Author's Notes: This chapter pays tribute to James Joyce's "The Dead." Kudos to anyone who knows where.
I meant to do more with Lothiriel and Erchirion. Not much more, but more than here. But they were always just supposed to represent people who felt from the very beginning didn't need to latch on to anything in order to escape the past.
Faramir mulled around his study, reluctant to go back to work now that his noontime respite was ended. The windows faced east; the day's best light had gone, and darkness was overtaking the room. He paced from one end of the long chamber to the other, avoiding the section where sat the oak table piled high with papers and parchment concerning official business. His head ached, and his eyes were burning from squinting at small script, but if he did not hurry, he would need to conduct all his remaining work by torchlight.
It was not the workload that deterred him, but the commission that he now held in his hands. He was about to sign it, delegating to Húrin the responsibility of restoring the Rath Dínen. It should have been attended to before, for there were many great men among the dead, who ought to have been interred in the Tombs until the time came for them to be borne back to their homelands. Hirluin, Forlong and Great Théoden King were only a few who awaited the honor.
By rights, it ought to be his own duty to repair the Silent Street. He had wanted the commission, had wanted the job of righting his father's wrongs; but Elessar had asked him not to take it, and perhaps that was best, for he had no wish to enter the Tombs and look upon the pyre once more.
Faramir had neglected the task before the King's arrival. He had sent a few men to collect his father's remains, and they had come back with the question of what to do with the orb of glass clutched between the blackened hands. Orb of glass? he had questioned. He could remember no such object in his father's possession. He sent a messenger galloping to Cormallen to ask Gandalf what this thing could be.
A reply came, giving not only the identity of the orb, but also the gruesome details of his father's demise. Faramir had not been shocked by it; he remembered the flames and smoke, and what he could not recall for certain he had managed to gather from the prattle of the servants he questioned. They had all been extremely reluctant to say anything, which he guessed was the doing of the Warden of the Houses. He had learned enough to make a good conjecture, but above all, he knew his father's disposition. He had known.
However, the existence of this Palantír was something he had not guessed. He had spent hours in the library, researching its history and discovering that there had been more than one, and that of those several had gone missing. Often now Faramir wondered what Denethor had seen in that cursed piece of Elvish glass. His father's cruelty and despair made sense now to Faramir. Had Denethor seen Sauron's armies marching on Minas Tirith? Boromir's death? Perhaps he had watched Faramir kneeling before Aragorn, surrendering the power that the Stewards had preserved for centuries with their blood and the blood of their sons . . . And so Faramir had immediately ordered the Tombs sealed until the King's return, and his father's bones had been left within. Untouched, dishonored and unmourned.
After his return, Elessar had taken the Palantír, which was his by right. Now Denethor's bones were about to be collected and placed in an urn of gold; but when and where they should be interred was a matter no one had tried to resolve. Faramir wondered if he might be able to live out his years without ever knowing the fate of his father's last resting place. He did not want to bother with the details, and did not wish to relieve a past that was so painful. He simply wanted to marry Éowyn and go to Ithilien.
He felt guilty. After all, his father had not always been unkind, but had been a great captain, a decisive leader, and an excellent role model. Before Denethor had married, he had fought side by side with Thorongil, winning reknown as a fighter. If Thorongil had overshadowed his ability, if he had been jealous, it had not taken away from his own merit in the people's eyes. And in Faramir's youth, before the Palantír, before Gandalf, his father had loved him as well as Boromir. Recognizing Faramir's aptitude for books, Denethor had given him the best tutors. And to prepare him for the fighting days that were inevitable, Denethor had hired the best swordsmen to be teach his sons. He had given Faramir a fine knife of steel with a handle of ebony after had returned from a hunt with his first stag. It had not been an embrace or a word of kindness, but it was something. Faramir had lived for many years with the memory of that last token of fatherly affection. Those were the days of peace. And then suddenly, almost overnight, his father had ceased to regard him with love. He hadn't understood it then, and now when he knew the cause he could not quite forgive Denethor's weakness.
