A/N: Okay, so here it is, at last—the final chapter! While I read over this, I was too impatient to wait for my beta to read it—sorry, mimishell, I couldn't wait! My wonderful beta is working on her Master's thesis, so as you can imagine, she doesn't have a tremendous amount of time to read. So, I decided to just risk it and update without having her read through it first.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1.
Recap: While Faramir recovers from his injuries in Minas Tirith, Ellemir sets out to return to Rohan, worried for Darufin, who remains a captive of his brother Roane. Having recruited Éomer and his men to help her locate Darufin, the Rohirrim and Ella encounter the followers of Heruth the Betrayer, Roane and Darufin's father, a man who had left Rohan in shame only to gather others to him who shared his hatred for Rohan. Though Heruth had died many years ago, his followers, led by Roane, have not forgotten their hatred of Rohan. During the ensuing skirmishes between Roane's forces and the Rohirrim, Ellemir strays from Éomer's side to locate Darufin. While Éomer comes to the realization that Ellemir is too important to him to let go of, Ellemir, meanwhile, discovers Roane. Upon finding him in a cavern, she starts to release him, only to be grabbed from behind and held at knifepoint by Roane. Darufin steps in just in time to prevent Roane from killing Ellemir, but in the ensuing struggle for the dagger, Roane is slain, resulting in something of a Pyrrhic victory, where the cost of victory is comes with a high price.
Chapter 17—Fates Fulfilled
"Faramir, please—listen to reason," Éowyn said, the pleading tone in her voice evident. "You need more time to recover before such a journey."
Aragorn looked up from the various maps, treaties, and varied documents that lay on the table before him to see Faramir striding carefully but resolutely toward him, Éowyn at his heels.
"Something troubles you, Faramir?" he asked, pushing aside his maps at the sight of the solemn look on the younger man's face.
"If it would not offend, I would ask that you excuse me from my duties as steward for a time," Faramir asked softly.
"For certain, you may have all the time that you wish, Faramir. But for what purpose would you leave us when the pain of your injuries still assails you?" Aragorn asked kindly, his clear blue-green eyes staring back at the steward expectantly.
"Rohan comes face to face with her enemies, and though I do not doubt Éomer's ability to lead his people victoriously against Rohan's foes, I nevertheless fear that I need to be at my sister's side. I grow uneasy."
"Is Éomer in need of aid?" Aragorn asked, rising from his chair with growing concern.
"My heart tells me that Rohan's fate is in good hands. But I…" Faramir paused, clearly not certain how to put his fear into words. "My lord, Ellemir is all that is left of my kin. While I know well enough that Éomer cares deeply for her and will keep her safe, I…I need to see with my own eyes that she is well."
"Aragorn, Faramir has only just begun to recover from his injuries," Éowyn broke in, hoping to appeal to Aragorn before Faramir made too strong a case in his favor. "Can you not reason with him, convince him to wait but a bit longer? He's being willful, and it will only succeed in causing him undue pain," she finished, turning to cast a scowl at Faramir before looking back at Aragorn resolutely.
"Éowyn, you should know well enough the senselessness of fighting what is in a man's nature to do—well you know that nothing comes of it but disappointment. To do otherwise is akin to trying to hold back the wind. If Faramir needs go to his sister, then nothing you or I would say can stop him."
"Aragorn," she began, unwilling to back down so easily, and Aragorn was hard-pressed not to smile. It is the way of the people of Rohan to be headstrong, always ready for a fight or an argument. She is much like her brother. He held up a hand to forestall further protest before settling back into his chair.
"While I will not refuse Faramir's request to leave, you may have as many of my people as you wish to accompany you both to Rohan. I would go myself, but Gondor needs a ruler, and it would be ill-advised for her to be without both king and steward. Go, Faramir, go with my blessing, and may your journey be a safe one."
"You have my gratitude, Your Majesty," Faramir said with a tired smile, glancing quickly at Éowyn before he slowly made his way back to the door. When he reached the doorway, he paused, looking back over his shoulder with a twinkle of mischief in his eye.
