Chapter 11 – A Devotion:
"You'll be leaving for Ithilien, soon." Celeborn glanced at Eowyn as they walked toward the stables and she nodded her head slowly.
"He has not spoken of it yet, but it has been three weeks since Faramir has had a nightmare," she said, reaching down to catch a bit of dried grass in her fingers and twirling it absently as she walked along the path. "He has been sleeping the night through." She smiled at the Elf Lord and he smiled back. "I think we are about ready to go home."
"I am pleased, my lady." He had seen the gradual disappearance of the dark circles from under Faramir's eyes and had surmised that the bad dreams were finally easing. "He seems nearly recovered."
"Yes." Eowyn stopped at the stable door and turned to him. "How can I thank you for all you have done, my Lord?" Her green eyes met his and Celeborn saw the gratitude in her face and he smiled again.
"There is no need, Eowyn. I did very little, as you well know. Faramir needed only some time, and I am pleased to see him better. He is a noble man, worthy of the love you and Aragorn bear him."
"He is." The large grey horse that Eowyn had ridden from Ithilien heard his mistress's voice and poked his head from the stall so that she could rub his nose and she did so, her fingers gently scratching at the soft skin along his nostrils. The Elf also reached up to pat the horse's muscular neck.
"There are many who would not have been able to fight against such despair," he said quietly. "Men who would have crumbled, allowed themselves to be overtaken by sorrow and hopelessness." Eowyn could only nod as he talked. "I remember his father's end." Celeborn's face held sympathy. "I am glad he did not follow that path."
"He came so close." Eowyn could not keep the tremor from her voice and looked up, surprised, when Celeborn rested a hand lightly on her shoulder. The eyes of the Elf Lord were warm as he looked at her.
"He had what his father did not – a loving wife, a loving family, loving friends." Eowyn returned his smile and ducked her head, not wanting to cry before the Elf. He understood and with a last pat to the horse he turned to go back to the house. "Enjoy your ride, my Lady."
Eowyn stood petting the horse for a moment thinking, before she cleared her throat and entered the stall to take down the saddle.
"Unless you want to start right away?" The male Elf speaking was shuffling through an ancient book before him, seeking a particular page, when he realized he had lost his Lord's attention. Celeborn was looking past him, toward the stone bridge, as a rider approached. The two Elves waited as the horse came closer to them, the man on its back looking around him as though unsure of his surroundings. When he reached the bottom of the porch steps he dismounted and gazed up at the Elves hesitantly. Finally he bowed. "My lords."
As he straightened Celeborn looked him over closely, suspicion already becoming certainty in his mind. This tall young man with black hair well past his shoulders and striking dark blue eyes could only be a child of Faramir's, he felt sure. There was enough similarity in their features and he wore a small badge on his tunic, the right side black with a white tree, for Gondor, the left a green tree on a white field, signifying his allegiance to the Prince of Ithilien. The Elf waited, considering, confident that this was not only Faramir's son, but the son who had done so much harm, and as such, might have to be denied permission to see his father. Celeborn returned the bow respectfully but said nothing.
Eomund stared up at the Elves, feeling small and insignificant next to their beauty and grace and for a moment when he opened his mouth nothing would come out. He knew Elves, of course, Legolas and his kin had lived in Ithilien since before Eomund had been born, but all the tales he had ever heard or read of Rivendell had not prepared him for its splendor, even in its last days, nor the attractiveness of its inhabitants, and he realized with some surprise he wanted the tall solemn Elf before him to think well of him. Such fair folk who could create a place of glorious beauty like this were surely equally fair within. He suddenly became conscious that long moments had passed as he stared at the Elves and he blushed in embarrassment.
"I am Eomund, son of Faramir," he said, pulling his shoulders back and facing them as if he were ready for inspection, little knowing Celeborn was doing just that. "I have come from Gondor seeking my father and mother."
"Welcome to Rivendell, Eomund, son of Faramir." The Elf's voice was dispassionate, neither welcoming nor forbidding, and Eomund instantly noted that no information had been given about his parents, not even confirmation that they were at the Last Homely House. Hesitantly he reached for the letter that the King had given him before he left Minas Tirith. He had said it was for the Lord Celeborn and Eomund found himself hoping it held a word of assurance that might convince the Elf of his legitimacy and thus gain him a true welcome.
"King Elessar of Gondor sends his greetings, and a letter for the Lord Celeborn." He took a deep breath and stepped forward to hand the folded parchment to the Elf, feeling distinctly uncomfortable when he looked up to see the pale eyes resting curiously on him.
"I am Celeborn, Lord Eomund." Celeborn thanked him with a slight twist of an eyebrow and was mildly surprised to see the look of pleasure and anxious recognition of the name that appeared on the Man's face. He broke open the seal on the letter, reading down through it with care as Eomund waited apprehensively. The other Elf watched him closely, his eyes traveling up and down the Man and Eomund knew the small rudeness was deliberate, a test, and he stayed silent, keeping his eyes on the Elf Lord before him and made no response.