What funeral could Faramir give for a madman? His people would remember only the last years of his decline, and not remember the years of undaunted courage shown against the Enemy: how Denethor had bent his will, exerted his every resource, sacrificed his sons to the struggle. If he gave the commission to Húrin, he could also ask him to organize a state funeral worthy of Denethor's rank. The Warden had served under his father for many more years than Faramir had lived. He might know best what Denethor deserved. Yet, Faramir could not escape the feeling that as a son, it was his duty; and it would be of the greatest impropriety to begin planning a wedding before the bones of his father had been prepared for his funeral.
Éomer had not announced the date of his departure yet, but Imrahil had announced his. A series of missives had arrived from Dol Amroth, asking the Prince to speed his return, for there were many matters that required his attention. The Corsairs of Umbar had burnt the harbor and the grain stores in Linhir. Many of the folk of that city had returned from hiding in the countryside only to discover their houses destroyed and their possessions lost. Imrahil had made the announcement that afternoon during an informal council in the courtyard that the royal family and all the Swan Knights would depart to their princedom within less than a fortnight. No matter that Imrahil's heir, Prince Elphir, had ridden to Linhir himself to see to the matter. The Prince was determined on leaving, and neither Aragorn nor Éomer could dissuade him.
Well, he thought, and his mind turned quickly to Lothiriel. What should I do now? He had left the King's house with the intention of finding Firefoot and taking him for a ride, but as he descended through the narrow passage that led to the gate, he found the streets of the sixth circle clogged with people, attending the peripheral feasts and celebrations of the lesser nobles of Gondor. Venturing to the edge of the walkway, where the parapet rose above the flat keel of Mindolluin, he looked down upon the winding concourse, and as far as he could see it was crowded with servants and people haggling with the merchants and bakers over the supplies for the evening meal. On each level he saw soldiers going to and from their posts wove their way through the mass. On the fourth level, children played in the streets. Carts bustled over the uneven stonework. He saw an old man near the gate of the fifth level trying to fix a broken axel on his wagon.
Minas Tirith was so vast, so chaotic. Perhaps Imrahil would be happy to escape the clutter of this leviathan of cities. Éomer too felt the call of home as his gaze wandered from the polished city stone to the ragged peaks in the distance, beyond which lay the rolling plains of his homeland. A sudden realization came upon him that he had never seen the Mark when it was not in danger. Not a single day of his life that he could remember had it not been under threat from Sauruman or Mordor. He would go home with his sister and his knights, and he would stand in the hall of his fathers as King of a mighty people, who had passed through the crucible and lived. Soon, he thought. Soon, I will return. But when his thoughts turned to the many that would not return with him and his long-dead brothers-in-arms who would not greet him in his victory, he began he weep. The tears fell from his eyes, but he did not cover them or wipe them away; for they were his tribute to the brave fallen.
Many minutes passed as Éomer stood by the wall. And when at last he had mastered himself again, he thought again how within a fortnight, Lothiriel would be gone from the city. Then nothing would keep him from his kingdom. North I will go, he told himself, and without a Queen. For I am ill-suited to quick wooing, and lack the charm of a poetic tongue. But I will go to Belfalas when all is righted in Rohan. But even as he planned, he hoped he would not have to return to Edoras alone. He hoped someone might come with him. How lonely he would be there with only memories for comfort.
He returned to the Palace no worse for wear, feeling relieved by the peace and quiet of the halls. A number of options were left to him. He might find Éowyn again and resume their talk. He would like to tell her that she could stay if she was ready to marry the Steward before he left. Or, he could pay a long overdue visit to Lord Faramir himself and see what the man was like. Or, he could call on Lothiriel.
He didn't even realize that he had chosen the latter option until he arrived at her door. A soft knock yielded the appearance of one of the Lady's maidservants.
"Is your lady within?" he asked.
"No, my lord, she is in the atrium, but she . . . "
He did not hear the rest, for he turned away before she could finish and went directly to the atrium. He had been there once before while wandering through the palace, and it did not take long for him to find it again. Cloistered in the very heart of the palace, it was a small area, perhaps no bigger than a stall or two in a stable. It had formerly been reserved for the Queens and Stewardesses. A small gilded fountain sat in the center, surrounded by black granite slabs serving as a floor that led to a step, running all around to area in a square so as to provide a place to sit.
