Upon the ninth day of the ninth month of the year the King of Rohan entered the gates of Minas Tirith. Thirty men rode with him, their helms and shields glinting in the sunlight as they passed through the City streets, and all were looked upon in wonder, for they were tall and fair of face, and strength was in their arms. Among the cheers of the people Éomer made his way up to the Citadel and the Tower Hall, and there he greeted King Elessar and the Lords in attendance; and he spoke with them for a while, of agreements and matters of state, until all men took their leave and the two rulers found themselves alone. And they greeted each other once more, as brothers in arms and friends; and these were the words they spoke:
"Well met, brother," said Éomer.
"Well met, indeed," Aragorn replied. "You are well, I hope?"
"I am, as you seem to be also; as many things blessedly seem to be these days. The land itself looked as if at rest as we rode here, and even the night at peace. My heart lifted to see it." Then the smile that he bore in his eyes shifted, though it lessened not, and he said: "Better still it would be if I could greet my sister, also; is she not here?"
"Not yet, my friend; we received news of your early coming only the day before, I did not bid her hasten. She and the Lord Faramir shall arrive here in the morrow, as had been decided from the first."
"I see… I shall await her coming, then," he said, and nodded. Then after a little pause he turned his eyes upon the King of Gondor: "But until that moment, would you tell me how she fares, how she has seemed to you to this day? Nigh to four months have passed since last I saw her, and what letters she has sent to me have told me little all this time."
"How her days have been of late I fear I cannot answer, for it has been many weeks since last I saw the Lady Éowyn. Yet I venture to think that she is well."
"Not once has she returned to the City? Then you spoke to her outright, before she made for Ithilien?"
"Nay, that I did not do; but nine days ago I had speech with Faramir for a fashion, and he led me to believe so."
Here Éomer turned his gaze away and parted from Aragorn's side a little; then in a careful voice he said:
"I mean no slight to the Lord Steward, for truly he is a man of honour. Yet, would you trust his words alone in this matter? If they were both unwell, would he not try to hide it from you? Would not my sister try to hide from me? For we were those who brought them together."
"I trust him to speak freely and be true to me, even in this. I doubt that we ever shall speak of his wedded days at length, but in even so little words he told me that he and your sister were well, and I saw no deceit in him. For now, I am contented."
"Yet I myself cannot be so satisfied; he may be well, but she may not…"
"My friend, Faramir would not lie-"
"But he might be blind; he may indeed think my sister at ease, but can you not remember what she has had to hide from? She knows well how to keep her heart hidden, and her mind also."
"Even from a man who can read one and understand the other? I know he can do both. Come, Éomer," Aragorn said as he walked towards him, "Faramir is a good man, and wise – you have been told so by others, you have seen it for yourself, and I tell you it again this day. For his goodness he would not let any harm fall upon your lady sister, for his wisdom he would not overlook what hurts she might have." Then he fell silent for a moment, and watched his friend with a steady gaze. "All this you have known for many months," he said, "and you have had less doubt before than you do now."
"Aye, that is true," Éomer answered, and his voice was lowered as he spoke, "for she was still by my side then, and not so many leagues apart. And it was that distance which led me to such thoughts, the distance and the passing days; so much have I thought that mere words will not suffice, be they from the most honest man in Gondor. Nay, I shall not be satisfied until I see Éowyn for myself, and she and her lord together."
And so, he waited for his sister's coming, his heart but little eased, and his thoughts wandering still. And when the morrow came and the Lord and Lady of Ithilien arrived, he was ever watchful of their bearing and their manner towards each other, and mindful of their words. And after a little time he felt some comfort, for there was naught left of the strain he had seen set upon Éowyn's shoulders four months before, and she seemed to be in good spirits indeed. Yet that alone would not suffice, he thought, for her ease beside her husband could well have come from habit, and her mood from his own arrival; and with the Lords and Ladies of the Court beside them Éomer thought she could be little else but smiling and content.