"Éowyn, are you coming?"
She fisted her hands on her hips as she scoffed at him, mock outrage warring with the smile that she was trying unsuccessfully to keep off her face. Unable to deny him, she sighed, allowing the smile to overcome her resolve to be annoyed and nodded.
"Yes, Faramir, I'm coming," she said with a sigh.
She followed him to the stables, Faramir unwilling to delay their departure for Rohan. They stood back to back as they saddled their horses, and Éowyn found herself trying yet again to come up with an argument that could sway him. Well aware of Éowyn behind him, Faramir carefully lifted the saddle onto the back of his mare, mindful of the wounds that had not yet fully healed despite Aragorn's ministrations.
"Are you certain you don't wish to wait a few more days so that you may regain more of your strength?" Éowyn asked, a hopeful expression on her face as she tried one last time to convince him to put off their departure from Minas Tirith for a little longer.
"No, the time is right—we must leave now."
"But you said yourself that you sensed no danger."
"Nevertheless, we mustn't delay." He paused, staring down at her with a soft smile. "You may stay here if you wish—I won't force you to come if you don't wish to," he said, a tinge of regret coloring his voice.
"No. I find myself reluctant to leave your side," she told him softly, leaning into him gently, smoothing her hand down the front of his tunic. He smiled, resting his chin on the top of her hair, his fingers lifting to smooth down the unruly strands of the golden tresses that had escaped the braid she'd hastily woven earlier.
"As much as I wish to tarry here with you now, we need to go," he said apologetically.
"Very well," Éowyn said with a sigh, watching without a word as Faramir pulled himself painfully into the saddle. Shaking her head, she mounted up, prepared to follow him regardless of how foolish she thought his decision. It must be love, she thought with a simple smile.
When Éomer had decided to return to the central cavern to see to the last remnants of the resistance, Ellemir had opted to remain behind with Darufin. Éomer had been reluctant to leave her, Ellemir knew, but after a quiet, heated argument, he'd finally agreed, so long as Aeofrith and a small unit of trusted men remained at her side. Knowing that she wasn't likely to fare better than that without considerable time and effort, Ellemir had accepted the compromise, unwilling to waste time arguing with the stubborn man of Rohan any longer. Of course, I could have convinced him eventually…but by then, the point would likely be moot, as the battle would be all but over by then. Thus, Ellemir found herself accompanied by Aeofrith, Anndras, Gedrin, Tyros, and Kyril, and several others whose names she couldn't quite recall.
No one spoke as they watched Darufin wordlessly heft his brother over his shoulder, resolutely refusing any help as he carried his burden away. With a sorrowful look at the men, she slowly left their side and solemnly followed Darufin. Without a word, they fell in behind her, and whether he knew they followed or not, Darufin nevertheless led the way deeper into the caves, navigating his way easily through the darkness.
As the shadows around them grew ever deeper, Ellemir felt herself beginning to tremble despite knowing that she wasn't alone. The caves were eerie, she thought, careful not to lose sight of Darufin ahead of her. She couldn't seem to rid herself of the feeling that something terrible and strange lurked in the darkness surrounding them. It is as though these walls contain the remnants of hatred and bitterness that were so long a part of those who dwelled here. She sped up, not wishing to fall behind and find herself in the dark. Though she'd fought her fear of the dark during her capture and escape, she was none too eager to face it again, and so, she hurried to keep up with Darufin. Honestly, you're being completely foolish, she told herself mockingly. There are six armed men behind you. But even that reassurance failed to comfort her, and she kept a steady eye on the man in front of her, quietly listening to make certain the others were still behind her.
It seemed like hours passed before they finally reached a dark cavern that was set in a deep recess that Ellemir knew she would never have found on her own. Darufin slowly knelt, laying his brother gently down on the ground before turning to light a torch hanging on the wall. As the light began to illuminate the room, Ellemir could see that the only furnishings in the room were a stone bier, already covered by a white cloth, and a stone table on which rested a large basin and an urn. Without looking at anyone, Darufin once more lifted Roane into his arms, inhaling deeply, as though he braced himself to once again bear his brother's weight, before he carried the still form over to the bier and placed him there atop the white cloth.
