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Prologue - Eowyn Chronicles

Dear Lady Silima,

I deeply regret that we have begun our journey on a misstep, and I offer this by way of making amends. First, I was in error to express misgivings about your youth, and the haste of your marriage. It was tackless and judgmental of me, and It reflects poorly on my high opinion of Elboron's good sense, which was not my intent. The shock of returning from my absence after three years, to find you literally at my place by the hearth is but a poor excuse for my behavior. My return was not anticipated. The disappointment I felt for missing the joyful occasion of the marriage of my first son is a poorer excuse. That you thought to call me "the white lady of ice lacking in love or passion" should not have been a surprise, given your first impression of me. But how can you know this? When you said that I came to Gondor from Rohan for a state-arranged marriage (these twenty nine years ago!) and did not comprehend the joy of a self-chosen union, you are in part, at least, mistaken. I do, however know the sorrow of coming to an unfamiliar land in which I was not always welcome, and should have been mindful of this when I met you. Dear Lady, I want you to see that I have felt something of ice and fire both.

You said that I have refused the gift of the Ent-wives foolishly. I have been foolish in many ways, but I am confident in this choice, at least. All know that Queen Arwen Undomiel (the most accepting of creatures) chose a life in defiance of her nature. By contrast, I (born with so much of defiance in my heart,) chose a life in acceptance of my nature. But in the end, we have both chosen a life with death at the end of it, and that seems a peaceful thought.

The King has lately summoned Faramir and me to Minas Arnor to council for the trial of Belmir. Since we shall be gone for some weeks, I wish to leave this with you.

I never had the gift of smooth narrative. I could not say: here is the story's beginning, it's middle, it's end, here is the lesson learned. Bori will tell you that I could not even organize the day's events for dinner conversation without the smallest of my children correcting the sequence. So I offer you what follows, not as the saga of my life, but perhaps, as a kind of window into my heart. So that you may think better of your husband's mother when I have done well, and forgive my weakness when I have done poorly. It has given me much hope that you have begun to forgive my arrogance and I earnestly look forward to a growing accord.

Chapter 1 Brothers

Brothers. In appearance and demeanor it was apparent. I distracted my unease by studying their differences, which being less obvious, was the more rigorous mental challenge. They were both of considerable height, the elder slightly taller, and notably broader through the shoulders and chest. Both were well muscled warriors, the younger's movements more agile and catlike, the older strutting and preening in the manner of a rooster.

Their voices shared the clipped arrogance of Gondor, the elder louder and more affable, his attention always on my uncle, though I noticed the smiles and laughs never reached his steely gray eyes. The younger's voice was quieter, but deeper too, and his manner ever grave. His carefully neutral eyes seemed to observe and evaluate everyone in the hall, like a counselor or emissary, while his brother's bearing assumed that everyone should observe him.

Their hands bore the scars of men familiar with battle, the nails of the elder more carefully manicured, the younger having a piece of flesh nicked out of the edge of the last finger of his shield hand, and some ragged nail ends bitten to the quick. I glanced nervously at my own thumbs, where I had worried their cuticles to sore red patches. A kinship of nervous habits, hardly reassuring, especially one I was loathe to share. I hid my hands inside my sleeves, noticing not for the first time, that what was my best gown seemed almost shabby before the Gondorian splendor of their velvet tunics worked with gold thread and jewels. There again, the younger brother's raiment was less ornate, though well tended, and made him look the poor relation.

Their hair was the blue-black of a raven's feathers, the elder's shorter and more carefully trimmed, the younger's longer. It's strangeness repelled and fascinated me all at once. Since childhood, I could resist wayward impulses only by giving my mind free reign in imagining them performed, so I tested the texture with phantom fingertips. Yes, smooth and strong as a wing tip. In consternation, I realized I had "touched" the hair of the younger one. Ai, Eowyn! Even in your imagination you get yourself into trouble. I looked quickly at the one for whom I was intended. Feeling my gaze perhaps, he raked me with a depreciating glare as though I was a brood mare he was about to trade off at market. Worse and worse. I allowed myself one miserable instant of desperation until I felt another pair of eyes on me, this time The Worm, gloating as usual. A surge of anger welled inside me so intense it brought the younger brother's eyes to mine. Though he had observed me before, with careful neutrality, I felt his gaze this time held more curiosity, and he was quick to see the source of my dismay. Too quick! Well, let him puzzle it out, he looked the type to enjoy riddles.

Can you guess why after twice refusing Theoden King's gentle request to honor this ridiculous match, I would grovel before your Gondorian snobbery and acquiesce like a simpering idiot? I wish you WOULD guess, so you could explain to ME how Grima's slimed advances become harder and harder for me to repel, how my mind aches with the horror of his mental degradation. How those images are at once repulsive and impossible to look away from. How my tongue inexplicably ties over any idea of revealing his vile purpose. There is some strange sorcery here, and I know only enough to fear it, to escape it as soon as I might. So guess, Gondorian brother. Guess why today I vow to leave my beautiful Melduseld, my beloved brother, my King and Uncle, my noble cousin. Puzzle what could have driven me to agree to give up my hearth and home to be caged in that spiraling cold labyrinth under your brother's colder gray eyes.

Later. We spoke the betrothal vows. I had performed my duty for Rohan, and now must do likewise for Gondor. I clung to some small consolations: the relief in myUncle's eyes, who had been lately more careworn and in poorer health, likewise the shared relief of Theodred and my dear brother who rode ever with their Eoreds and were anxious for my safety, shield maiden or no. Also the not small mitigation that the Worm was fuming, now that it was apparent I would depart in the morning. I entertained one last easement, or call it a hope, fool that I was. My betrothed's attitude at dinner was at least cordial, and while, again, no sentiment reached his eyes, I hoped his manner an indication of a neutrality in which accord would grow.

Chapter 2 Swords and Daggers

I will not dwell on leave taking Melduseld. I dared not glance back for the fear of disgracing myself with tears. I sat my horse with pride. There was some disagreement there, both that I be suffered to bring my own horse (too spirited for a lady) and my own saddle (straddled "like a man.") Pleading familiarity, I won that battle, as they say in the Mark, only to loose the war. My sheathed sword was relieved of my care, by my betrothed, "into his safekeeping". He explained to me, rather as one would to very young, not very clever child, that as Gondor's Captain General, he deemed me perfectly safe without troubling myself with arms. My mother's daggers smiled in my boots.

It was a ride of five days, in truth, but the brothers seemed to feel it was the occasion for one long lark of hunting, picnicking, and exploring, which drew it out to seven. The younger brother had unpacked a volume of poetry to read quietly at the campfire, while my intended seemed ever content with the sound of his own voice. I resumed the game of contrasting the brothers, trying to assume some loyalty of favor to the elder, but , in truth, failing. His horse mastery was absolute but heavy handed with the bit, bordering on brutish, while the younger brother led mainly with his own posture on his mount, almost in our style. Likewise they led their men. The older commanded formidable respect, the younger admiration. As unlike as they were in temperament, they shared an easy affection and camaraderie which made me miss my brother all the more. The escort was forty strong, thirty from the Captain General's White Guard, and ten Ithilien Rangers. They also provided me with two handmaidens, whom I found superfluous and bothersome, and suspected to be spies for the Steward. My things were often left in slight disarray, and they made artful attempts to bring me out on a number of subjects not possibly of interest to them. (I kept my diary in a large pocket tied to my waist, and my lovely rosewood daggers with the silver filigree work in my boots worn day and night.) Moreover, I could dress myself and my hair, and detested gossip concerning the company at hand and the court impending (although I confess some curiosity about the latter). It appeared in their judgment at least, that the Steward was a formidable man and disfavored the younger son. My betrothed had been the pride of the court and something of a heartbreaker, fickle in his affections. As the brothers, Lord Boromir and Lord Faramir, preferred each other's company (aside from sporadic solicitations as to my health and general well being) I had much to ponder alone.