Éomer found Lothiriel sitting on this step, facing the Eastern side of the fountain. He saw that she too had been crying. Hope sprang in his breast as he saw the tears still drying upon her face when she looked up to greet him. Could she be crying because she did not want to leave him? He remembered how she had taken his hand on the city street and gazed at him with such warmth. Perhaps she loved him too.
He sat down beside her, and took her hands in his without noticing the tiny flicker of fear in her eyes as he did so. When he spoke it was with an earnest delicacy he had never employed before in all his life. Never before had he met someone to whom he wanted to open his soul, but now with her he felt himself to be a different man, capable of fair speech beyond what the heroes of old legends could make. But when he spoke, it was only with the same clumsy words he had always employed. "Lothiriel," said he, "Your father told me that you were leaving the city soon."
The girl before him swallowed, struggling as she sought her voice. Éomer knew that she was trying not to sound as if she had been crying. "Yes," was all she could muster. "That is true."
Éomer could not be silent, though he felt the tremble in her delicate hands. He knew he should stop, but he felt too much. He must say it all before he lost his nerve.
"I have not known you long, but I feel that I have come to care for you deeply."
"Éomer . . . " she whispered, and he could not tell if it was an acknowledgment or a plea for him to stop. He blustered on anyway; there could be no stopping now.
"I would not have spoken so soon; I am a man of few words. But I see that you have been crying, and I cannot help but wonder if it might be because you are leaving . . . " But he trailed off when she pulled her hands from his and moved away. He saw that her dark eyes had gone wide with fear or excitement. Éomer, besotted as he was, could do naught but follow her, and the words he knew he should not say continued to tumble from his lips. "Will you allow me to speak of my affection?"
Lothiriel stood, placing her hand over her face. Her shoulders were shaking. Éomer felt his dreams tumble from their lofty tower as he returned to his right mind. She was not happy at all, and perhaps she was even repulsed. The change confused him. Only yesterday, they had been laughing together and joking.
"Forgive me," he stuttered. "I should not have said anything." He stood, preparing to leave.
"Please," she said, causing him to halt and look at her. He saw that her tears were renewed, and streamed freely down her face. "It is I who am sorry."
Éomer regarded her with some confusion. "For what? It is I who have overstepped my bounds and offended you."
"No, please, don't think that," she said. Her voice seemed wracked with indecision, and then her very posture bespoke confusion. Then, at last, she reached into the folds of her sleeve and withdrew a letter. She handed it to him tentatively, not daring to meet his eyes.
"What I give you concerns something I have told no other besides my maidservant."
Éomer took the note and stared down at it only to find the solution to this mystery incomprehensible. The words were in a different language. "It is in Adûnaic," he said. "I cannot read it."
Lothiriel took it back. "It is a love letter," she told him, and Éomer felt his mind flash with understanding, and he began to feel annoyed that she would show such a thing to him.
"His name was Tirion. He was a childhood friend. We climbed trees together until I was too old to climb trees. Then we played chess and went hunting and talked long hours. But he is dead now, gone these three days. He could not get word to me, and he died alone." Her voice shaking, and Éomer was stunned by the sorrow in her eyes. To think that he could have been foolish enough to mistake it for sadness in leaving him!
She continued, as if determined to expiating her guilt by confessing to him. "I met him when we were young, but he was just a servant. I grew older, and I knew there could be nothing between us. Father would never have approved, or so I told myself. I broke it off before I was sixteen, and recovered swiftly. It was only a childish infatuation, after all. He wrote me letters all the time. More often than not I sent them away, but he always wrote. I accepted a few, and I think this gave him hope. He joined my father's guard a year later so that he might be near me. And when the war came, he was sent away to fight."
She motioned toward the letter in her hands. "He was wounded badly at the Pelennor, but he survived long enough to write this. His friend has been trying to give it to me for weeks."