So he bade to be shown the fair gardens of the City, decked in gold and brown and copper-red in these, the early days of Fall; and soon he found himself treading white polished alleys of stone, his sister at one side, his brother by wedding at the other. And he was heartened to see the Lord Faramir walk proud and untroubled beside him, for surely he would not do so were he at odds with his wife and their marriage a burden to them both. Indeed, a light shone in his eyes, as did in Éowyn's, and, when Éomer asked of the lands of Ithilien, the smiles they gave alongside their answers were true. Verily, his doubts did lessen, and it was Faramir himself who aided him to put the final ones at rest.
"My Lord," he said at length, "I would leave you now, for you and your sister no doubt have words to be said that are meant for yourselves alone." And with a parting look between he and his lady, and a kiss to her hand, the Steward took his leave.
So it was that brother and sister walked alone for a time; and Éomer gave much thought to that leave-taking, for he had once more caught a glimpse of his sister's gaze as her lord withdrew, and for the love and happiness he thought to read there his heart lifted in hope. So, in the end, he paused in his walk, and by the shadow of an old tree he bade Éowyn wait, and said:
"Sister, the Lord Steward spoke rightly; I have indeed wished to speak to you alone for quite some time, even from before I came to Gondor, for I rode here desiring to know if you are at peace with your life and at ease with your husband. What I have seen of you and he together has set my heart at rest, yet for the love I bear you, still I would hear your own words. So do not think ill of me now if I ask: how are you and your lord?"
And Éowyn smiled at her brother, and his heart lifted even for that, for rarely had he seen her smile so readily in their later years.
"Be not troubled, Éomer, for our days come light and peaceful, and I am glad." Then looking into his eyes she said: "I love him, and he loves me in turn," and her own eyes were laughing as she spoke.
"That is… that is most well!" Éomer cried, and they embraced, and laughed together. Then he stepped back to hold his sister by the arms, and in a sterner voice he asked: "Why not tell me, then, and leave me to my worries all these months?"
"Because such time has had to pass before we could come to these feelings; I did not hold Faramir so dear to me at first, brother, and less than a month has passed since I began to know my heart. As of my telling you since then, how was I to begin? Such news I could not convey by way of a letter, and you yourself did not ask."
"Nay, for I thought you would not answer. Therein lies the fault," said Éomer, "and I shall have a care not to repeat it, for I would not have silence come between us. But until we are apart once more, and written words alone are there to serve us, would you not speak more to me of these, your light and peaceful days? And of your lord and husband who has made them so?"
And as she gave answer to his questions, and she herself asked other still – of the lands of her first home, of her kinsmen, and of her brother's days without her – evening nigh fell around them; and they returned to the Halls of the King and the Great Hall of feasts, and her lord joined them once again, in easy talk and merriment. Then night came and brought its soothing rest, and after night the new day followed, heralded by the dawn; and, when Éomer rose and walked to the edge of the balcony to watch the first ray of sunlight pierce from between the clouds, another glimmer of white and gold caught his eye to his right. And turning towards it he saw the Lord and Lady of Ithilien as they watched the sky from their chambers.
A chair had been brought out upon their own balcony, it seemed, and Éowyn sat in the arms of her lord, her hair unbound and glinting, and her head resting upon his shoulder; a white coverlet was draped around their shoulders, and their hands were clasped. And watching them Éomer wondered whether they had barely risen, as he had, or if instead they had been awake for longer. And so, he saw not the sun rising above the pale horizon, but instead its first breath of light as it fell upon them both; and in that moment he thought them happy and blessed.
And he retired with a smile upon his face, and through the coming hours he slept with a lightened heart; for he now knew his sister had found joy and comfort, and that the healing of the New Age had truly come upon her also.
Author's note: I thought I should give them their sunrise in the end, from top to finish, seeing as this story was finished as well. Also, as the last year of the Third Age would be the coming year, Éomer was only thinking metaphorically…
Well, it seems this story is complete at last, after the basic plot line came to me ten months ago. I'd like to say thank you to all who have read and reviewed this tale, the interest it generated really helped me get a move on and write. Special thanks (in the order of the helping hand being lent) to: my pal Base for reading the first six chapters in the beginning and encouraging me to continue, Raksha for her comments and especially for the Faramir and Ithilien "ramblings" – the storyline from the middle onwards turned out so much better because of them – Speak Friend And Enter for her help with chapters 15, 18, 21 and 22, and, of course, Yvonne for being endlessly patient and listening to every single one of my chapter developments before I began writing them.