Three days out. Orc attack. I have seen the destructive wake of Orcs many times but never the beasts in battle. They are the stuff of worst nightmares, and appeared as foul as their deeds. I had forgotten the stench, which lingers on weapons and clothing soiled with their blood. It was the smell on my father's corpse returned to our hall so many years hence. Lord Boromir dove in their midst hacking limb and head with practiced rhythm, while his brother stood at his back and dispatched his share. The company was outnumbered by a dozen or so, and fought well. Two of the White Guard were stationed before our tent, and I peered out of the seam between them. Presently one of them took an arrow in the shoulder, and fell. The second guard was then attacked by three orcs who came from behind the tent. He held his position, driving his sword through the chest of the first orc. The second and third came at him from opposite sides, and he could not parry both blows. He staggered with a wound to the thigh. As the other orc came to finish him I launched the first dagger, I could not tell in the poor light if I made a vital hit, but he fell. The orc remaining realized that the tent was the source of the dagger, and charged forward. I threw the second dagger into his chest. Then, bereft of my sword, I stood in the shadows and observed , one hand over the mouth of each handmaiden so their mewling would not call undue attention. I felt a fool. If I had waited for the last orc to enter the tent, I could have made use of the dagger and still held it.

As the orcs retreated, Lord Faramir took his long bow and his Rangers in pursuit leaving a trail of felled orcs. I later marveled at how many arrows were shot true by the light of a waning moon. I could not likely retrieve my daggers by torch light without notice, and knew that unless I had the stomach and courage to find them before dawn they were most likely forfeit. Later, I attempted sleep to the twin wailing of handmaidens, and when I woke it was to a gray rain and campfire smoke.

We remained in the tent while the men were intent on tending wounds and recovering weapons and arrows. No sooner had the handmaidens left for the mess tent to bring us breakfast, than Lord Faramir appeared at the entrance of my tent with the stealth a tracker, smelling of balsam fir. He handed me a package wound in a scrap of cloth. My daggers, carefully cleaned. His gray eyes met my own very briefly, and a smile fleetingly quirked his lips. "Both met their mark" he confided in a whisper. So, a silent ally then? As he departed, I realized the last fold of the cloth held the slim volume of poetry he had been reading. He must have seen my clumsy attempt to make out the title unnoticed. My curiosity was rewarded with the glum tale in verse of two star-crossed lovers, ( one an elven maid!) who pined over each other and their fates interminably, with flowery hyperbole. It seemed an odd choice of reading. A history of the Stewards or an arms manual, I thought, might have proved at least useful.

Four days out. I had little illusion about this marriage alliance. If they did not guess my private purpose, at least theirs was clear. The contract stated that both realms would come to the aid of each other in times of war. (It grew ever darker in the east.) Further, if I did not produce and heir in due time, ( where was the hour glass?) the contract could be nulled, and I returned to Rohan. I worried somewhat about what manner of mother I would prove to be with little experience. Having had no younger siblings to look after, and my brother having no children, nor Theodred, there were neither babes nor mothers from which to learn. The last time I held a babe is a memory of which I guarded a secret thrill. It was a tenant's child offered to dandle on my lap. After passing it back to its mother, I imagined a child of my own. The child brought an ache of longing which took root and twined around my heart. In my mind's eye, the child's hair was golden and eyes blue, identical to the one I held, with the same drooling lopsided smile. The top of its head smelled like sweet hay. For all I knew, every child born in Minas Tirith had blue-black hair, and grave gray eyes, and smelled of ... what? The smell or Orc blood, though somewhat diminished, still permeated everything and prevented my imagining any other scent. Enough! I had squandered time foolishly dreaming indulgent thoughts. I resolved to spend the rest of the day trying to learn something of my fate. I brought my horse up beside the Lord Boromir and requested a conversation. From his look of shock, I think he would have preferred to be back in the glade surrounded by orcs.

"Tonight be will dine apart from the company and your attendants, and may then converse", he managed.

What I should have anticipated was the ubiquitous Lord Faramir. Every question I posed to Lord Boromir: when I would be presented to the Steward, when we would be wed, what would be my duties, where would we dwell, was answered first by Lord Boromir and augmented by his brother. I was to be presented to the Steward at his leisure (but probably within a day or two of my arrival.) We would be wed as soon as preparations were completed (but most likely by the end of the month just begun.) Our dwelling would be in private apartments in the Stewards House in the Citadel (which was being cleaned and renovated for my arrival.) My duty was to obey my husband and bring further honor to Gondor (but I would have considerable free time to receive ladies of the court, or call on them, or in the pursuit of needlework, or in the music room and library.) The library seemed my likeliest refuge, and a wonderful indulgence - a hall filled with books. Obviously my notorious needlework remained Rohan's best kept secret shame. I could sew a wound together admirably with fine stitches and no scarring, and was in much demand by the eoreds of my brother and cousin for this task. But fashioning a ribbon rosette or stitching a decorative border was hopeless.

I ventured my last question tentatively. Did the music room have a harp? Lord Boromir said he thought so, and I was welcome to make use of it. Lord Faramir amended that the room indeed had two excellent harps crafted in Dol Amroth and brought many years ago by their own mother, but probably in need of restringing, since they lay unused so long.

Suddenly it occurred to me what this interview with brothers put me in mind of - the tale of the two headed rock troll whose left head began every sentence and right head finished it. I laughed outright, then risked sharing this observation, lest they think I was laughing at the memory of their mother. Both seemed genuinely amused to be parodied in such manner and recalled the tale fondly from childhood at "Uncle Imri's" knee. (The prince of Dol Amroth I thought!) They began cavorting and "doing" Uncle Imri's rock troll voices, and threatened to gobble me up for dinner. For the first time I felt, in a small way, admitted to their camaraderie, and felt the success of that keenly, all the while missing Theodred and Eomer anew.

Later I considered that, all in all, the two headed troll had answered my questions, but what was left unspoken, communicated behind their wary eyes to each other, spoke volumes. Some things I would have to discover for myself, and I guessed I would not much care for the revelations. One thing I did learn from overhearing their later conversation. They were not always in agreement. Though both feared for their realm, Lord Boromir trusted his father's judgment and relied on the strength of Gondor. Lord Faramir held to some wizard's tale of a king returning in their lifetime, at a time of great need. Upon this they could not agree, and I could see it pained them both.

Chapter 3 The White Lady With The Red Thumbs

The day of our arrival dawned bright and clear. The company planned to return under banners and in full suit, and spent extra time in preparation. The handmaidens had whipped themselves into such a frenzy that my nerves wavered. They tore through my trunk, rejecting everything; a small tear or a smaller spot would shame me forever, never mind that one would have to practically share my breath to see these flaws. The only thing that would do was the white gown that I was saving for the Steward's audience. A rare occurrence, all three of us were in agreement that at least the sleeves hid my thumbs.

Thus it was that I became known as the white lady, and not the lady of the red thumbs, since the dark blue gown, with the small tear in the hem, (which was my favorite but did not hid the thumbs), was deemed unsuitable until repaired. All witnessing such an evident preference for the color white, I was sent so much in the way of white raiment and bolts of cloth thereafter, that I never needed to wear another color unless I sought it out myself, which I surely did.

So many were assembled at the gate, at the windows, on the parapets and garden walls and in the streets that I was overwhelmed. Early flowers were strewn at our feet, and the crowds cheered their Captain General, and his White Lady. Lord Faramir fell back with his rangers and was seemingly able to blend into gray stonework as well as forest, green garb notwithstanding. I was escorted to a group of chambers for visiting dignitaries, near the Steward's estate. They were lavishly appointed, and formal, and to my dismay, two more handmaidens were waiting beside a roaring fire, in addition to ones arriving with me. I found a dressing closet with a small bench and locked the door, falling into a restless sleep of nervous exhaustion.