Celeborn casually studied Aragorn's letter and Eomund had a sudden fear. What if the Elf refused to let him see his father? Or even to stay at Rivendell? Forcing down the worry he made himself stand patiently until the Elf looked up from the parchment. His eyes flicked across Eomund, then down to the letter once more.
I do not know what all has befallen him, Celeborn, but it is my belief that he truly wishes to make amends with his father. I leave the decision to your judgment, since you have spent the time with Faramir, but if possible, I would ask that you let them speak to one another.
Celeborn read the remaining paragraphs slowly, watching the young man from the corner of his eye, saw him glance up once and nervously meet Salennar's eye beside him and the other Elf met his gaze with a measuring look, then turned and looked at Celeborn, giving a slight shake of his head, barely perceptible, and Celeborn knew he did not want to let the young man of Gondor stay, knew that Salennar had fought in the Last Alliance and considered all Men weak and untrustworthy and he sighed. He did not share that belief, at least not for all Men, and he trusted Aragorn's judgment. If the King of Gondor felt that Eomund should be permitted to see his father, Celeborn would allow it. He folded the parchment.
"Your parents are indeed here, my lord, although your mother has gone riding, as she does many mornings. She is usually away for a few hours, but I would be glad to direct you to your father."
"I would be most grateful, Lord Celeborn." Eomund started to climb the steps, then looked uncertainly at his horse.
"Salennar, if you would be so kind," said Celeborn and the other Elf went to take the reins from Eomund, giving him a look that said he had searched for something in the Man and found it missing. Eomund gave him a small, uneasy smile of gratitude and followed Celeborn up the stairs and through the wide front door. As they entered the House Eomund looked around him, feeling like a country peasant in the city. The architecture, design and décor of the Last Homely House was exquisite and he found himself staring and craning his neck as he followed the Elf through halls and passages and up at least one flight of steps. He wondered if he should say something rather than trail along behind but nothing he could think of seemed appropriate so he merely followed Celeborn, his trepidation increasing with each step.
Finally they stood at the end of a hallway and the Elf pointed. "The last room on the right." He did not move, however, but merely stood, his arm outstretched, and Eomund hesitated, suddenly unsure of himself. He chewed his lip for a moment, his eyes locked on the door at the end of the long hall as the true reason for this trip came crashing back down on him.
"How is he?" His blue eyes met the Elf's and Celeborn was pleased to see nothing more than honest concern in them. Whatever arrogance had initiated the conflict between father and son was not visible to the Elf and he allowed a tiny smile to cross his lips.
"He is well," he said and Eomund looked at him closely.
"Truly?" Celeborn could hear the hopeful note in his voice and he nodded slightly, saw relief and gladness wash over the young man's face and he gestured toward the door, silently retreating down the hall as Eomund approached the room.
Faramir had been expecting Lathelinor to come by with some things he and Eowyn had sent to be washed and to save her having to either knock or fumble for the handle he had propped the door to the room open with a chair and now Eomund halted just outside the doorway and looked in at his father.
He sat at the round table with a fresh piece of parchment before him, carefully transcribing something from a large book that lay on the table in front of him, its binding tattered and crumbling. The morning sun slanted through the balcony door and across the floor of the room, the tiny dust motes from the ancient book stirring through the still air each time Faramir dipped his quill into the small ink bottle to his right and Eomund felt a warm rush of unexpected memories.
Countless times as a child he had stood in the doorway of the library at Emyn Arnen and watched his father studiously writing at his desk. Sometimes it was important documents; treaties, military dispatches and government papers; other times it had been private matters such as letters, household notes, occasionally poetry or music. He remembered being pulled up onto his father's knee as a boy and taught his alphabet, given a shortened quill and his own bits of parchment to practice with, and the feel of his small hand enclosed in Faramir's larger one as he guided him in making the strokes of ink appear; his voice softly encouraging the shaky writing, and the slow smile that was reward enough then for Eomund lighting up his father's face when the boy presented him with a perfectly executed character. Later, he could remember lying on his stomach, he and his brothers spread across the green rug, each with their own quill and parchment, practicing their penmanship as another younger sibling was settled in his father's lap and taught the magical symbols that set spoken words on paper.
A sudden wave of shame washed over him as he thought back to those pleasant afternoons in the library. How had he ever imagined his father uncaring, responsible for Bara's death? Father had never done anything but love and encourage all of them and Eomund, remembering his accusations in the city and at home in Ithilien, nearly turned away, ashamed to face him. But another memory kept him there, that of Mal's bloody face and the look in his eyes as he stared up at Eomund from the deck of the Crescent Moon. "Promise me" he had said, and Eomund had promised. Promised to not only come home but to learn from his mistakes, find his father and apologize, and now he would do just that.
He raised his hand and gave a slight rap on the door as he stepped into the room. "Father?"
The sound of his voice startled Faramir and he looked up, convinced he was mistaken, could not have recognized the speaker, only to find Eomund crossing the floor in his direction.