She didn't speak as she watched Darufin lay a hand on his brother's face, grief darkening his eyes before he slowly reached out and poured water from the urn into the basin. Ellemir stepped forward to offer her aid, but Darufin looked up, shaking his head before she came too close. Respecting his right to see to his brother on his own, she subsided, stepping back slightly to give him space. His soft murmurs were all she could hear as he spoke ritual words over Roane, his face masked by the shadows while he stripped the armor from Roane and cleaned away the blood. As she watched him care for his brother, she could only imagine the pain he was in. Though my own brother died, I did not have to see to his burial. Someone else wiped the blood from his body, someone else placed his sword in his lifeless hands, and someone else cast him out to sea by way of the river. Someone else spared Faramir and I from the pain of laying our brother to rest. Would that I could do the same for Darufin. But she knew that the other man would never let another see to what he perceived as his duty. And so she said nothing, though it pained her all the more.
As Darufin finished shrouding the body, pausing one last time to look upon his brother's face, he bowed his head, as though his strength was at last fading.
"My lady?" he asked softly.
"Yes?" she murmured.
"Though we are no longer considered Children of Rohan, it would have meant much to Roane to lie at rest with our ancestors in Rohan's hills. Know you if Éomer King would grant me permission to bury my brother in our homeland? "
"If he does not agree, I will convince him otherwise. He has a kind heart, though he hides it under a gruff exterior. I do not think he will deny you your request."
Darufin nodded, staring at her solemnly before anguish gripped him and he slowly sank to the floor, sobs wracking his sturdy frame. Ellemir hurried forward, suddenly feeling fiercely protective as she wrapped her arms around him and held him to her, allowing him to grieve. It was at once both strange and familiar as she recalled comforting Boromir after the loss of one of his closest friends. At times, I think it is not women but men who feel so deeply. Too many times, it seems, I have found myself trying to shore up a man staggering under the weight of grief and despair. Aeofrith stepped forward then, kneeling at their side and laying a hand on Darufin's shoulder as he looked at Ellemir helplessly.
Ellemir stared sadly back at Aeofrith as Darufin poured out his sorrow, knowing that sometimes, there was really nothing anyone could say or do to make some hurts go away.
Éomer stared down the last band of rebels, his sword held tightly in his fist. Hours after the initial incursion into the caves, all that had been stolen from Edoras had been recovered and this last pocket of resistance rounded up. But Éomer didn't doubt that these last few opponents, though mightily outnumbered, were stubborn enough to fight despite the odds stacked against them. How easily Heruth turned others to his cause, swiftly gaining the allegiance of others who had cause of their own to resent Rohan. They should have chosen more wisely, for their allegiance will prove to be their downfall.
"Do you think they'll surrender, my lord?" Garulf asked softly, standing firmly at Éomer's shoulder as they gazed back at the unwavering force before them.
"Not without a fight," Éomer replied with certainty. "Many will die this day, I think. But if that is what they wish, then so be it. I will not refuse them."
"Decide—will you fight or will you kneel before your rightful king?" Garulf shouted, projecting his voice across the vast expanse of the cave they found themselves in.
"We do not kneel before the House of Éorl!" one of the Heruth's followers yelled out.
"YOU WILL SUBMIT!"
The pronouncement echoed through the cave, and everyone's eyes lifted in search of the man who had spoken. From a small passageway hidden by a crevice in the rock, Darufin emerged with Ellemir and the Rohirrim that had accompanied her at his heels. Darufin stepped forward, his eyes aloof and his face hard as he came to stand before Éomer, facing his people with a cold expression.
"Roane is dead. I am all that is left of the line of Heruth, and I say you will submit," he yelled, not reacting as Ellemir stepped around him to stand at Éomer's side, his focus unwavering from his people.