When I awoke, I retraced my way back to the Steward's private stables, to see that Windfola was properly tended. Two guards prevented me from entering. They made it clear that they had orders from the Steward that I was not permitted access to my steed. Apparently it was anticipated that I might flee. No amount of reasoning about my true purpose could persuade them otherwise. Windfola! I began to feel the cage close around me.

Separately, and apparently without knowledge of the other, both Lord Boromir and Lord Faramir came to me that evening, each requesting and interview in my sitting room. Both informed me that the Steward wished to meet me tomorrow at a formal dinner, family only. The Lord Boromir came first, with a bottle of wine, and not the first he had drunk that evening. He kept promising me that the Steward would be pleased with me, that I need not have any fear of his high opinion, that I should not worry myself over etiquette, which I would be unfamiliar with, but that would be taken into consideration. These stumbling assurances had much the opposite effect, as I could feel Lord Boromir's apprehension on my behalf, and, for the first time, something akin to pity. I hoped this would move him to let me gain access to my steed. Impatiently, he dismissed my request. Women were not permitted to ride out. It was too dangerous and none could be spared for an escort.

An hour later, Lord Faramir appeared. He asked me if there was anything I required. No? Then he hoped that I would not be offended by some well intended suggestions upon meeting his father. I was to take compliments graciously, without denying their veracity. I was to look him in the eye upon greeting and at least occasionally thereafter. I was under no circumstances to tell him any falsehoods, however well meant. I was to offer no opinions of my own unless solicited by him. Lapses in table etiquette and forms of address would be tolerated due to my unfamiliarity with them. Please, if I could, wear the white dress again, as he mentioned that it pleased him. (I was unaware he watched our arrival from the high tower.) Rather than be offended by this list of "suggestions" which, after all, were mostly warnings, I was grateful for some useful concrete help. Though he was also ill at ease, I felt as though Lord Faramir's manner was more akin to an anxious tutor who wanted me to learn my lessons and acquit myself well.

As he made to leave, I told him of my attempt to visit my steed, and Lord Boromir's refusal to allow me to ride, or even visit him. I was frantic. Without exercise, he would wither. I pleaded with Lord Faramir to find some way to let me take him outside of the city gates. His somber eyes were full of sympathy, but he shook his head.

"Until such time as we may go abroad without the threat of orcs, or worse, you would be in grave danger. The Rammas Echor has been breached twice already in as many months. Windfola? That is his name? I give my word that he will be exercised by the Steward's own horse master on the practice grounds, if you permit it. And I will see that he be withheld otherwise for your use only, until better times - unless there is great need. I do not know if it will be permitted that you visit him, and I regret the grief I see this causes you, dear Lady." I could hardly fight back hot tears. He spared my humiliation by looking away.

As he departed, he left another two volumes - a history of the Stewards and a book on all manner of Gondorian protocol and etiquette.

Chapter 4. Stewards and Salad Forks.

No amount of assurances or "suggestions" could have prepared me for the Steward. I was determined to form my own impressions of the man, independent of his sons. I did remember a general feeling of Theoden King's poor regard for the Steward, but not from how long ago or in what context. I was surprised at the time, for my Uncle was ever generous to a fault. But here was the Steward before me purring compliments and smiling tightly beneath the eyes of a hawk swooping toward a hare. Beneath his every innocent question, I felt swift judgment of my wits, or loyalty or general usefulness. And no mistake, I was a pawn to be spent at his will. When his attention turned from me I had hardly a moment's relief before his sons thus fell under his scrutiny. To the Lord Faramir he spoke with sheer contempt, critical of his every word and deed. I marveled at how the son could endure this with courtesy and dispassion. Toward Lord Boromir his attitude was somewhat more complex. He was full of pride and praise of the older son's deeds past, but future expectations were thus clearly implied. I thought I began to understand my betrothed's apprehension on my behalf. No doubt our impending union was another task to be performed to his father's perfect satisfaction. Perhaps the Lord Boromir's coolness toward me was born of this. By the final course, my head ached fiercely with the concentration required to appear composed and cordial. It was then I noticed that the Steward himself was using the fork required for salad (as expressly stated in the book provided by Lord Faramir for my edification of Gondorian etiquette) on the dessert. In order not to blurt out his error, I bit the corner of my lip, but when he started to disparage Lord Faramir again, in my mind's eye, I stabbed the offending fork into the back of the Denethor's hand, repeatedly and with relish. In time the handmaidens were called for, and I was escorted back to my rooms; the sons were bidden to remain to discuss defenses in Ithilien and elsewhere.

Dispirited, I bid my entourage a good night, then noticed two cases just inside my door. They contained lovely harps, one deep and resonant, one high and sweet, both enchantingly carved and inlaid with onyx and mother of pearl, with fine new strings. I wondered if the Lord Boromir had sent them, then remembered a passing comment made at dinner by Lord Faramir about having his lute restrung.

Chapter 5 The Library and the Labyrinth

I awoke in the night, restless and frustrated. It had been over a week since my last sparring session and I was desperate to resume martial training to maintain my skills and muscle tone. I had hoped after dinner to beg the Lord Boromir for the return of my sword, but there was no private opportunity. Perhaps the library, at least, would have a map from which I could deduce where arms were stored, and locate a secluded place I could steal away to at night to practice, without encountering the palace guard. I had already worked out a circuitous route to the library, without going through the courtyard, and I headed there, careful to stay to the shadows. In the library a lamp was lit, and I turned on my heels, but too late. "Lady Eowyn, is that you?" The head of Lord Faramir appeared around a stack. His direct gaze unnerved me. I thought to distract him from learning of my purpose by thanking him.

"My Lord, thank you for your kindness, the harps are very fine, and I look forward to the pleasure of their use. Your consideration to me was very thoughtful." He waited expectantly.

"My Lord, you have done much to ease my care so far from my home, and well, it was most kind, thank you... "

I limped along lamely, would I endlessly repeat myself? Smiling tentatively at my chagrin, he replied.

" It is my pleasure to show you consideration, Dear Lady. After all, we are nearly family now. So, what brings you to here so late, perhaps the hope of a dull volume by which to be lulled to sleep?"

I decided to risk all. I told him of an oath sworn to my mother just before she died, to become a shield maiden, to protect my hearth and home in time of great need. I spoke plainly of my purpose, to find a map and thereby a room for martial practice. He looked aggrieved.

"My dear lady, my brother is resolved not to return your sword, I have lately urged him to return it." He hesitated, ill at ease. " I have foreseen that you may yet use it to some great purpose." This surprised then emboldened me.

"I beg you, Lord Faramir - any sword, or a wooden stave, anything." I felt like a child pleading for sweets. Reading my desperation, he retrieved his lamp and bid me follow to a cart of maps. He selected one, and it was carefully unfurled, a complicated labyrinth of rooms and paths.

"This room here, it is deep within the rock, an old siege refuge. Few are even aware of it. It is your best chance for privacy. But you must not take the map, you may copy it out, or better, learn the way by heart. Lady Eowyn, though I loathe deception, I will find you a practice sword and place it within this room. But if discovered, you must not reveal how you came by it. Go randomly, different nights, by different routes. If challenged, you must seem to have lost your way."

I studied the map carefully, while he waited, reading a volume he carried. When he stored the map again, I tried to make out the title.

"Ah, Lady, do you read Sindarin?"

"Nay, my lord, only common speech and my own Rhorric."

"This volume is a very old history, by which I thought to unravel the meaning of a dream," He appeared then distracted. I hoped he would reveal more, having heard the uncanniness of his dream auguries, but he bid me a good night and we departed.

Chapter 6 Bucket and CInders

From lack of sleep, I awoke late, and in a foul disposition. The handmaidens were making a din, unusually loud, even for them. Shuffling into the hallway separating our chambers, I recognized the sound of the harps being plucked, accompanied by a whinnying sound and my Rhorric bur. They were freely making mock of me for their own amusement, imitating my gait, my voice, the tilt of my head, everything. Another maiden, who managed the night soil buckets, looked on in indignation.