Her tears flowed anew, dripping onto the page. Gasping at the damage they did to the ink, she began to dap at the page with her white sleeve, leaving black smudges on the cloth. Éomer longed to know what those words said. What sincerity of expression could move a woman to this?
She dabbed at her face with the same sleeve, leaving ink stains on her skin. Impulsively, Éomer drew nearer in order to brush them away, but she would not allow it.
"It is not your fault," he said, not knowing what else he could say.
"Oh no, it is not," she replied. "But Éomer, I cannot marry you. Not now, at least."
He accepted her statement with dignity. She had divulged a great secret out of respect for him, and that was all that he could ask. He could not compete with a dead man.
Éomer bowed formally and left her.
"Leave within the week?" exclaimed Éowyn as her brother spoke to her in her chambers that evening. "Why?"
"We have responsibilities in Rohan. We must go. Imrahil too is leaving."
"But even he is not leaving so quickly. They will think we are running away from some quarrel." Only Éowyn was not thinking of a quarrel. She was thinking of Faramir's promise to take her to Emyn Arnen and of the gentle touch of his lips and of the way his eyes brightened whenever he saw her.
"Ridiculous! They will think no such thing. Besides, I have already informed Aragorn, and we are to part as brothers. It is all arranged."
Éowyn covered her face to hide her frustration. She did not look up until she felt her brother's hand on her shoulder. Then she found the grave nobility of his countenance staring down upon her. He was so calm, so confident. She didn't have the heart to pull away.
"It is a time of mourning, Éowyn," was all he said.
What? She looked to him for some clarification, and he did not disappoint.
"It is not the time to plan weddings and write love songs," he explained. "Do you know, that Lord Faramir's father has not even been buried yet?"
Éowyn's eyes widened. Apparently she had not thought of that before.
"There are still men dying in the infirmary of wounds too deep to heal. The gates of the city have not been repaired. Who knows what it is like in our own realm. Perhaps orcs are still raiding its borders. And Théoden King lies here in the Great Hall, where scant numbers of his people may come to do him honor. We must go back."
She shook her head. "What about Lothiriel?"
Éomer's face darkened. "She mourns for someone also."
Éowyn looked upon his face with tears glistening in her eyes, thinking only of the loneliness awaiting her in Edoras. "Please, do not make me leave him."
She hoped he felt terrible watching the despair creep back her heart. She was sure he would, but even so, she knew he would not be swayed.
"You will see him again," Éomer chastised her. "But you cannot always be running from your homeland in pursuit of some man."
Her hand went up to strike him, but she stopped herself before the blow landed. Her brother was King; she could not fight with him as if they were still children. She owed him respect. Furthermore, what he said was true more or less. She had left home because of a man.
Only she had not gone to battle to pursue Aragorn. She had gone to escape Rohan; and she was still running. Why not? There was nothing in Rohan for her any longer.
"Éowyn, I apologize . . . " he stammered.
Unwilling to listen, Éowyn swept out of the room and down the hallway before the words were fully out of his mouth.
Éowyn was so stung by her brother's censure that she did not seek out Faramir to comfort her. Seeing him would only have confirmed Éomer's words, and doing so was out of the question. She was furious with Éomer, although she knew he did not mean to be cruel. Something had happened between him and Lady Lothiriel, and now he was taking it out on her. Or perhaps he really did think that she was only chasing after Faramir in order to escape the shadows of her past.
Perhaps it was so. She had not had a single nightmare since she and Faramir had confessed their love on the walls. But that was not the only reason she stayed. Was it?
Éowyn roamed through the open corridors for hours until night set in and her feet grew tired. She paid a visit to the hobbits, and they were so cheerful that they did not notice her ill-humor. She went to Faramir's study and knocked on his door, but found him not within. Then, too tired to search for him, she retired to her own chambers, avoiding the path that would have led her by the Great Hall. When she was at last in her own room, Éomer was long gone.
It was not late, but she wished to go to bed. The servants loosened the ties of her dress, and helped her remove the many layers she wore. But the longer they worked, the harder it was for her not to cry. Her helpers said nothing, but threw the nightgown over her head and set it in place. She dismissed them quickly.