"Neither your father nor your brother would ever have asked this of us," one man said, stepping forward to speak for the others.
"And how did fate reward them for their pride?"
The question went unanswered, for all knew well enough what had become of Darufin's kin.
"Let us be clear on this. I do not ask this of you—I demand it, and youwill obey. You will swear fealty to Éomer King, or I will kill you myself," Darufin said, and there was no mistaking his tone. Slowly, the men began to fall to their knees, laying their swords at their feet as they knelt before Éomer. Darufin's stare remained fixed upon them, until every last man had submitted, and only then did he turn, dropping to his knees and lifting his gaze up to Éomer. Only then did Éomer catch a glimpse of the anguish in the other man's eyes.
"Forgive me, my lord," Darufin whispered, his gaze distant as he seemed to stare straight through Éomer, his eyes on some sight unseen.
"For what would you ask my forgiveness?" Éomer asked, genuinely confused.
"The troubles of this day may well have been avoided had I come to you with the truth, Éomer King. My actions put Rohan in great peril. And Lady Ellemir could well have been slain. I have betrayed you, my king."
"This day would have come no matter your decisions, Darufin. Heruth made certain of that. Think you that your people, poisoned by his hatred, would have remained unseen forever?"
"I should have told you what I knew!" Darufin said vehemently. "Perhaps then, this wouldn't have happened. Perhaps my brother would yet live."
"You believe yourself to blame for all that has transpired this day?"
"Yes, my lord."
"You take too much upon yourself," Éomer told him compassionately. "You are but one man. There is much blame to be had, but it is not yours alone to bear. Do not make it so."
"Your words hold truth, but in my heart, I know it to be otherwise. I deceived you, my lord, and that is unforgivable."
"Perhaps. But you have served me without question and sacrificed what you held most dear to you in order to protect what I hold most dear to me. There is nothing to forgive, Rider of Rohan. Darufin bowed his head, as though suddenly relieved of a great burden, his shoulders losing their rigid form as weariness swept over him. "Go now and rest, Darufin. Grieve for your loss and see to your needs, and when you are ready, your place among my eored will be waiting."
Darufin staggered slowly to his feet, nodding without meeting Éomer's eyes, and watching Darufin leave with his shoulders bowed with weariness, Éomer knew that the scout's sorrow and guilt were far from lifted. As he began to oversee oaths of fealty from those who still knelt before him, Éomer considered all that had just transpired.
Once, he knew, he would have thought nothing of releasing his wrath on those who opposed him, but with Ellemir now at his side, her gentle hand on his arm, it seemed…easier somehow, easier to control his temper, to let the hot anger that he struggled to keep at bay bleed away and let reason hold sway. Gods, he was right, Éomer thought suddenly, his mouth curving up into a smile as he thought about a lecture he'd received from his uncle so many years before…
Éomer shook his head ruefully as he watched the newly married Cathair give in to his bride's demand for a dance.
"Why do you smirk, nephew?"
Éomer looked up to see Théoden gazing at him with a quizzical expression.
"We all know well enough that Cathair has no skill in the art of dancing, but he is so weakened by his woman that he will humiliate himself to please her."
"Tis no weakness for a man to wish to please his wife, Éomer."
"And how often did my aunt ride roughshod over you and you let her because of that sentiment?" Éomer asked with a grin.
"More often than I care to admit, but I was a better man for her interference."
"You mean a 'foolish' man," Éomer joked, elbowing his uncle in the side with a laugh.
"You jest now, nephew, but your day will come," Théoden said with a smile.
"I'll not be brought to heel by a woman."
"It is not something a man resents, Éomer. A good woman has a way of changing her husband for the better, in the way that a horse-master changes the unbroken stallion."
"You mean she tames him."
"No. She gentles him."
Éomer stilled as his uncle's words settled over him. He looked back at Cathair, his eyes skeptical as he stared at the laughing young man who was currently attempting to dance with his wife, not appearing at all bothered by how ridiculous he looked.