" You must not mock the Lady Eowyn, it is wicked! Shameful! She is to be the Captain General's wife! You must stop this instant." I was touched by such loyalty in the face of the odds against her. I swept into the room. All I could manage in my embarrassed fury was. "You are all relieved of duty, herewith." They scurried out, with the bucket maiden close behind. I stayed her departure by grabbing onto here sleeve.

"Your name?"

"Tarynth, my Lady."

"Tarynth, you are my new handmaiden, and Tarynth, do you have a sister who tends the hearth?" (I remembered her near double with a heart shaped face and large gray eyes going quietly about her work.)

"Nay lady, she is my cousin."

"Go and find her. She will also attend me." But she hesitated, unsure.

"My lady, we WERE handmaidens, lately relieved of service from another house, accused of stealing."

"Ah...will you steal from me then?"

"No my lady."

"Then go and find your cousin."

Within the hour I was summoned before the Lord Denethor in the Hall of Kings, with the Lord Boromir at his side. Both men were deep in agitated conversation about news from scouts and ignored me for a time. This was becoming alarmingly more frequent of late. Eventually the Steward acknowledged me.

"Lady Eowyn, you may now approach." I bowed and awaited his wrath. Just above my hearing he spoke.

"Lady Eowyn, I have been informed that you have lately dismissed your handmaidens without the authority to do so. You must be aware that until your marriage vows you are bound under my care?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"For what transgressions did you see fit to dismiss them?" They were standing a little way off, looking studiously indifferent.

"Come, Lady Eowyn, did they steal, did they refuse their service? No...what?"

"They have offended my pride, my Lord." I spoke up boldly both out of indignation and to be heard in the large hall, but by some trick my voice echoed madly. His stern countenance changed as if he at last comprehended some fine jest.

"Ah, offending the pride of the White Lady of Rohan, a serious offense indeed! Very well, since you will soon be under the authority of your husband, and my own selections were less than satisfactory, I will leave you to discuss the selection of new handmaidens with him. You are dismissed." I never discussed the matter with Lord Boromir, he curtly informed me that my choice of handmaidens was my own affair.

Tarynth and Finduin were sweet tempered young women, forgiving of my sudden tempers and occasional need for solitude. They proved loyal and good companions. Finduin brought back a very fine salve from the houses of healing one day, and applied it diligently to my thumbs with very pleasing results. I found out that what they had stolen was a small handful of stale sugared almonds which they thought destined for the midden. Thus I often sent them to the market stalls for cones of these sweets, with the lofty assurance that "I never bothered to count them" by which they knew to help themselves freely. Most endearing, they were soon at ease enough to share jests with me to soothe my moods. When I confided how I felt about "The White Lady" they teased me about being "The Gray Lady of Rohan" when I stepped into a tray of cinders about to be emptied. Then I spilled ink on my night gown and became "The Dappled Lady of the Golden Hall", and when a button came loose on my green gown I was "The Unfastened Lady." That they mocked me only to earn a smile made all the difference. To their delight, and only in private, I called them Bucket and Cinder, but in my native Rhorric, which they thought made themselves sound like wild heroines. Tarynth was sister to one of the stable lads and brought regular reports on Windfola's well-being, which gave me some small comfort. Soon I was teaching them to pluck simple tunes on the harps, and they were smuggling in kittens.

Chapter 7 Battles and Skirmishes

Though Lord Denethor made a show to dismiss me and my petty squabbles, I was not lulled into a sense of false complacency with regard to being watched. I went to the siege cave with utmost care, realizing that I could compromise not only myself but Lord Faramir. A sword was there as promised. A dull and notched blade, but with excellent balance and appropriate weight and length. The labyrinthine descent was a good warm up exercise, and I had only to flex my arms a little before I began. Thus I resumed training, not at regular intervals, as carefully advised, but often. By this time both the Steward's sons had resumed their commands, and would not return to Minas Tirith before the wedding which had been postponed to the next month.

Several days passed. In the Golden Hall, as part of the royal family, I had been privy to every knowledge concerning the defense of the realm, but here I had to piece together how the defense stood, and it did not go well.

When it began, we could see little of the battle in Osgilliath, as the orcs attacked from the north at dusk, but the camp medics were soon overwhelmed, and we discovered the extent of the slaughter as the wounded began arriving at the Houses of Healing. Fathers and sons were being spent dearly, and my heart broke to see the suffering and disfigurement. I cleaned my hands, pinned my sleeves and began removing arrows and stitching wounds, without permission, but who would deter me with such need? I soon recognized members of Lord Boromir's own guard, and my alarm grew. He was such a reckless man. Had I realized that Lord Faramir and most of the rangers had been called back across the Anduin even before Lord Boromir's troops arrived from further south, my panic would have been complete. One of the Captain General's guard, the auburn haired one who did most of the cooking on our former journey, took a deep wound to the cheek which I stitched carefully, knowing how vain even warriors were about their faces, and he was a handsome man. I attempted to distract him from the pain by asking how his captain fared, but he would neither reply, nor even meet my eyes.

By the afternoon of the third day, the Gondorian army, led by a victorious Lord Boromir took back Osgilliath, and the people swarmed out of Minas Tirith to celebrate. I remained behind with the soldiers, sewing their wounds and bathing them with balsam soap, which, as it turned out, was efficacious against both infection and the stench of orc. I did not deceive myself into thinking that my betrothed would want me by his side to share in the joy of his victory.

Gradually, lines of defense were strengthened, and it was reported that Mordor's forces had retreated again toward the black gates. A wedding date was finally determined, and a messenger sent to Theoden King. But there were to be no guests at my wedding representing my family. The reply, in Grima's hand, staggered me. Theodred and my brother were banished for treason. My uncle was in poor health, and would not attend. That was all. For days I was inconsolable, and indifferent to the plans made on my behalf. In truth, it would be a somber affair, even by Gondorian custom, which was full of ancient ceremony. The jockeying of council members for honor at the wedding feast had already begun. I was not unaware we were thought to be barbarians lacking in protocol and tradition, but Rhorric weddings were full of meadow flowers and dancing and ale and merriment, and that seemed fine enough to me. Again I was summoned before the Steward, this time in his private chambers. Lord Boromir was with him, and before I entered I heard a heated discussion about a dream shared by the brothers, and a weapon of power in the north. Lord Denethor was furious. He wanted his eldest son to obtain that weapon, and Lord Boromir protested, fearing that its power could not be wielded. If he shunned it, I thought, it had to be dangerous indeed, as I had never met a more fearless man. I dared not linger further, and entered the chamber. The Steward put on his mask of cordiality and asked if I was pleased with the wedding preparations. I lied smoothly to the man who I knew at this point wanted only to hear lies. I was given a speech to rehearse, and carefully detailed instructions on what was expected of me, down to sitting and standing and how to greet guests of greater and lesser significance, and how those guests would be identified. I imagined asking the Steward if he planned to follow us into our marriage bed to confirm that that task was also completed to his satisfaction. Thankfully I was dismissed before I could envision his reaction in my mind. Before I was even out the door, I heard the heated discussion resume.

The afternoon before the wedding, Prince Imrahil arrived with his family under a large and impressive escort of his Swan Knights. I had heard that Lord Faramir had returned from Ithilien, but saw no sign of him until dinner, which was this night a state affair. He entered the dining hall escorting a lovely young lady whose raiment and bearing showed her lustrous dark hair, rosy complexion and fine figure to advantage. Her laughter tinkled like wind chimes and brought with it a stab of jealousy. I glanced at my betrothed beside me, to be sure that my mood was unread, but he gazed deep into his wine glass, ever remote. There were endless toasts and interminable dishes of fruit, fish, fowl and meat, with a wine or cordial at each course. Prince Imrahil's sons were as charming and kind as was their father's reputation, and it was from them I learned that the lady beside Lord Faramir was their sister, Lady Lothiriel, whose good nature seemed unspoiled by the doting regard of all who knew her. I strained, as much as I dared, to hear their conversation, to determine what might lie between them. Presently, the Lord Faramir looked up and met my sidelong gaze. For an instant his gray eyes betrayed deep sadness, then his mask of composure returned. But I knew what I saw and I felt a thrill of satisfaction, then berated myself for such an unworthy feeling.