He stood up just as Eomund reached him and he grasped his son by the shoulders, looking at him in amazement. Eomund stopped and looked into his eyes, trying to prepare himself for the rejection he was sure he would see there, the consequences of his hard words, and he braced himself. But when he met his father's eyes he saw only wonder and delight and Faramir gathered his son into his arms and pulled him close, not noticing the faint wince as he hugged him tightly. Eomund wrapped his arms around his father and returned the embrace, feeling as if he could laugh and cry at the same time. He laid his head on Faramir's shoulder and felt his father's hand reach up, rest on the crown on his head and hold him closer and a great wave rose up in Eomund and he tightened his hug.
Faramir held his son, overjoyed to see him and trying to understand how he had suddenly appeared before him in Rivendell, and then felt Eomund's hug tighten around him and decided it did not matter so long as he was there, when suddenly Eomund's arms loosened and his son fell to his knees before him.
"Father." Eomund clutched at his father's hands and bent his dark head over them, remembering his terrible accusations. He pressed his cheek against Faramir's hands and kissed them and found himself unexpectedly weeping. "Forgive me, Father. Please, I'm so sorry…"
"Eomund!" Faramir sat back down in shock. Pulling his right hand free he cupped it along Eomund's cheek and turned his face up to him, looked into the tear-filled blue eyes with astonishment. "What are you doing?"
"I came to find you, to apologize," said Eomund in a broken voice, once more lowering his head and Faramir felt hot tears splash onto his hand. "For all the awful things I said to you. Please, forgive me."
"E'mun," said Faramir softly, stroking the black hair and leaning down to press his forehead against the top of Eomund's head. "It's all right – "
"No, no." Eomund shook his head fiercely but did not look up. "It is not all right. I hurt you, I said things that were cruel and unfair. I'm sorry, Father." He gulped and raised his head to meet Faramir's gaze. "I knew it was not your fault, Bara's accident, but I was sad and angry and I wanted it to be, and I said horrible things." His fingers dug into Faramir's hand. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He squeezed his father's hand convulsively and sobbed quietly. "Please, please say you forgive me."
Faramir wrapped his arm around his son's shoulders and pulled him close and Eomund, still clutching his father's hand, burrowed closer, burying his face against his shirt. Faramir held him as tightly as he could, feeling the quivering of Eomund's body as he wept against him, and he gently kissed the black hair and let a tear slip from his own eyes. "I forgive you, E'mun," he said quietly, and felt Eomund press even closer, at last loosening his grip on Faramir's hand to slide his arms around his father's waist and hug him.
"Thank you, Father," he whispered hoarsely as Faramir gathered him in his arms and held him. He was still for a moment, just resting his head against his father's chest, feeling his arms around him and reveling in the knowledge he was forgiven, that his father did not hate him. Eomund felt as if a terrible weight had gone from him and he sighed and rubbed his face against the soft fabric where it lay.
"I have missed you," said Faramir softly and gave his arm a gentle squeeze.
"And I have missed you. I was wrong to go away. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I hurt you. I never want to hurt you or anyone else like that again." Eomund's voice was muffled. "Never." He gave a little shudder and settled against Faramir, shifting slightly on the floor without loosening his hold on his father. They sat quietly for a while, Eomund listening to the slow steady beat of the heart beneath him while Faramir's hand tenderly caressed his son's tangled black hair. Faramir felt a wonderful sense of peace come over him. Eomund had come, and was before him, and things would be better. They would not end up like he and Denethor, he would make sure of it. He pulled Eomund closer to him once more, held him tightly.
"You are well?" Eomund pulled back a little, looked up into his father's face, and Faramir nodded. Eomund lowered his head again and leaned against him. "I'm sorry I said such cruel things," he said softly. "I'm sorry you got sick…"
"Shh, E'mun," Faramir soothed him. "You have apologized. I have forgiven you. Let us not dwell on it. It is past." He decided to change the subject of the conversation.
"Your mother said you were summoned by the King, sent to seek Estel." Faramir felt Eomund nod and he looked up at him again.
"He was very angry with me," he said. "You cannot imagine how angry."
A faint smile crept across Faramir's features. "I have seen him angry, Eomund." He reached out and gave his face a gentle pat. "It is not a pleasant sight, is it?" His look suggested he and Eomund shared an amusing secret and Eomund could not help smiling back.
"No, Father, not at all." The smile faded as he thought of his failure to find Estel. "But I did not find her."
"But thankfully she was found, nevertheless." Faramir tugged on his arm and pointed to the chair beside him. "Where did you look? I feel certain you made a thorough search!" He gave Eomund a teasing grin, finding a sudden lightheartedness had come over him. "Tell me of your adventures."
Eomund pulled the chair closer and scooted up into it before he began. "I went everywhere. I went to Dol Amroth first, because that is where she fooled us all into thinking she was going. I searched there, I searched Osgiliath, again! I searched Pelargir, and anywhere else I could think of." He detailed his travels to Faramir, telling of his dismay and growing alarm when every promising lead proved false and Faramir listened and asked questions and watched his son's face as he talked, taking pleasure in the light in the blue eyes and the animation of his face.