"When you find the right one, nephew, you will understand. Until then, do not trouble yourself."
"Éomer, are you unwell?"
Ellemir's concerned voice broke into Éomer's reverie, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts, blinking down at her, their surroundings forgotten.
"Merely lost in thought," he told her gruffly, mildly embarrassed at being caught off-guard.
"Only good thoughts I hope," she told him with a smile, her fingers toying with his hair gently as she leaned against him.
"He didn't reply at first, gazing down at her with an enigmatic expression on his face.
"What is it?" she asked, confused by the look of sudden wonder on his face as he stared down at her with an unblinking gaze.
"You've gentled me," he marveled, his voice unusually soft as he lifted his hand to cup her cheek.
"What is this that you speak of?" she asked with a confused smile, no more certain of what he was thinking about than before.
"Nothing," he said softly, pulling her forward abruptly, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair. "Nothing. Garulf," he said, suddenly addressing the other man who stood surreptitiously behind them.
"My lord?" Garulf asked, stepping forward.
"See to matters here. Make certain that all who lay down their arms are allowed to return to their homes," Éomer said, not taking his gaze off Ellemir. At his words, a strange look came into Ellemir's eyes, and Éomer frowned at the bittersweet expression that suddenly crossed her features. "Come, let us leave Garulf here to see to our withdrawal, and you can tell me what is troubling you." Leading her back toward the entrance to the caves, he felt her arm curl around his, her fingers gently squeezing his arm.
"My brother would have approved of you," she said softly. "You possess a quality that he thought very highly of."
"You speak of Boromir."
"Yes. I've never spoken of it before, but he told me something once that I had almost forgotten until this moment…"
"Daydreaming again, little sister?"
Startled, Ellemir looked up, smiling sheepishly at her oldest brother who stood smirking in the doorway.
"How did you know?"
"You have that look about you, the one where you have that foolish smile on your face," he teased. "Are you dreaming of your man of Rohan again?"
"Boromir, don't tease," she admonished. He laughed at her, but there was no malice in the laughter, and Ellemir found herself smiling back at him.
"You know, we've never even met the man and Father despises him already for taking so much of your attention away from other suitors vying for your hand in marriage."
"It's just…I wonder what he's like, is all. Will he be everything I've imagined? I only see hints of him…"
"Ella, whether your man is real or not, I can tell you that there is but one thing you need truly seek in a man."
"And what might that be, brother?" Well aware of her brother's sometime off-color sense of humor, Ellemir cringed, waiting for his response.
"Compassion. If a man shows compassion to others, then he shows himself capable of love and mercy," Boromir said softly. Not expecting such a serious response, Ellemir stared at him with wide eyes. "Remember that, Ella—those are words of wisdom from your older and wiser brother," he said with a sudden grin.
"And are you compassionate, brother of mine?" she asked playfully.
"Of course. I just keep it well hidden."
"You have a kind heart, Boromir," she told him tenderly. "A woman would be lucky to have you, and I can only hope that my own husband is as you are," she told him, all jesting aside as he spoke to him honestly.
"You flatter me,
sister," he said with a laugh.
"'Tis not flattery if it's the truth and it's spoken with a sincere heart."
With another laugh, he swept her up in a hug that lifted her off her feet.
"You grow much too serious for me, Ella. You've spent enough time daydreaming today, I think. Come, let us find Faramir and see what we can do to coax him from his gloominess."
"It pains me to see him so unhappy, Boromir. It seems as though he remains sullen despite our efforts to cheer him."
"Yes, well, he was in high spirits this morning, but Father requested his presence at breakfast. You can imagine, I'm certain, how well that went."
As she allowed him to pull her to her feet, he leaned close and murmured softly in her ear.
"Remember what I have said this day, little sister. Remember when you meet your man of Rohan,"
And so I have, brother. I remember now, she thought., blinking suddenly up at Éomer with a bittersweet smile.
"Watching you today, Éomer, I suddenly remembered that day, and his words came back to me."