Chapter 8 Mice and Slugs

The morning I was to be married, I awoke with suffocating dread. Tarynth and Finduin made a fuss over my preparations and raiment, trying to work some heart into me. By now they knew enough to suspect that Lord Boromir would be at best an indifferent husband, but, after all, many high marriages were born of convenience, and some improved with time, or at least one learned to take what comforts were offered from child and hearth.

The new white gown was indeed resplendent, sewn with pearls on silk from Dol Amroth and worked with cream stitches of flowered vines, but putting it on I felt little better. My thumbs were almost completely healed, at least I could hold up my hand for the ring without shame.

I was soon escorted by the Steward's Guard into to the Hall of Kings. I keenly felt the lack of family to stand for me, but would have gladly born it if I could have known they were safe. Lord Boromir stood in dress armor as Captain General of Gondor, and his brother also wore dress armor, less ornate. Denethor officiated and the Prince and his family stood beside Lord Faramir. I focused my gaze upon the empty chair of the king, fearing to meet the eyes of anyone present, lest they read my heart. The ceremony went on so long I became lightheaded and feared falling into a swoon. The only thing that prevented me was thinking about how I detested the very type of woman who would faint over a mouse in the pantry or a slug on a vine. I began to see mice peeking out of the Steward's robes, and slugs crawling from Lord Boromir's armor. I almost missed my cue, which I hoped, seemed like a solemn pause. I spoke the vows as if they were in a language I did not understand, and then Lord Boromir, looking as if he would be sick, spoke his. We exchanged rings, he kissed me on the mouth and we were given a large cheer. The reception and wedding dinner were as if an ill-connected dream. I remember seeing Lord Faramir leave his place early, his meal untouched, and he did not return.

Chapter 9 The Marriage Bed

I awaited in my room to be summoned to my husband's sleeping chamber, as was the custom here. I did not fear the marriage bed, but one could hardly blame me for having no high expectation of joy this night. It seemed I had waited a long while, then dozed into a fitful slumber. In the last hours before morning I was led to my husband's sitting room. I entered behind a bench on which he sat, bent forward. He held the hand of a young man with auburn hair, whose eyes were red and was still weeping miserably. The deep slash I had sewn together on his cheek had begun to heal. Lord Boromir spoke soft soothing words I could not hear into his ear, stroking his back in gentle circles with the other hand. That a man I knew to be so remote and cold now showed such loving tenderness at all was more of a shock than that realizing the sentiment would never be for me.

Lord Boromir noticed my arrival and stood slowly, reluctant to disengage. He spoke the following quietly, as if rehearsed.

"This is Nyliss, whom I love. Five years ago we spoke a binding oath. He would hear this from my lips: Lady Eowyn, I will not have you in my marriage bed. Ever. I spoke our marriage vows falsely and under duress, fearing for Gondor's need. I regret the pain I have caused you both." I turned to go, my only thought forward momentum.

"Wait!" Boromir's voice again, this time louder. "There is someone who would speak with you." I was already in the hallway when Lord Faramir came through another door and blocked my departure.

The utter absurdity of the situation caused me to stand beside myself and see something profoundly, and all at once. It was Lord Faramir I trusted. It was he who betrayed me, he must have known of this all along. I turned toward him with such venom that he reeled backward.

"So, YOU would speak with me? What would you say NOW? I think it is a little late to learn anything from YOU." I spat.

"My Lady ... He gave me to think he would put Nyliss aside ... He promised he would attempt ... "

"Attempt to what, deceive me? Break his oath? Get me with child and trap me here?"

"Please, My Lady, do not go. You are still safer here. Where would you go with your brother and cousin banished, your uncle ensorcilled? Please, you are safer here."

"This I know already. My Lord, if there is no more, please step aside." He looked pained, I noted with some satisfaction, and at great crossroads as to whether he should continue. Then he blurted,

"I would willingly have you come to my bed. My brother will say nothing. Gondor would have an heir. You would not be sent away." This was torment!

"YOU would use me in this way? You would have a child who would call you uncle? You who claim to loathe deception? Is there nothing too much for Gondor's duty?"

"Nay lady" he spoke softly, earnestly, "Not for duty. There is desire. Lady Eowyn, do you not know I love you?"

This time I could not meet his eyes.

"I have known for some time."

But, I thought with desperation, a deception on this scale could only end badly. I turned and fled, weaving though the tunnel labyrinth , one of many routes to the siege room. I fumbled for the tinder box I had placed just inside the door, and lit two torches on the wall. I fought blindly through tears, and though I could name no enemy, I fought on. At length I saw a shadow on the wall beside my own. I continued again for some time, and finally heard a captain's voice.

"Your attack is very strong and skilled. But mind your defense. You leave your shield arm open." I released the sword, which rang against the stone floor. I turned to him and met his eyes steadily.

Then something in his voice changed. These next words were carefully chosen and full of tenderness.

"Lady Eowyn, I deeply regret that I have betrayed your trust, though it was far from my intent. Even from the first, when I understood it was my brother's intention to take you as his wife, when I knew I could never have you, I wanted you. Until the sun set upon this day I was resolved to conquer this feeling for all our sakes. I DO loathe deception, yet I would rather deceive the world than be false with you. That is why I would have you know how I feel with regard to you. That is why I hoped you would reveal what you might feel for me. But, as you will not, please know that I vow to remain devoted to your well being, and I will speak no further on matters of the heart. Only tell me what you would have me do and I will do it."

I cannot claim, as many do, that in that instant I was blinded by love, but rather, that love illuminated my perspective and sharpened every sense. I had made my choice. I did not trust my voice, I only nodded and went to him with purpose. Lord Faramir spread his cloak beside the fallen sword, and we drew together.

It was well into morning when we woke, but the torches had gone out, so we were in pitch blackness. I heard his breathing and smelled his balsam scent, and reached to touch his face. His cheek was wet, but he was smiling.

"I love you," I promised in the darkness, and we again embraced.

When finally we tore apart, we dressed and left, planning to return there the same night. We met so for the next two nights. On the third morning we dressed in haste, and went directly to the main gate. Lord Boromir was already mounted and ready to depart on his quest to Rivendell. He embraced his brother and took my hand and squeezed it, both with a brittle tenderness. He then gave his brother a package wrapped in cloth and rode out onto the Pellenor. I never saw him again.

After a thoughtful pause, my beloved unwound the cloth and sighed, "Here is your sword, Lady Eowyn, many it ever be used to defend your hearth and home."

Later that morning he left for Emyn Arnen.

Chapter 10 Wife Of His Heart

By the time the next moon waned, I knew I was with child. My beloved Faramir sent me unsigned letters hand delivered by his most trusted rangers, and warned me that if I wished to send a reply, I should place it only in the same hand, sealed, but unsigned. Each letter contained precious endearments, such as any ranger might send a sweetheart, but they were sent to me. His script was beautifully formed with even slanted strokes and sharp angled letters. I savored the grace of his hand, gazing at the forms before reading, to prolong the moment of anticipation.

Always he hoped to find me well, always he thought of me with deep love and longing. Sometimes he promised to share a warm hearth in a time of peace. There could be nothing mentioned of his situation or strategy, for obvious reasons. Once only he begged me to forgive his unworthiness. He felt that he had professed his feelings when I was vulnerable, thereby taking advantage of my situation. This misplaced contrition distressed me so much I bade him severely never to repeat those words.