"…and I decided I should at least look, so I went to Umbar," said Eomund, and faltered and stopped. He had sworn time and again on the Crescent Moon, to Mal and to himself, that he would never reveal any details of his 'timed service' to anyone. He saw curiosity on his father's face and he dropped his head, staring at his hands in silence.
"Eomund?" Faramir reached over and grasped his arm, sensing his discomfort.
Eomund clasped his hands before him and swallowed, cleared his throat. "It had been over a month," he said in a shaky voice. "I couldn't find her anywhere, and I hadn't heard from Bron." He glanced up at his father. "We didn't know where you were, or how you were, or anything…"
Faramir had been surprised when Eowyn had informed him Aragorn had kept his whereabouts secret but he merely nodded slightly to encourage Eomund to continue, saw him shift uneasily in his chair, his face showing some sort of inner struggle and he waited, regretful that his illness had troubled his son.
Eomund hunched over his knees and sighed. He had vowed to keep silent, ashamed of his behavior in Umbar and the results, but the longer he waited, the more he found himself wanting to tell his father, to share that time of guilt and fear and talk of what he had learned and watch his father's face to see if he understood and approved. Suddenly it seemed vital that Faramir know everything. Not so much about how he had first arrived on the ship, but about Mal, and what he had learned, and how he had grown up in those awful weeks on board, and he raised his head and looked into calm grey eyes full of love, and he took a deep breath.
"I went to Umbar…I was feeling sorry for myself, and …" His voice faded and he looked down at the floor as he stumbled over his next words. "And I got drunk and got robbed and got arrested." Shaking his head he continued without looking up. "Since I didn't have any money I had to serve my time…and in Umbar the local courts have debtors work off their fines, so I ended up on a little merchant ship."
"Merchant ship." There was a strange catch to Faramir's voice and Eomund looked up to find his father's face had lost all of its color and he was staring at Eomund with an unsettled expression. He stared at the floor again, angry with himself for disappointing his father.
"I know. It was stupid and foolish of me. You always warned us about drinking, especially in strange places. I was - " The touch of Faramir's hand on his shoulder stopped him and he raised his head and met troubled grey eyes.
"A merchant ship," said Faramir again and Eomund nodded, saw his father's face grow wary and apprehensive. "With a black-haired captain?" Eomund nodded again, his surprise evident in his face. Faramir blinked slowly before he spoke again, as though he were gathering his strength. "And a big man, big muscles?" Eomund's mouth was dry as he nodded once more. The long fingers gently moved down across the back of his tunic as if seeking something.
"E'mun, let me see your back." The words were choked out between clenched teeth and Eomund, knowing his father had seen true visions in the past, saw the knowledge in his eyes, and he reached behind him without a word and pulled the tunic over his head, revealing the scars and nearly healed wounds that covered his spine.
The cry was involuntary, forced from Faramir by shock and sorrow and Eomund felt his father's hand brush cautiously across the mangled skin and saw the devastated look come over his face.
"I thought it was a dream," Faramir whispered, his fingers moving lightly over the raised scars. "I never thought it was real – E'mun – "
"You saw." Eomund lowered his eyes, remembered clinging to the mast, the slashing sound the rod made as it came down through the air, and how he had fixed his thoughts on his father, how he had begged for his forgiveness there on the ship, certain he would die from the beating.
"I didn't know it was real," Faramir said again and he laid his hand gently across Eomund's scars. He remembered the night, the images that had assaulted his sleep with glaring clarity. He had been able to hear the sound of the rod cutting through the air, the wet slap as it slashed across broken, bleeding skin, Eomund's tortured cries and the impassive face of the man wielding the rod as the captain watched. It had not brought him awake, but had flared into his mind, rousing him just a little and then wavered and shimmered and faded and he had drifted back to sleep, dismissing it the next morning, sure after months of nightmares it was just another bad dream. Now he looked at Eomund, his face full of regret. "I'm sorry, E'mun."
"Sorry?" Eomund shook his head and smiled grimly. "There is nothing for you to be sorry for, Father. It was my fault, my own stupidity and hard-headedness and carelessness, nothing you did. And you could not have helped me."
"No, Father, there is no reason for you to apologize." Faramir watched as Eomund pulled his tunic back on and faced him. "I thought I would die there," he said. "And all I could think of was how badly I had hurt you, and how sorry I was, and that you would never know, because of my stupidity." He looked down at his hands again, moved uncomfortably in the chair. "I killed a man, Father." His gaze shot up, seeking Faramir's reaction, saw nothing but a calm, waiting look, no judgment, no conclusion and he felt a warm rush toward his father. "He was my friend, and it was my fault. I didn't mean for it to happen, but it did."
Still nothing from his father and Eomund dropped his head into his hands. "I learned a lot from him," he said.
"What did you learn?" Faramir's voice was hushed and he leaned forward and took Eomund's hands in one of his own, raised his son's head and held the bright blue eyes with his own grey ones. "Eomund?"
Eomund found his eyes filled with tears once more. "I learned to listen. To keep my mouth shut and do my duty. I learned that sometimes things happen and no one is at fault." His voice was shaking as he finished. "I'm not the same man I was, Father, and not just because of this." He motioned with his head toward his back.
