer. I hope so, but you know how he holds things in." Eomer gave a grunt of agreement and Eowyn looked at him. "It is going to be hard on him, I think. Worse than he imagines."
"And he and Eomund had words?" Eomer saw the surprise on his sister's face. "Elboron told me." He and his eldest nephew had always been close, and Elboron had walked back from the burial ceremony with his uncle and told him what had happened. Eowyn pulled away from his grasp, suddenly defensive.
"Eomund had words. Harsh, vicious words." Her voice caught for a moment as she remembered him at Minas Tirith. "He spoke unfairly. He had no right to accuse his father - "
"Eowyn, Eowyn." Eomer's voice was quiet and he took her hands, halting her words. "You need not defend your husband to me. I know all too well the hard duties of leadership, and of family." He toyed with her fingers. "I merely asked hoping they had had a chance to speak again, work things out."
Eowyn seemed to shrink and she shook her head. "Eomund won't speak to his father, and Faramir says it is best to just let him alone until he is ready." Tears started down her face again and Eomer cursed himself for making her cry.
"But you always know what is best, don't you?" Eomund's angry words floated across the veranda, jerking Eowyn around to see her middle son facing his father and Aragorn, his face taut with anger. "You don't make mistakes, not the exalted Steward, not the Prince of Ithilien. No, if it is what you want, it is what is best for everyone!"
Faramir dropped his eyes, clasped his hands behind him and stared at the veranda floor while Aragorn grasped Eomund in a restraining grasp, fearing he might actually strike his father. He could see the cold rage on Eomund's face and realized he had been listening to their conversation concerning troop movements and possible strengthening of the northernmost defenses. An innocent remark Faramir had made concerning his opinion as to where to place a recently formed company had torn at Eomund's already frayed self control and now he faced his father with all the pent-up emotion of the last few days unleashed.
"They are all young and untried, why not send them to the most dangerous watches of the kingdom?" He spoke savagely, his eyes slitted in his face which he held only inches from Faramir's. "That way you can sift out those who are not going to make good soldiers." Elboron started toward them from across the veranda but Eomund waved him back with a hand. "This is not your business, Bron."
Faramir raised his head and looked at his son, hurt and acceptance warring on his face. He knew how close Barahir and Eomund had been, had watched their relationship grow from the time they had both been small, and he knew how deeply the grief lay in Eomund. Reaching out his hand he grasped his arm. "E'mun," he said softly, "please-"
Eomund jerked his arm away from his father's grasp and shook himself loose from the King. "This is all your fault, Father." His voice trembled with pain and anger. "You KNEW he was not a good soldier, but you insisted. The sons of the Steward must always be soldiers, mustn't they? Must set the example. Why? Because you were? Because you say so? Because it builds up your pride? Bah!" He twisted his head in contempt, looked away, saw his mother's horrified face across the veranda, his uncle's angry frown, the Queen as she watched him from a nearby chair. But he was too far gone in his tirade to stop now and when he turned back to Faramir he resembled no one so much as his grandfather Denethor, his head held high and his eyes leaping with fire. "You always told us you wanted to be a better father than your own. But what kind of a loving father sends his son to his death?" He leaned forward again, hoping his father would give ground but not really surprised when Faramir refused to yield, merely held him steady in his gaze. "Even your father never succeeded in that," he hissed.
"Eomund!" Elboron and Aragorn spoke simultaneously, and the King whirled the younger man around, dug iron hard fingers into his arm. "Enough!" He resisted the urge to shake him like a wayward child, instead merely pushed him toward the door of the house. "Say nothing more you will regret later. Go have something to eat or drink." The King cast a swift look at Faramir, saw the paleness of his face, the muscle jumping in his jaw as he held his silence.
"I will do better than that, Sire," Eomund said. "I will leave you all immediately." With a bow to the King, he turned and stalked through the house, heading for the stables, and Aragorn could hear him calling for one of the housemaids to bring his small pack of personal belongings from his room.
Eowyn started to follow him but Eomer held her back. "Let him go," he growled. "If he does not, I might be tempted to take my whip to him." He glared at the door where Eomund had disappeared, saw Legolas lay a restraining hand on Gimli, knew the dwarf shared his feelings. In the house, Estel and Sam had listened in horror and now stepped quickly out of the way as their elder brother marched past them without a word.
Aragorn watched Eomund disappear and sighed, turned back to Faramir, felt completely inadequate to offer any advice or counsel. Eldarion was only now reaching his young adulthood, while Faramir's sons were grown men. The King of Gondor had no wise words to give, could only put out his hand and take the arm of his friend, try to demonstrate his love and support. Faramir seemed to look past him for a moment and Aragorn saw him give the slightest of shudders. Then he drew himself up straight and looked at the King. "We were discussing troop placement, my lord," he said in a toneless voice.
To Be Continued….
Thanks to: Raksha for inspiration, Cressida for fact-finding and information, Clairon for suggestions, encouragement, beta'ing and letting me use her nickname for Elboron (Bron), Princess Faz for beta'ing and encouragement, and BleedMyEyes for general comments (mostly "Is there more, yet?")