Gradually his letters opened the window of his soul, and his was the soul of a scholar. He shared his great love of the Ithilien Woods. His knowledge went well beyond the practical skills of the ranger and tracker. He kept notebooks on the plants, trees, animals, insects, water and soil. He studied how all things were interrelated, like a puzzle. He kept almanacs about bird migrations, when animals mated and bore their young, what nourishment was available by areas, elevations and seasons. He escorted me on imaginary walks upon the forrest floor, and these became our courtship. I attempted to write into my responses comments and questions about what he had "shown" me. This seemed to please him a great deal, and spurred him on.

I could not tell him about our child in a letter, and so I rehearsed and imagined our next meeting frequently.

At first I was ill upon waking, but Tarynth made for me a brew of brewers yeast and restorative herbs, which I took in the evening. It tasted foul, but eased the nausea greatly.

By the time he was next able to steal home to Minas Tirith, I was past four months along. Faramir looked thinner, pale and tired. He had taken a blade wound to his shield arm which was repaired badly, but mending well. When we were well hidden from prying eyes, he took my hands in his and said,

" Eowyn, my beloved, how radiant you look."

"It reflects my joy to be bearing your child," I replied.

For a moment he appeared disoriented, as though I had presented him with a complicated riddle for which he must translate the meaning. Then all at once he wrapped me in his arms and we nodded and smiled and kissed away each other's tears. The rest of the afternoon, he kept attempting to feed me morsels of fruits and nuts, "for the babe". and he hesitated to show his ardor for fear of "harming the babe", which I assured him was nonsense. Men are such ridiculous creatures, really.

That evening we were each summoned to dinner by Lord Denethor. I had been carefully avoiding him, facilitated by his habit of keeping more and more to his tower of late. He also appeared pale and thinner, with a shimmer of hysteria behind his hawk eyes. Dinner was the usual grim affair, and not until the end of the meal did his purpose become clear. As we stood to go he taunted,

"Faramir, I would think that your stud service is no longer required. Now that the whore is with child."

I have never seen, before or since, my beloved's eyes so murderous. His hand went to the hilt of his sheathed sword, knuckles whitening. I gently moved my fingers over them, with the lightest touch. "Forbear" I urged silently. Removing his hand from the hilt, he grabbed my arm with some force and pulled me down the hall and out into the courtyard. He looked a little mad himself and began ranting.

" It was folly to send Boromir away in a time of such need. I was meant to go to Rivendell. It was MY dream first. MINE. Boromir was meant to sire your child, but declined. Things do not always go as Father wishes, but the King will return, Eowyn, and THIS Father cannot prevent, nor should he wish to. My duty, Wife-Of-My-Heart, is to preserver until the king returns, since my father will not, but never NEVER should he have said such a thing of you."

He turned, wild-eyed, as if to go back.

"Faramir, it matters not!" I pleaded. "Let us think carefully what we must do. We must not act rashly." I guided him to a bench, trying to draw his gaze to calm him and judge his mood. He looked into my eyes as if noticing them for the first time.

"Eowyn, your eyes. They are the blue of the Great Bay of Belfalas. One day I will take you there and show you."

"Husband-Of-My-Heart" I replied.

Sequestered in his chambers, we dozed awhile, and upon waking, talked well into the night. He feared for my safety, as his father's stability waned. (Denethor had been ever more engaged with a dark orb which seemed to reveal the intentions of the evil one, but Faramir believed it had weakened his mind and his resolve.) Yet there was little to be done. He could not take me with him, to the very edge of Mordor. I would not be safe in Dol Amroth, threatened by Corsairs, nor in the countryside. With increasing orc raids, many were fleeing here. Returning to Rohan was worse, even if I hid from the court. Scouts reported a new menace from Orthanc, orc like but stronger, that could travel by day. Rohan was being overrun by these beasts. I tried to reason that I was safe here for a time. At least while I carried the child, I did not think Denethor would harm me outright. We talked on. I told Faramir of Grima the Worm, who I found I could now speak of fully, though he still haunted my dreams. Faramir told me of his recurring dream, in which he envisioned how Numenor had been swallowed up by a great wave that swept across the land.

Just before we drifted off, he asked wistfully,

"Eowyn, our babe, a boy or a girl, do you think?"

"A boy I think."

"Do you think he will be a good captain?"

"He will be the prince of a peaceful realm, I think."

He seemed to rouse wakeful from the edge of sleep,

"Eowyn, did you see this in a dream?"

" Nay, my Lord, you are the dreamer. I must make do with my imagination."

This answer pleased him well enough and he slept peacefully.

Before he departed two days later, my beloved arranged a careful network of safe houses through out the city: storage cells, shops and stables where I could be hidden if the need arose. Ill favored sons drew alliances where they could, and Captain Faramir had been long respected for his quiet generosity and kindness. Many were eager to repay favors from the past, even if it meant risking the Steward's wrath.

Chapter 11 Evil On the Roadside

I did not see Faramir again until just before the birth. I put down my sword at the end of the seventh month, not because I could not wield it, but I was afraid of misplacing my feet upon the labyrinth stairs. Letters came from Emyn Arnen more infrequently and were cherished. My replies were promptly delivered.

The arrival of a scout one afternoon with Lord Boromir's great horn cloven in two sent Lord Denethor into deep despair. He was less agitated by the tidings a few weeks later that the Ithilien Rangers were pushed back to Osgilliath and defenses were failing.

The great wizard, Gandalf arrived then, bearing with him two small men called hobbits, whom I only saw from a distance at the time. It seemed remarkable to me that this Mithrandir out of legend would keep such strange company, and stranger still to hear rumors that the Steward had given them a cold welcome. But with Gandalf came the most amazing tidings. Theoden King had recovered by the wizard's own intervention. Then, fleeing a great hoard of Urukai, my people were led to Helm's Deep. A great battle was staged there and my uncle was aided by a mighty warrior, a Dunedain ranger from the far north, known as Aragorn, and his two companions, an elf and a dwarf. Meanwhile Gandalf had ridden out to recover Eomer's Eored, and they had joined the battle, achieving victory. It was much for me to take in, whispered from the very mouth of the wizard himself who had come to me in my sitting room at my uncle's request. The worst news was that my dearest cousin, Theodred, the heir of Rohan, had perished in an orc battle a few month's past. I mourned him there, right before the great Mithrandir, with no shame in my heart.

At dusk one night soon after, Tarynth called me to the walls, pointing in terror. The Ithilien Rangers were approaching on horseback, harried by demons of the air. Faramir guarded the retreat from the rear. The great loathsome beasts, guided by evil wraith riders, were swooping down on all and shrieking a sound that rent the very fabric of the sky. Soon a white rider, Gandalf, came out from the city gate to meet the rangers, and shone his staff, blinding the winged demons called Nazgul. My beloved then arrived inside the gate courtyard, flanked by his rangers, but several were lost. With a heavy heart, I waited for my Fara to come to me.

When at last he did come, it was with strange and sad tales of his own. First, while still in Emyn Arnen, he had a waking dream in which he saw his brother's body floating in an elven boat on the Anduin River, arranged as if prepared for burial. By this vision he was certain of his brother's death. Not long after this vision, two hobbits, (kin to the ones that traveled with Gandalf) wandered directly into the path of the Rangers, who intercepted them in the woods. One of these hobbits, Frodo, carried with him the great weapon of power, the very ring that Boromir attempted to obtain for the Steward. Under interrogation, they told Faramir that his brother tried to take the ring by force, against an oath he had sworn to protect them on their journey. They did not seem to know Boromir was dead. My beloved also had great misgivings about a creature who appeared to be guiding, or misguiding the hobbits on their quest to destroy the ring, a being fearful and spiteful by turns.