When they were gone, she lay upon the covers of her bed and buried her head in the pillow. She had spent many nights in Meduseld in the same way, with her head buried in her pillow as she dreaded the days to come: full of waiting on her uncle until he disappeared beneath that wretched, wizened thing.
Why should she feel this way? Had she not been healed?
She had not even bidden farewell to her Uncle, and he had been lying in state for so long. A tear of remorse slid from her eye and over her nose, but she closed her eyes, trying to blot out the dismal thought of returning home. It was true that Wormtongue was gone, but so was Théodred, so was her Uncle. It was so easy to push such thoughts aside while she was here. She could not picture her kinsmen walking in the foreign halls of the City. Neither could she recall the times when she had cowered in corners like a wounded dog lest her Uncle's servant find her…
Some time later she heard a knock on her door. When she failed to answer, she heard Faramir's voice calling her. "Éowyn?"
She got up, wiping at her eyes, and went to the door. When she opened it she saw a smiling Faramir, whose smile dissipated when he saw her distress.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Come in," she gestured.
He stepped inside the room without a second thought and shut the door behind him. Quickly, he kissed her forehead before enfolding her in his arms. She sank against him, pressing her face into his shoulder. He smelled of herbs and…rabbit?
She drew away in confusion. He laughed at the funny face she made. "I dined with the hobbits, and they splattered some stew on my coat."
"I visited them earlier," she said. "They were eating then, too."
"Yes, Pippin said they invited you to supper, but you declined."
"I was not hungry."
Faramir studied her. "Something is the matter, but what it is I am afraid I cannot guess."
As Faramir guided her to a set of chairs before the fire, Éowyn explained her quarrel with Éomer, brushing over the last bit that had caused her to depart so suddenly.
"I do not wish to go home," she admitted. "I do not wish to leave you."
Faramir kissed her hand. "I do not wish you to leave."
"Will you come with me to Rohan?"
His reaction was not what she expected. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but certainly not the reaction she received. Perhaps a playful, "Wherever you go," or at the very least a "We will see." Instead, he sucked in his breath and exhaled slowly as if he were trying to think find a way to break bad news.
"I have many duties here," he said with regret. "Eventually they will subside to some degree, but I cannot put them away now."
"Give them to Húrin," she suggested, persisting against her own better judgment.
Faramir pulled his hand from hers in a way that suggested he might be wroth. This motion alone, this withdrawal from her person, was worse than any refusal. It almost angered her that he could be so callous when she was feeling this way. Éowyn was surprised to find that she could not see what he was thinking.
"I cannot delegate every responsibility to the Warden," he said.
Éowyn lowered her head. "Éomer should not delegate his responsibilities to me," she muttered, though she felt selfish to say so.
"Your brother is the only officer of his kingdom," said Faramir with great diplomacy, "Elessar has many and there is still much work to be done. If Éomer King says you are needed, I would believe it."
Éowyn got up and moved to the other side of the room.
Faramir followed her. "You told me that there were things about your homeland that you missed. Surely you could be content there for a while without me at your side." Then he seemed to think better of it. "Not too content, though. I do want you to return."
Éowyn did not see the humor of the situation. She shrugged his hands off her shoulders. "Just go," she said, not even trying to conceal her disappointment.
"Your arm is cold," he said, ignoring her dismissal. "It was not like this yesterday."
Éowyn sighed. "I went to the Pelennor this morning, as you know. Perhaps it was too much, and I just require rest. Leave me, please?"
"Lady," he told her firmly, refusing to take offense, "You are not fully healed. Whatever shadows you fear today, you did not fear them before. I hope you will remember that while you rest."
"Come to Rohan, Faramir." she tried, one more time. "I cannot heal without you."
But he shook his head. "I regret that I cannot."
"Will not!" she scoffed, only now revealing how incensed she was. "You talk of being healed? You cannot come to Rohan because of you must put your father's affairs in order; but this you could have done weeks ago. And you won't do it now because you are no more healed than I; and you would stay here forever not doing your duty and never come to Rohan."