His father released him and leaned back slightly to study Eomund thoroughly, his gaze taking in not only the physical changes, the sun-darkened skin, the missing ring, but also the change in his son's eyes. "Yes. You are different."
"I hope so," said Eomund. "I don't like the person I was. I don't want to be that person anymore." He reached out and grasped his father's hand again. "I never want to hurt you again." Wordlessly Faramir put his hand up and patted his son's cheek and Eomund knew he would never hear his father speak of it; he was truly forgiven. He hesitated. "I don't want Mother to know, about – my back. It would upset her." Faramir pursed his lips thoughtfully and then gave a faint nod of agreement.
"She will find out eventually."
"I know." Eomund shook his head. "Just not yet." His father shrugged slightly as if to say it was up to him and leaned back, studying him. Eomund felt uncomfortable. "What?"
Faramir smiled and shook his head. "Nothing. I am so pleased to see you." He hesitated, gathering his thoughts and the smile left him. "I feared losing you, E'mun." He looked up at his son. "I was afraid we were starting down the same road that my father and I traveled, and I don't want that to ever happen, with you or any of my children."
"I feared the same thing," said Eomund quietly as his blue eyes met Faramir's. "I don't want that either." He hesitated, decided to risk the question. "What happened? Between and grandfather, I mean?" His voice trembled slightly as he asked, remembering Elboron's warning of years past and he saw his father pause and grow thoughtful.
"I'm not sure," he said. "It just always was that way. I never could find a reason that made sense to me, and after a while I stopped trying." Eomund saw his face go still as his father called up past memories, saw the faint trace of confusion, the dim remnant of his desire for the love and approval that had never been given and never would. Faramir gave a little shake of his head and focused on his son once more. "But I do know I never want that with any of you. I want you all to know that I love you, I'm proud of you."
"Even when I acted the way I did?" Eomund said in a sober voice. "You weren't proud of that, were you? I know I'm not."
"No," Faramir answered truthfully. "I was not proud of you then. But," he looked into Eomund's eyes, his own dark and serious. "I am proud of you now. And I always love you. Always."
Eomund had to look away and scrub his hand across his eyes. "I know that, Father. I have never doubted that."
When Eowyn returned from her ride she heard voices coming from the room as she made her way down the hallway and reaching the door she looked in to find her husband and her son seated at the table with a large tray of food, a pitcher of watered wine, and a map spread out in front of them. "Right here," said Eomund, tracing his finger across the map and Faramir followed his path. They both looked up upon hearing Eowyn's startled intake of breath and Eomund's face broke into a smile. "Mother!" He hurried across the room and hugged her, lifting her off the ground and kissing her cheek. Looking over his shoulder Eowyn saw Faramir watching them, smiling as he leaned back in his chair and took a drink of his wine, and she nearly cried with joy.
"Eomund, what are you doing here?" she managed to gasp when he returned her to the ground.
He looked over at Faramir, who raised his cup to his wife and smiled again. "He's come to take us home."
Eomund nodded in pleased agreement. "Whenever you are ready," he said and Eowyn looked at him, saw something new and yet familiar in his face, and he leaned down and kissed her cheek again. She gazed into his eyes and suddenly realized she saw Faramir in him, a strange, faint echo of his father in his countenance.
"Eomund – " she began, but Faramir interrupted her, handing her a cup of wine and giving her a pleased grin.
"You have a granddaughter," he said, toasting her cup with his own. She looked at him in confusion for a moment before understanding came and she turned to Eomund.
His grin matched his father's. "The day I left Minas Tirith. She does not have a bit of hair, but her eyes are grey and they have named her Callanor. Theoden is quite pleased with himself." The last was said with eye rolling and Eowyn laughed and returned the toast.
"Callanor," she murmured experimentally and looked at her husband, smiling before her. "Oh yes," she said. "I am ready to go home."
"As am I," said Faramir as he kissed his wife and then hugged his son to him.
Aragorn kissed Arwen, slowly, letting the noise around them rise and swell, not caring, not thinking of anything other than his wife. No, not completely. A tiny piece of him suddenly focused on his Steward, his friend. Arwen felt the change and drew back, smiled. "Blessed Tidings of the New Year," she said softly.
"Blessed Tidings," he answered her and they both turned to look across the room. In the small alcove near the window Faramir and Eowyn were still kissing, still lost in one another, much to the embarrassment of their children standing nearby
Aragorn smiled, pleased that their small gathering was familiar enough that Faramir would allow himself to relax to the point that he was unaware that everyone else was watching until at last Estel's mortified voice came in a loud whisper. "Mother!" With a smile and no trace of remorse Eowyn stepped back from her husband, who looked discomfited and immediately slid into his usual reserve.