"Eowyn, it was a device of great evil, this ring. I beheld it with my own eyes. It held a power that probed my mind to find it's path of destruction. It knew my every weakness and promised strength. It offered knowledge of all things, and even pledged my father's high regard. How could my father desire this thing? How could he think to control it? How could he hope to win the peace with this tool of evil? I would not pick it up if I found it on the roadside."

My poor Faramir was in great turmoil, first to suffer knowledge of his cherished brother's death, then to be tested by such an evil. But he had overcome it. Of that there was no doubt. He had helped the hobbits resume their quest to destroy the ring, and was prepared to face Lord Denethor's wrath.

Chapter 12 Wedding and Birth

We could now be wed. But our joy was greatly tempered by the reason it could be so. When the misfortune of another (even though we had no hand in it!) makes way for ones own fortune, the joy is tainted by guilt and regret. And so it was with Faramir and I. He mourned his brother profoundly, and told me then that it was Boromir who persuaded him to seek me out again on the wedding night, when I had fled to the siege room. His brother said that we deserved happiness, and he could see we loved each other from the depths of our eyes. Again, I berated myself for my harsh judgment of Boromir, who felt and saw far more than he showed.

It mattered deeply to Faramir that we be wed soon. It pained him that he had placed me in a position where I had not been able to acknowledge our union. He was also very adamant that by law, as well as in truth, he could claim our child as his true son or daughter. We took Prince Imrahil, lately summoned again from Dol Amroth, into our confidence, and he agreed to officiate our marriage. We three deemed it unwise to give Denethor, still bereft to distraction by Boromir's death, any knowledge of our wedding at this time.

By now I felt as large as a loaf that could rise no more and must soon be baked. I could not think how to present myself for the ceremony. It was then that my beloved gifted me with a full cloak of midnight blue velvet. It was worked about the borders and hems with a magnificent silver embroidery of stars and moons. It had belonged to his mother, and so as we were wed, we were blessed from the house of his ancestors. My dear handmaidens, Prince Imrahil's sons and daughter, and a few of Faramir's rangers who were close friends, witnessed our vows. My husband gripped my hand as though I was falling from a parapet and he must not let me go.

Our son was bon to the dawn of darkening skies. He was reluctant to enter the world, but with enemy armies amassing from all directions, who could fault his judgment? Of the birthing itself, I will say only this; there is a great deal of lore on the subject, but none of it proved useful. As our people say "In the end, you must mount the horse and ride."

Elboron had raven hair, and eyes the color of the Bay of Belfalas. He wore his father's grave expression, and the top of his head smelled like sweet hay. He was a perfect little creature. Tarynth and Finduin offered to find a wet nurse because I appeared so spent, but I know that the foal thrives best on his own mother's milk, and would not be gainsaid in this. Soon he nursed contentedly, while his father looked on in awe.

When the mite drifted off, my husband eased quietly next to us and we nestled there, gazing down at him. We could not speak what was in our hearts, but there was understanding between us. This child was the fulfillment of our love. No son or daughter could ever have been more welcome in the world by mother and father both. And our hearts were breaking to think that we had brought him into the world in such a time of peril.

Faramir sent word to his father of Elboron's birth, though he surely must have known. He never gave a reply, nor did he ever come to acknowledge his grandson.

A few days later, Prince Imrahil came softly to Faramir's chambers. We bid him enter and he smiled down at the babe.

"Well done, Lady Eowyn! Congratulations, Faramir on the birth of your first son! How will he be named?"

"Elboron, in memory of his uncle," my husband whispered.

"Elboron, of the house of Hurin, you are most welcomed into this world. May you serve Gondor and your house with honor and may the blessing of the Valar be upon you all the days of your life." As he had stood for the head of the family at our wedding, Prince Imrahil stood now for the name day of our son.

Knowing my husband must surely face a great battle, and soon, I placed Elboron in his arms, for courage. Still haunted by the retreat across the Anduin, and the attack of the Nazgul at Osgilliath, I know he would face the full strength of the enemy in battle with complete understanding of its malice and might. His way in battle was not the fearlessness of the berserker possessed with blood lust, but rather of courage born of facing down his own fear. He was not one to seek glory in danger, his only purpose in battle would be to defend those he loved. For these, among many other reasons, I deemed my husband most worthy of love and honor.

Soon Faramir was called away to war council with the Steward, Gandalf, and Imrahil, and his sons, which revealed much. To Gandalf, Faramir revealed that the quest of the ring went forward. To Denethor, it was revealed that while his first son had tried and failed to obtain the ring, his second son had it in his grasp, and had refused it. All learned that the wizard appealed to Rohan's treaty with Gondor, and Rohan pledged to answer. The help of the Dunedain warrior, Aragorn, and his companions was also forthcoming, which enraged Denethor but gave silent hope to my husband, who believed Aragorn may be the returning king foretold.

For his part, the Steward would not forgive his son for refusing to bring the great ring back to Gondor. His retribution was swift.

Chapter 13 Fear and Fury, Fire and Ice

On the dawn of the third day following the council, Lord Denethor sent his only son out to lead an attempt to take back the strategic fort at Osgilliath. The White Company was vastly outnumbered and surely doomed. The Steward would not be persuaded by Gandalf or Prince Imrahil to stay the order. For Faramir to defy his father would be treason. People wept in the streets, man, woman an child alike. This strike was unnecessary surely, for everyone had heard rumors that Theoden King of Rohan and the warrior Lord Aragon, who helped with Rohan's victory at Helm's Deep, were even now coming to the aid of Gondor.

At the gate courtyard, in desperation, I tore off the hem of my blue gown and tied it to the belt of my husband's sword sheath, as they do in my land. "I will look for this color as you ride back to me, my beloved husband." I looked at him evenly, struggling for dry eyes. Anything else implied I doubted his return. "My beloved lady wife, farewell." He bent down to kiss me and then his son, and he mounted his horse and the gates opened, and closed behind my husband, now leading the White Company. It seemed that Minas TIrith held it's breath.

A chill night and a dense black fog had obscured the enemy's approach. With dawn we beheld enemy regiments stretched as far as the eye could see.

I swiftly brought Elboron to the siege room with Tarynth and Finduin, where we had arranged supplies we would need to weather the siege. Dried food, fresh water, lanterns and oil, clothing and nappies for the babe. I nursed my son to sleep and placed him in Tarynth's arms. Ai, he looked so peaceful!

"I will return soon." I promised. I was so thankful they accepted this without protest. They nodded and bit the corners of their mouths bravely.

I ran to the walls. An army of orcs were swiftly advancing. There were trolls among them, great siege engines. Then the attack began. Orc archers sent arrows, Gondor' s archers answered. Catapults sent fireballs. The wraith-bearing Nazgul arrived swooping away handfuls of archers and guards upon the parapets. The Shrieking of these beasts carved fear into every heart. Siege engines approached.

Then began the darkest hours of my life. With sickening thuds, heads began to rain onto the rampart walls, near where I watched. Dashing among them, I despaired to find so many I recognized from the White Company. But I could not find the one I knew best. A sudden hot fury ignited in me. Where was my sword? It was time to keep my oath to hearth and home. By the time I rode out, the fury was a flame the engulfed me. My skin burned. It was said I took up my sword, peeled the helm, shield and mail from a fallen guard and went to the un-guarded stables and saddled my horse, oblivious to what went on around me. But I remember nothing of this.

I often wondered later how, in riding down the streets of the city, I did not see my wounded husband being born up, even in such turmoil. By the time I got to the gates they had already been breached. And as I hesitated there, I heard the horns of Rohan. I went out to answer them.

Time and again I have observed in healing halls how, for some at least, the spirit can only withstand so much of the horror of battle and then retreats outside the body. It can be the lasting effect of this, more than wounds, that hinders healing. But my spirit must have done this, for I have only vague hauntings of my sword being swung, giant mumakil thundering across the Pellenor, swarms of orcs and Easterlings, the flashing banner of the white horse of Rohan on a field of green. And then I spied Theoden King, fallen before a nazgul, who was ready to consume his flesh. The evil being astride it, Faramir had before described to me as if in a nightmare. It was the Witch King of Agmar who gloated with wicked malice. I moved between them and my uncle, cleaving the head from the beast before I had time to wonder if it was possible. The rider slid off the writhing corpse in a rage.