"Ellemir," Éomer said regretfully, "I do not want you to have a false impression of me. I have--"
"A beast of a temper, I know," she said, cutting him off before he could finish. But your temper is not the sum of your whole, Éomer, and after seeing the mercy you have shown Heruth's people, I have no doubts about your compassion."
"I am not always a compassionate man, Ellemir."
"Neither was my brother. But that's not the point. The point is you're capable of it. Despite what you may think of yourself, you have shown your capacity for compassion and mercy…and love, I think," she finished softly.
"Do you doubt my love for you?" he asked, staring down at her intensely.
"No…but…well, you've never said for certain…"
"I am not a man of sentimental words, but though you may doubt many things about me, Ellemir, never doubt that," Éomer said, pulling her to a stop and kissing her fervently. Ellemir responded, wrapping her arms around his neck, savoring the touch of his lips on hers, his arms holding her tightly to him. When he finally ended the kiss, she settled against him, content to rest her head against his chest and listen to his heart beat within.
"Éomer?" she said after a long, peaceful silence, her own heart filled with a sense of warmth as she took pleasure from the feel of his arms wrapped around her.
"Might we go home now?"
"You wish to leave for Minas Tirith now?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow as he questioned her.
"I speak of Edoras, Éomer. We need to return there soon."
"Ah, why is that?"
"My brother and Éowyn will have arrived by the time we reach Meduseld."
"You 'saw' this?"
"Is something wrong?" he asked, concerned by the news of his sister and Faramir returning so soon to Rohan.
"No, I don't think so."
"Then why do they come?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," she said absentmindedly. She dropped his arm, suddenly veering away, traipsing further into the grass.
"What are you doing?" Éomer asked, perplexed by her abrupt change in direction.
"These flowers are pretty," she said, kneeling down to stare at the small budding flowers scattered throughout the tallgrass. "I want to pick a few of them."
"Ellemir, those aren't flowers, they're weeds," he told her, his nose wrinkling with aversion.
"Well, I like them," she said stubbornly. Shaking his head, he waited semi-patiently for her to satisfy her weed-picking whim, amused at least by the look of pleasure on her face. Finally, just when Éomer thought he could wait no longer, she hurried back to him, aiming a winning smile at him.
"Don't know what you would want with a bundle of weeds," he grumbled, allowing her to resume her hold on his arm.
"They're pretty," she insisted as they resumed their walk back to the camp. "So…when can we leave?"
"For Edoras—when can we leave?"
"Will dawn be soon enough for you?"
"Yes, I think so."
They fell into a companionable silence, and Éomer thought he'd rarely been as happy as he was at that moment. Surrounded by nothing but a sea of grass and a sky that was just beginning to alight with stars, he was content. And judging from the peaceful expression on her face, Ellemir was, too.
They reached Edoras shortly before the moon rose above the horizon, and as Éomer lifted Ellemir from the saddle, he felt a deep weariness settle in his bones as he looked tiredly up at the sky.
"The deep of night will be upon us soon," he said with a sigh.
"As will Faramir and Éowyn," Ellemir told him with a tired smile.
"Do you know how long we have before their arrival?"
"It is not often that I can be certain about the timing of matters such as these, but I imagine it will not be before dawn."
"We'll have time to rest, then, before they ride in."
"My lord? My lady?"
Darufin's voice interrupted their quiet conversation, and as one, they turned to see the scout dropping to his knees before them, bowed by pain, grief, and exhaustion.
"Darufin, what is it?" Ellemir asked, hurrying forward to kneel at his side worriedly.
"I will bury my brother in the hills before the sun rises. My task done, I would ask for your leave then to depart," Darufin said quietly, his eyes fixed upon the ground, his jaw clenched tightly as he strove to retain his stoicism.
"Depart? What mean you?" Ellemir asked with a growing sense of dismay.
"My lady, I would have served you and Éomer King for all the days left in me. But…my brother's death has left a fissure in my spirit, one that I fear will always remain with me."