The King watched as Faramir whispered something in his wife's ear and she laughed, and Aragorn felt a wave of happiness. The man who had returned from Rivendell had been healed, had come back smiling and well and Aragorn had rejoiced to see his friend whole once more. The rift between Faramir and Eomund had been healed as well, and Eomund had stayed with his parents for another week after their return before being re-instated to his position in the Royal Navy by the King and returning to Pelargir. He had come home for the holiday, and Aragorn could see him now across the hall deep in conversation with Elboron, his blue eyes flashing as he spoke. The King gave a little sigh of relief and beside him Arwen laughed softly. "It was a good idea, having a small get-together here," she said, and squeezed his hand and Aragorn nodded.
The large Yestare celebration would be held tomorrow, in Minas Tirith, complete with Lords and Ladies and lights and music, nobility and graciousness along with arrogance and toadying and posturing fools. The King would preside, of course, along with his Queen, and by his side would be the Steward and his Lady. But tonight, for Mettare, they had been invited to Ithilien, to the Prince's home, for a celebration with only Faramir and his family and Aragorn and his. Aragorn had accepted gladly, had wanted to not only share the holiday, but also to check on his Steward. Less than a week ago had been the one-year anniversary of Barahir's death, and although Faramir had been home for nearly three months Aragorn still kept a careful eye on him.
Now the King smiled as Faramir kissed his wife once more, much more chastely than before, and came toward him. "Blessed Tidings of the New Year, my Lord, my Lady," he said, bowing slightly before Aragorn and Arwen.
"Blessed Tidings," Arwen returned his greeting and gave Aragorn a smile as she slipped away to join Eowyn on the other side of the room.
"Blessed Tidings, Faramir." Aragorn took a sip from the ornate cup of wine he had been given earlier by one of the servants and leaned back against the mantle to survey the room. All of Faramir's children were home for the holiday, and were gathered around the sitting room in small groups talking and laughing. Aragorn saw his own son and daughter had been folded into one such circle with Alasse and Elabet, her little daughter Callanor bundled in her lap and looking around her with bright eyes. "It is a blessed night, indeed, my lord," said the King. "You are wise to gather your loved ones around you."
Faramir nodded over the edge of his own cup. "I want to have them near as much as possible, now that I know how easy it is to lose them." Aragorn looked at him, trying to disguise his concern. He had feared the date might bring a return of the melancholy that Faramir had struggled against last year. Faramir gave a slight shake of his head that told the King he knew exactly what he was thinking and Aragorn was embarrassed to be so easily exposed by his astute friend. "You need not worry, my lord," Faramir said with a small smile. "I am well."
Aragorn smiled back at him. "I am glad," he said softly and reached over to give Faramir's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "It has been difficult, these last few days, I would imagine."
Faramir merely gave a slight nod, seemed to avoid Aragorn's gaze as he stared across the room. "Difficult days in a trying year." He sighed. "It has not been easy but Eowyn and I have been spending our time together, and with the children, as much as possible." He suddenly turned to face the King. "Thank you, Aragorn, for all you have done, for me and my family. I don't know what might have happened if you had not interceded."
Aragorn met his gaze without discomfort. "I know you were angry with me at first, Faramir, but I was truly afraid. Afraid of what might happen if something were not done, and I had no idea what that should be." He gripped his friend's arm tightly. "My only hope was that Celeborn would prove to be truly wise. And he did." A smile crossed his face and then disappeared as he grew serious once more. "I would not know what to do without you, Faramir." He saw the Steward's face flush and he hurried on. "I mean it. You are my most able counselor, my most efficient steward, my most trustworthy diplomat."
"Sire – "
"And my most beloved friend." Aragorn's voice was soft and he watched Faramir's eyes darken with emotion and he wanted so much to be able to reassure him of his love and affection. "More than anything, I feared losing you, Faramir, as a friend."
Faramir cleared his throat and swallowed, uncomfortable as always with letting his feelings show too easily. He looked away almost shyly, forced himself to look back. "I feel the same, Aragorn. You are very dear to me, more than any other man yet living." Aragorn smiled, knew after all their years together that he had just received the equivalent of an emotional outburst from his Steward.
"Father!" Faramir looked around to find Estel beside him, her face pleading as she pointed across the room, the scene she indicated drawing a smile from both the King and Faramir. Feorl had been invited to Ithilien for the holiday and Prince Elfwine had volunteered to ride with him and then visit with his cousins, but now the young Rider was backed into a corner and both Sam and Elfwine were talking quietly to him, their faces serious. "They have been picking on him all evening," said Estel with a frown. Aragorn raised his eyebrows and quickly took another drink of wine, leaving Faramir to handle the delicate matter but before he could even take a step Eomund appeared beside his younger brother, interrupting the conversation and deftly drawing Feorl away.
"There, Estel," said Faramir reassuringly. "E'mun has rescued him." Estel gave a relieved sigh and turned to follow them, then abruptly turned back and hugged her father tightly.
"I love you, Father."
Faramir immediately set his cup on the mantle and returned her embrace. "I love you, Estel." He leaned down and kissed the top of her head and then laughed when she raised her face and kissed his nose before starting after Eomund and Feorl. When she had returned from Edoras she had apologized for running away, been properly horrified and chastised at the results of her disappearance, and then promptly forgotten everything else in the excitement of her own return home and setting up a meeting between Faramir and Feorl. Her father did not mind, although her mother had belabored the point a few times, but there had been one new behavior that had not worn off even as the days and months passed. Whenever she passed him, Estel would suddenly turn and hug Faramir as hard as she could and say that she loved him. Faramir never tired of it and even now as she hurried after her brother and her beau he watched her go with a smile.