Something in his eyes flashed, something bright and dangerous, that made Éowyn afraid. She had angered him, and he had hidden it. Swallowed his own retort like he thought it wasn't worth the effort...like she wasn't worth the effort.
How can I have said such a thing? Her mouth quivered. Say something...say something...Fix it!
Faramir turned to leave, but she caught his arm. "Faramir…" she stammered, not knowing what she could say.
He said nothing at all, but continued to stand. Éowyn was certain he was angry. Certain that what she had said was unforgivable. Oh, what had made her say it!
Then he did a most surprising thing. Faramir bent low and kissed her hairline, and she did not sense his anger. "Bury the past," he told her, without rising to her abuse. "And fully heal."
She watched him depart from her chambers, fearing that what had passed between them was a good bye. Her whole body went cold, and she felt her legs weaken. Eventually, she collapsed upon her bed with her face buried in her pillow to stop the tears that were threatening to come.
But she did not allow them to fall. Instead she focused on Faramir's words, and her knowledge of his character. He had left her to heal herself, not to escape her company. He loved her. She knew it from the happiness she saw in his eyes whenever they fell upon her or when he touched her. When he had described their future home together.
And he was willing to remain here in the city without her in order to confront his own troubles. So she must return without him to aid her people; and there would be no more running from duty. No more fear.
And he was right. Before today, she had not been so concerned about returning home. Before today her arm had not been cold... It was the Pelennor that was doing this to her.
As she drifted off to sleep, she felt how pleasant it was just to be able to love Faramir. Like the feeling itself could carry her to the height of bliss, knowing it was real and returned and that it would not go away when she returned to Meduseld.
In the morning she awoke feeling fresh and light, and for the first five minutes of her day she was in a good mood. Then the full horror of her words the night before came back to her.
They had never fought before. What was she supposed to do? Perhaps he had meant to say good bye last night; or perhaps he was angry with her.
All she knew was that the whole situation was embarrassing, and she wanted to put off seeing him for as long as possible...and yet, she longed to find him to apologize. However, she took breakfast in her chambers and did not leave until well past noon, even though she had found that the strength in her arm had returned after a good night's sleep and that the buzzing in her head had ceased. She could have wandered anywhere, but she was unwilling to go anywhere that he might be.
At two o'clock, she was forced outside when the servants came to find her. She found their bustling about and cleaning irritating, and she did not wish to get in the way. But rather than send them away, she exited the room and opted for a stroll in the Queen's atrium.
On the way she passed her brother's chambers, where she found a number of servants packing into chests the gifts Aragorn had heaped upon Éomer. Her breath caught as she realized that meant their departure was even sooner than she had realized. Perhaps the very next morning.
For a few minutes she watched them in silence until a familiar voice caught her attention.
She was almost afraid to meet his gaze, but she met it despite herself. There was no malice in his face; no hint of anger or remembrance of any argument that had passed between them last night. It was tempting just to play along, and yet she knew she must deliver the apology.
He pre-empted her. "Are you feeling well? I heard you did not leave your rooms this morning."
"Were you spying on me?" she asked, playfully. But he seemed hurt by her insinuation, and she stopped laughing.
"No," he said. He stepped backwards a few inches so he was even more enshrouded by the shadows of the hall.
"Can you forgive me for the things I said last night?" she blurted out.
Faramir sighed, and came towards her. "What did you say that was not true? I should have taken care of it before; it would not be so very difficult for me to order his funeral. And he deserves a good funeral, for he was a good man. He tried so hard..."
She put her hand on his cheek, caressing it with her thumb. He was comforted by the touch. And she said to Faramir: 'Now I must go back to my own land and look on it once again, and help my brother in his labour."
He seemed disturbed, and shot a glance to the servants packing inside her brother's rooms. Suddenly she realized that he too had been afraid of what their argument had meant. So she moved to reassure him. She stood high on her toes and pressed a kiss against his lips.
"But when one whom I long loved as a father is laid at last to rest, I will return."