"But you're home now," Ellemir said hurriedly, knowing even as she said it that she had little hope of convincing him to stay. She had grown fond of him during her stay with the Rohirrim, considering him to be one of the few friends she had in either Rohan or Gondor, and it saddened her to think of him leaving.
"I only returned to Rohan to bury Roane in our homeland," he told her, sighing wearily as he glanced down before turning the full force of his gaze upon her. "It pains me to stay, my lady. I cannot remain here."
"Oh, Darufin," she said with a mournful sigh, her own heart aching at the pain she heard in his voice.
"My king," he began, turning to face Éomer once more. "Will you release me from your service?" Darufin asked quietly.
"You have served me well. Go with my consent, Darufin, and may you find the peace that you seek."
With a slight nod, Darufin climbed slowly to his feet and turned away, quickly disappearing into the shadows that had for so long been his sanctuary, and Ellemir knew, deep down, that many years would pass before they saw him again. But the day will come that he will return to us. Until that day, I can only hope he will find a measure of peace. By morning, he was gone, his departure from Edoras as silent as his arrival so many years before.
When Faramir and Éowyn arrived shortly after dawn, Éomer could only marvel at how accurate Ellemir's second-sight had once again proven to be. Éomer turned away after greeting his sister and Faramir, preparing to leave in search of mead rather than socialize when Faramir put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Éomer, may I have a word with you?" Faramir asked, his soft-spoken request going unheard by the two women who were discussing the affairs of Rohan and Gondor respectively. Éomer nodded, gesturing for Faramir to precede him into the dark hall of Meduseld.
"The stables are never a good place to converse," he told Faramir with a smirk. "By nightfall, all of Edoras would know the matter of which we speak."
"I thank you for your discretion, then. I would speak privately to you about a matter very important to me, one that I hope you will be amenable to," Faramir told him solemnly.
"I'm listening," Éomer said slowly, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"As Éowyn's closest…well, only, kin, it is to you that I present my request for your sister's hand in marriage."
Éomer couldn't really say he was surprised by the request, only that Faramir had broached the subject of marriage first. He frowned, not especially fond of being caught off guard.
"I…," Faramir continued, "I care for her deeply, and I would do all that is within my power to bring her happiness," he told Éomer, who had yet to say anything.
"Faramir," Éomer began, "I do not doubt your ability to make her happy, so I will say this in answer to your proposal…" He paused, enjoying watching Faramir's restlessness as he waited for Éomer to respond. After a painfully long moment for Faramir, Éomer sighed, taking pity on the other man, and spoke. "I'll give you mine, if you give me yours," he said finally, a sudden grin appearing on his face.
As Éomer's words registered, Faramir laughed, feeling his heart lighten and the nervous tension leave him at Éomer's lighthearted response.
"I confess that this was not how I envisioned this conversation—you're much more receptive than I imagined you would be."
"Only because I trust you to care for Éowyn…and because you have something that I want. So…are we in agreement?"
"Yes," Faramir said, not even truly having to consider the question of Éomer marrying his sister. Of course, thought he doesn't know it, I've known Ellemir would marry him since the day she first laid eyes upon him—she foretold it long ago.
"Good. I'd like the matter to be settled as soon as possible—I'm not a patient man, Faramir."
"Éomer, son of Éomund!" Ellemir's shrill yell of outrage echoed around the vast hall, and Éomer cringed, even as he turned to see Ellemir striding resolutely toward him with an amused Éowyn following at a more leisurely pace behind her.
"Why do you scream at me, woman?" Éomer asked, his brow creased in a frown.
"That was the most unromantic proposal I've ever heard!"
"Have you heard so many then?" he asked sardonically, quirking his brow as he watched her plant her fists on her hips and angle her head up to narrow a heated glare at him.
"As a matter of fact, I have, many of them quite lovely. And to think I turned them all down for you and that ghastly proposal!" she countered.
"There was nothing wrong with my proposal," Éomer told her with a scowl.