"Are you going to let them marry?" Aragorn looked at his Steward with amusement. "She is so young."
"I don't think I can stop it," said Faramir with a hopeless shake of his head and a wry smile. "She is young, but she is as stubborn as…" He crossed his arms and frowned. "She reminds me so much of Boromir sometimes." Aragorn had been taking another sip of wine and nearly choked as he heard Faramir's words.
Faramir gave him a look of surprise. "Don't you think so?"
"Well, I hardly knew him, Faramir – " Aragorn's denials faltered as Faramir shook his head.
"You knew him long enough to know how hard-headed he was." The King bit his lip to avoid making any comments about the possibility of Boromir's brother sharing that trait and only made a noncommittal noise.
"So," Aragorn tried to steer the conversation back. "You will allow the marriage?"
Faramir shrugged and nodded. "Not for a while, though. Eowyn and I told them they must wait another two years."
"Hmm. Will they?" Estel had already run away from home once, Aragorn thought. She would do it again, he had no doubt.
"No," said Faramir, laughing. "But if we say two years we may get them to wait one."
"Ah." Aragorn made a face, dreading the day of his own children's adulthood. "I would rather fight Easterlings than Estel," he said, only half in jest and laughed at the serious nod of agreement from Faramir. His eyes settled on Feorl across the room, now safely guarded by Eomund and Estel. "He seems like a good man," he said quietly.
"He's little more than a boy himself," said Faramir with a rueful smile. "But Eomer says his captain speaks well of him, and he's bright and eager. He should do well among the Riders. And he loves her." Aragorn could tell from the change in his voice that was the most important qualification in Faramir's mind, knew he would prefer his daughter happy in a small house in Edoras than miserable in a huge one somewhere else. As the Steward's daughter Estel might make a high political marriage, be promised to a lord or noble, but the King knew Faramir would never do that to his daughter, and if she had chosen a Rider because of love, her parents would bless the union.
They fell silent as the threesome they were discussing suddenly got to their feet and headed toward the back door. "Feorl is going to show E'mun his horses," said Estel as they passed by and Aragorn saw the wink Eomund gave his father when he walked by, listening closely as Feorl waxed eloquent about the pedigree of each of the horses he had brought with him from Rohan.
"I thought Eomund detested horses," said Aragorn.
"He does," answered Faramir. "Can't stand them." The two men smiled at each other.
"He's changed a lot." Aragorn looked at Faramir, wanting to make sure it was not an awkward subject, was relieved to see his friend merely nod in agreement.
"It was a difficult year for him, also." said Faramir. "More than the others. He – he learned some hard lessons." He watched the King's eyes follow Eomund out the door before they swung back to him and as the two sets of grey eyes met Faramir knew Aragorn was thinking of the scars on Eomund's back. He knew the King had seen Eomund's injuries the day he returned to Minas Tirith, but had not been told the story behind them and he knew Aragorn would never ask. Should Eomund or his father choose to tell him, the King would gladly listen, but until then the questions would remain unasked.
"I never meant for anything to happen to him, Faramir." Aragorn's voice was tinged with remorse. Faramir looked at him in shock.
"I know that, Aragorn. And so does he." He reached behind him and toyed with his wine goblet, then looked at Aragorn and shook his head. "He learned a lot, but he had to learn it the hard way." They stood quietly for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
Suddenly Faramir smiled with delight as Elabet and Theoden approached, the baby snuggled sleepily in her mother's arms. "We're going to put her to bed," said Theoden. "I thought you'd want to tell her good night." Without hesitation Elabet placed the small form in Faramir's arms and he held her close, kissed her tiny nose and cheeks as Theoden bowed slightly toward the King.
"Blessed Tidings, Sire," he said softly and Aragorn returned the greeting to him, seeing in Theoden, as always, the man Faramir might have been had he been raised with a loving supportive father, the same quiet scholarly mind nurtured and encouraged and appreciated and, as always, a small part of him ached for his Steward and what he had been denied. He forced himself to reject such thoughts, knew there was no changing the past, and instead watched Faramir with his granddaughter.
"Callanor," Faramir said softly. "Callanor. Sleep well, little one." The baby crinkled up her face but stayed asleep and with another gentle kiss Faramir handed her back to her mother and kissed her cheek, also. She smiled and blushed as she and Theoden turned toward the steps.
"I lost Barahir, Aragorn," said Faramir. "But I could have lost them all." He looked at his King, his friend, and closed his eyes and seemed to shiver slightly. "I nearly lost everything I have." Aragorn knew he was not speaking of the house in Ithilien or the luxurious Steward's apartments in Minas Tirith; knew he was not referring to his titles or position of power.
"But you did not," he said gently. "You won that battle and came through that darkness. And now is the new year, a new beginning."