The power of his might was not in his great strength and size only, but in his evil sorcery. Where his visage should have been, I saw only my own despair. My husband's head, bereft of his body. My babe lying blue and lifeless on a cold stone floor. My brother and uncle slain and devoured in answering an oath to which I had bound them. My remaining days and nights in thrall of Grima with his filthy fist clenched around my heart.

My spirit came back into me and the fire flared in me again. I would hinder this being. Nay, end him. I swung my sword wide, and he hurled his mace toward my heart, where I brought up the shield barely in time. But the force shattered the shield to bits and the mace bit into my arm.

"Do you not know that no living man may hinder me?" he gloated.

"Fool, taste the wrath of a woman!" I shrieked, as I leaped up, driving my sword into the depths of my despair. A cold pain shot up my arm and into my body, and had I not yet been so burning with fury, I know it would have frozen my very heart. Then the world began to spin away, and when I woke, I believed it would be to the Great Golden Hall of my Ancestors.

Chapter 14 Healing

"Eowyn, my beautiful Lady, will you not come back to us now?" I heard my husband weeping.

I remembered a dream, and another voice, but not my husband's, who called me back from the gates of the Great Golden Hall.

My eyes opened and I saw my husband's head reclining on a bed across from mine, with our wailing son by his side. But this could not be. They were gone.

"Shhh, Fara, I am in a lovely dream."

"Nay, Lady Wife, I am the dreamer, remember? I will have our son placed beside you now. He will take no one else's breast."

The healer Ioreth brought Elboron to me and settled him against me. A familiar warm feeling of well-being enveloped me and as he nursed, I smelled fresh sweet hay and balsam.

"Fara, is it really you there?"

"I am here with you, Eowyn."

"Can you move a little, so I can see your head is still upon your shoulders?"

He laughed ruefully, then began to weep again. The healer assisted him. He could move little, but the effort satisfied me.

My shield arm was bandaged, but my sword arm, when I tried to shift my babe for his second course, was frozen. How could that be when I was so hot? Soon Ioreth shifted the babe, cooled my brow with a wet cloth, and I dozed off again.

When I next awoke, my brother's face was looming over mine.

"Why do you stay abed, Wild FIlly? Have you already run out of dragons to slay?"

"Stupid Mule, you come ever late to my rescue!"

Eomer roared with laughter, relieved to see me with wits, at least, to remember our way with each other. His loudness startled Elboron, who began to whimper.

"Is this YOUR child, sister? How did you come to spawn such an ugly toad?"

He swooped up his nephew and held him aloft and inch from his face, making horrid grimaces.

"There, there little toad, you cannot hope to be as handsome as your Uncle Eomer."

Faramir tried to rise from his bed too quickly and winced in pain. My brother pretended to notice him for the first time.

"Is this the father then? Ah, well, that will explain it."

Faramir attempted to sit up, this time groaning and pushing up onto his elbows, but his son was out of his reach. Eomer was now rocking the crying Elboron clumsily to and fro, chanting loudly in Rhorric, while my husband looked on horrified.

"Eowyn, please! Make him stop. He frightens the child!" he pleaded.

"Fara, he sings a Rhorric blessing, much like your uncle gave." I soothed.

Not soon enough for my lord husband, Eomer placed the babe at my side and grinned widely.

"There, now he will be riding in no time."

Soon Ioreth entered and chased him out, but not before he promised to return in the morning.

"Eowyn." My husband sounded very cross. "Is your brother always such an ass?"

I laughed in surprise to hear my husband speak so plainly.

"Yes, always. But will you try to endure him for my sake?"

"For your sake, I will try, my love," he responded somewhat petulantly and winced again.

"Husband dear, how badly are you hurt?"

"I am well enough, beloved. Two orc arrows pierced my thigh, and my shoulder was opened by a sword. But they say all is mending cleanly. And your arm, does it pain you much?"

I told him it was fine, for I did not want to be dosed with poppy, lest it taint my milk. But in truth, it throbbed steadily. Yet it was not the broken shield arm which concerned me, but the one which seemed so cold and lifeless. I did not confide this as I did not want to increase his worry.

He told me how we were both in grave danger for a time. How Aragorn, who brought the battle of the Pellenor to victory, had come to us later and had called us back from the brink of death with healing strength and lore. He told me how this extraordinary healing power was a sign of the King returned. There was the uncompromising poison of the Black Breath in the arrows which my husband took, and also in the mace with with the Witch King pierced my arm.

"Please, husband, never speak of him again!" I wailed.

"Eowyn," my husband was pained to see me so distraught. "Even if I do not, you will not escape it, there are already ballads being composed in your honor. But this I will say and no more. To the end of our days, I am proud to call you wife, for your valor and your love."

"Husband, it was fury and despair. I thought I had lost you." I cried.

"Hush now, my beloved. We are all together, let us sleep while our son does."

"Mmm."

The next morning Eomer had returned, as promised, though not better behaved.

"What, he is not in the saddle yet? Father! (he turned to scold my husband) You will not do well to coddle him forever." My brother brought me honey cakes and insisted I eat some more, "lest the babe grow up to be a scrawny Gondorian troubadour or some foppish lordling bedding other men's wives." When he was satisfied with my progress, and had had enough sport at my husband's expense, he kissed my brow and the babe's and left.

"What an ass! Eowyn, you could not have shared the same parents. Surely."

Though my husband withheld much from me at this time it was a mercy for it gave me time to rest and heal. I knew that my uncle, the beloved King of Rohan, was dead. But I did not know that Gondor and Rohan rode behind Aragorn and his companions from the Fellowship of the Ring, to the Black Gate. Or that my brother, now Rohan's King, had gone with them. I knew that our fates were in the Ring Bearer's small hands. But I did not know how close the final battle. My husband did not even confide in me, until later, the horror of his father's demise, or how close he came to taking Faramir with him. He must have suffered greatly at the time, both from the pain, and with no one to share the grief.

Days passed before I thought to ask why my brother came no more. Indeed I had little sense of the passage of time, as the sky ever darkened to twilight, and there was much rain. I slept and dozed and ate ravenously, and remembered some lullabies to sing to our precious child. Faramir arranged for our beds to be moved together, and was soon standing and leaning and hopping about the room, feeding me (since I could not yet help myself) and trying to stroke some warmth into my arm. By the sheer force of his persistence, the ice began to thaw in my arm and it tingled with pins and needles. My most fond memory of him at this time, was how he brushed my hair, which was in much need of attention. (Tarynth and Finduin would have been glad for this task, but I sent them to assist the healers who were sore pressed.) Faramir brushed so carefully, loosening the tangles gently and made a plait down my back so Elboron would not pull out great locks, which he liked to grab.

Faramir sent for his lute, and played sweet and soothing melodies humming in his low soft voice. I wondered that I had never heard him play before, and he teased me that he did not play well enough for me. He was playing for his son, who had not the judgment yet to develop a taste for finer music.

When I finally did think to ask where was my brother, and why we had not been summoned by the Steward, and would Aragorn now take the throne, he told me all. I was frantic and insisted upon looking east to where all our hopes had gone. He wrapped the starry night cloak about me and we helped each other to the garden wall to face the black sky.

The strangest thought came to me then. What if I had stayed in Rohan a year ago and refused the marriage arrangement a final time? What if I had rode out to battle with the Rohirrim on Pellenor Field? Would Faramir and I have found each other now in the Houses of Healing? Would we now be falling in love? I imagined it that way for a time. It was such a curious idea that it distracted me from the sheer dread of our doom for awhile. And then we heard the song of Eagles.