"If there was something ill-begotten about my proposal, your brother would hardly have accepted it, so perhaps it is to him that you should direct your complaints."
"Do not draw me into this fray, Éomer," Faramir inserted, raising his hands in mock surrender as he backed away. "I have my own woman to quarrel with," he said firmly, hoping even as he said it that Éowyn would not prove to be as angry as Ellemir.
As though she heard his thought, Éowyn eased up next to Faramir, entwining her arm with his, gently pulling him away, urging him forward toward the peace and quiet of the outdoors.
"So is this why youreally wanted to return so quickly?" she asked him with a smile.
"Yes, I confess it is so. Though I do worry for Ella when she's out of my sight for too long—that was no lie. Little Sister finds trouble far too easily for my comfort. I'm afraid your brother has no idea what he's agreed to take on by marrying her."
"He's not so easy to live with himself."
"Do you imagine they would say the same of us?" Faramir asked, his eyes sparkling with mirth as he mused over the question.
"I do not doubt that my dear brother would say the same of me. However, I don't imagine Ellemir would say the same of you," Éowyn said with a laugh. She looked over her shoulder at the two still arguing and shook her head. "Do you imagine they'll survive their marriage?"
"A better question might be 'will Rohan survive their marriage?'" Faramir said, genuine amusement lighting his face.
"Perhaps you were too hasty in agreeing to let my brother wed her," she replied, her eyes dancing with mirth. Faramir chuckled at that before they turned back to Éomer and Ellemir, neither of them surprised to see them still arguing.
"Why do you always have to be right?" Éomer was saying, his brow deeply furrowed as he stared down at Ellemir, the two of them glaring at each other.
"Well, I can't let you get your way all the time, can I? You're far too stubborn as it is. Besides, it just so happens that I am right this time."
"You're an exasperating woman."
"And you're an infuriating man. You're lucky that our marriage was foretold, because if it wasn't, I'd—" Ellemir said, but Éomer cut her off with a sudden look of confusion placing his index finger over her lips to silence her.
"Wait, foretold? What mean you?" he asked, staring down at her with perplexed eyes.
"Have I not mentioned the matter before? I thought surely that I had spoken of it…"
"No, you haven't. Explain."
"It's nothing, really. It's only that, well, I've known of our union since I was a child," she said, a soft smile coming to her lips, her earlier irritation forgotten as she thought of the little girl she had been, the one who would so often chase after Boromir and Faramir to tell them of her yellow-haired man.
"Do you jest?"
"No. I knew of your coming long before I ever truly laid eyes upon you, Éomer. Fate willed it."
"It would seem, then, that synchronicity has played its part as well," he finished, thinking back on all that had brought them to where they were now. Each occurrence, each incident, all had led them to this moment.
With a smile, Éomer reached for her hand, the warmth of affection filling him as she placed her hand in his. Though the journey has been long and the way has been difficult, at last, all is as it should be—fate and synchronicity have made it so.
A/N: Well, that's it. I hope you all enjoyed it. For those of you still reading, thanks for sticking with me, despite the long waits between chapters. I think I've responded to everyone--if I forgot someone, I'm so sorry!
Finduilas Galathil: So glad that you loved the last chapter. Hope this one was as well loved as the last. And I totally agree with you—Éomer is fine! LOL!
Randomisation: Thanks for reviewing for me! Appreciate it!
wondereye: Yeah, I'm hoping that I managed to connect any dots left over from the last chapter. I hope this chapter lived up to your expectations! Thanks for reviewing!
Rachaelle: Thanks for such a wonderful review! I enjoyed writing the flashback scenes as much, if not more than, the present day scenes. I feel like this story started to become more difficult for me as the time between chapters increased and my free-time and my motivation began to diminish. It's kind of a relief for the end to finally be here. Anyways, hope I managed to keep Ella from turning into a mary-sue in this chapter. Thanks for letting me know what you thought about it!
Soccer-Bitch: Glad you liked the last chapter—thanks for reviewing!