Faramir nodded and lifted his cup, tipped it toward Aragorn once more. "To the new year, Aragorn."
"The new year, Faramir." And they both drank deeply.
The scars on Eomund's back faded, as Rammell had said they would, but the wounds had been deep and the scar tissue stayed raised in knots and bumps across his flesh for the rest of his life. He never mentioned them, deftly turning aside any questions if one of his brothers or the men under his command glimpsed the scars and after a while the questions faded, too. Eowyn soon learned that he had been in some trouble in Umbar, spent time on a merchant ship, but he managed to hide the scars from his mother for four years, keeping them unseen by her until one hot summer day when she interrupted him and Elboron as they were working on sword drills on the practice ground at Minas Tirith. Her gasp of horror behind him let Eomund know she had discovered his secret and he turned to find her covering her mouth with her hands as tears filled from her eyes.
"Mother." He grasped her hand and pulled it down to her side, bending down to kiss her on the cheek. "Don't."
Eowyn had trouble catching her breath, the terrible sight of her son's back had unnerved her and she could only reach out a tentative finger toward the marked and disfigured flesh, but Eomund caught her hand, startling her, and she looked up at him with confusion and sadness. Eomund shook his head and kissed the back of her hand before letting it drop. He turned around to Elboron. "We're through?" His older brother nodded and handed over his sword and Eomund gave him a grin and walked toward the armory, bending down to catch up his tunic from where it lay on the ground, discarded when the heat of the day made their mock swordplay uncomfortable.
Elboron stepped over to his mother and they watched Eomund disappear into the small doorway together and she looked up at him. "What happened? Where did he get those awful scars?"
Elboron shrugged, shook his head. "I don't know. He won't say."
"Won't say?" Eowyn's face took on a determined look that Elboron recognized and he laughed and hugged her.
"Mother, let it go. He's had them for years, and has never told any of us anything." He reached down in the grass for his own tunic and pulled it over his head. "I've asked. Theoden's asked, Sam, Feorl, even Uncle Eomer. He won't tell. Just says he got them when he grew up."
Eowyn was silent but that night as they lay in bed she rolled over to face her husband of many years. "Have you ever seen the scars on Eomund's back?" she asked suddenly, peering closely at him in the candlelight, knowing she would be able to see the answer in his eyes before she heard it from his mouth. Faramir met her gaze with sorrow and she realized he was saddened that she had seen the marks. "You have!" She frowned at him. "How long have you known about them?"
Faramir sighed and lay back on the pillow, staring up at the wooden beams above the bed. "A long time, Eowyn." He looked at her in the dim light. "He did not want you to see them."
"Why?" Eowyn rolled over and pulled the blankets up closer.
"Because he knew you would fuss, just as you are doing now," Faramir said mildly. "How did you see them?"
"He and Bron were doing sword drills," she said. "This afternoon." Faramir only nodded.
They lay in silence for a while until Eowyn turned back to him. "Do you know what happened? Elboron says he will not speak of it, that they have all asked and he won't say." Faramir stayed quiet and Eowyn looked at him suspiciously. "Would you tell me if you knew?"
"Would you want me to if he had asked me to keep silent?" It was nearly dark in the room but Eowyn could well imagine the blank look she was sure was in Faramir's eyes, even if she couldn't see them. She glared at him.
"You know I would not want you to break your word to him." She smoothed the blankets again and gave an annoyed sigh. Faramir turned onto his side and pulled her close in his arms.
"It is in the past," he whispered. "He does not want to speak of it. So I do not. And neither should you."
"But they look so awful," she said in a hushed voice, remembering the stark ridged scars that covered her son's back. "It looks as if whatever happened nearly killed him."
"I think it nearly did. But it did not." Faramir held her against him. "He is alive, so leave it alone."
Only one other person aside from Faramir ever heard the story of Eomund's scars.
In the years that followed Eomund became one of the most active patrons of the House of Mercy in Pelargir and in addition to giving large sums of money and his name to the various causes it endorsed, he visited frequently, and it was there one day that Rammell introduced him to Melanya, a nobleman's daughter whose plain face disguised both a sharp wit and a loving and tender heart. Eomund soon found that her presence made his life bright and joyful and after several months he had a ring fashioned that showed the dove of her father's crest perched in a green tree, with a ship behind them on the water. Melanya smiled and placed the ring on her finger and kissed him and on their wedding night when they went to the marriage bed, he told his wife of his voyage on the Crescent Moon and she wept as she ran her fingers down the furrowed skin. It was never mentioned again between them, and when two years later she bore their first child, the small boy with his father's black hair and his mother's soft brown eyes, was named Barahir.
Note: According to The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, by Robert Foster, Mettare ("last day" – kind of a New Year's Eve) and Yestare ("first day" – rather like New Year's Day) were originally toward the end of the year, at the time of the winter solstice (rather like our Christmas or New Year), but after the Ring War, were respectively moved to the spring, at the time of Sauron's defeat (rather like our Easter).
One last time: Thanks to Catherine Maria for beta'ing – you're super! Clairon for encouragement, and everyone who reviewed.