"The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire."
-"The Window on the West", The Two Towers
Éowyn inhaled deeply. The air in Ithilien was like nothing she had ever breathed before; different scents—sweet ones, a slight spiciness, perhaps a little tartness that complimented the sweetness—mingled and confused her nose, though not unpleasantly at all.
It was the very first thing that struck her about Ithilien, the smell—the smell of new things growing, and old things going quietly to sleep in the softly creeping autumn. Then, she looked around. She felt as if she were stepping in a holy shrine of beauty, and she strove to make even her footfalls as light as possible on the crunching apricot-orange leaves that lay underfoot. If she could, she would have gone barefoot and gazed in reverent silence at the lovely perfection of it all.
It was the beginning of fall, and everywhere she looked, she could see life preparing to rest—squirrels scurrying quietly about their business gathering nuts, plants blazing out in brilliant colors of yellow and red then quietly shedding their leaves, a peaceful hush and tranquility pervading the woodland as the year drew to a close and they prepared to face a new one.
They do not know that the horror we endured with the year past will never come back to haunt us, she mused. To the forest, it is but the end of another year, and a new one will start once more, no more different from the ones it has endured for so long. But for us, it is the start of a new world, a new life… She let out a sigh of contentment, and as if he had read her thoughts—perhaps he had!—Faramir's arm came to rest about her shoulder.
"Is it not serene?" he said, softly. "Can you not feel that everything is as it should be, and that the darkness is finally, wholly vanquished?"
She turned to him and smiled. "Yes, indeed. But tell me, my lord, why did you bring me here?"
Faramir grinned rather slyly. "The loveliness of the forest is not answer enough? Or can I not bring my betrothed on the eve of our wedding to what is soon to be our home?"
Éowyn made no answer but continued to take in every detail of the forest. She wandered off, going where whim lead her, to this sweet-smelling herb, to that flower, and the Ithilien Ranger followed close by with barely a sound. Then, he took her hand and lead her to a shallow dell, one that accommodated an old, wide stone basin. The basin held clear water, a minute lake in the midst of the wilderness.
"It is beautiful, Faramir," she said, touching the rose brambles that almost entirely covered the stonework, here and there sporting a wild rose. She almost clapped her hands in delight when she saw the irises standing proudly, and the virgin white water lilies floating on the glassy surface of the lakelet. Finally tearing her eyes away, she asked, "How did it come to be here?"
"You ask a long story, love, and I still have much to show you," he answered. "But sit, and I shall tell it, if my lady so commands."
"I do so. And being the Witch-King slayer, I believe it would be best for you to obey."
Nodding solemnly, though his eyes twinkled, Faramir sat on the springy ground beside the loch and began his tale. Éowyn smoothed her skirts and settled down beside him.
"Are you schooled, my lady, in the history of Gondor?"
She frowned. "Sufficiently."
"You know of Valacar?"
"Valacar? Was he not the cause of the Kin-Strife? He was one of your kings, if I'm not mistaken. He was sent to the Northmen as ambassador during his father's reign."
"Yes. And he came back with a wife, a Northern lady of whom few approved." His eyes were both teasing and tender. She smiled and drew closer to him.
"Do tell of this king and his Northern wife."
"As you said earlier, he was ambassador to the Northmen at his father, Romendacil's request. Romendacil was a great king, and he especially favored one Vidugavia, self-appointed Prince of Rhovanion; he was the most powerful of the northern princes. He had aided Gondor in many battles. Romendacil, wishing to create stronger bonds between Gondor and the Northmen, sent his son, Valacar, to learn their customs, to eat their bread, to speak their tongue.
"Little did he know that Valacar would do far more than that."
Éowyn nestled even closer. "He fell in love?"
"Aye, he did indeed, with the daughter of Vidugavia. And the lady was noble and fair. Though at first many disapproved, soon, all came to love her. But the people's concern was that she was short-lived—they were afraid that because of this "mingling of lesser blood", as they termed it, the heir to the throne of Gondor would be short-lived also." Éowyn now shifted restlessly, and Faramir laid a restraining hand on her golden tresses.
"Never forget, Éowyn," he said fondly, "that I never regret loving you and deciding that I would make you my wife, and that I will never think of you as lesser. I would not trade my wild shieldmaiden for all the long-lived Númenorean ladies of the court." She nodded, touched, and requested for him to proceed with the story.
"Before his wife died, Valacar brought her here, to this very spot, where he had had made a small place of resting for her. And he swore to her that here, if nowhere else, would remain some respect and honor for her home and her race, though no one else should respect and honor it any longer. And as you see, he kept that promise." Faramir plucked a rose and began to insinuate his hands into the rose brambles, braving the thorns, finally managing to manipulate the plants and getting a small space free. He rubbed the moss away, and beneath that, Éowyn beheld artwork more intricate than she had ever seen before. She caught but a glimpse of a man with free flowing hair, prouder and fiercer looking than any man of Gondor she had ever seen, with a horn to his mouth, on a mount just as impressive as the rider.
A careful hand moved through her hair, and she found herself smiling into Faramir's face as he placed the rose behind her ear, stripped of all its thorns.
"More fitting, I think, than a war helmet." He said it very matter-of-factly, while somehow managing to inject sweetness into his words. She blushed, but was still rather occupied by the story of the place.
"And is that all there is to it? Is that all of the story?" She found it lacking, somehow.
"That is the gist of it, but there is a short epilogue, if you wish to hear it."
"I do, very much." How Faramir managed to make her so interested in stories she would never understand, but he did.
"Eldacar, their son, was fair and strong, and he too had a lady love, one of the Northerners just as his father had loved a Northerner. They lived in relative peace for a while, but already Gondor was stirring. You know of the Kin-Strife." Éowyn nodded.
"But before he was driven out of his home, he came to this basin and told his wife that, should they by any chance be separated, when all was well and the war was finally over they should meet by this very lake."
"And did they? Did it happen?"
"His wife was captured by their enemies. She never lived to keep tryst with Eldacar. And so, when he was finally restored as rightful king of Gondor, in his grief he had the place hidden from sight with many plants that grew quickly. Recently, however, we Rangers discovered it on one of our many forays, and it has ever after proved a handy place to drink, to refresh oneself." And with this practical ending, Faramir laughed.
Éowyn laughed too; the story suited her. "But how do you know this story? If you only discovered it recently, as you said, how can you know its history?"
"Mithrandír told me of it—a few other men in the city know of it too, but we never knew its location until four Rangers stumbled upon it, looking for a hiding place. They were being chased by many orcs." He smiled grimly. "Just another war story, Éowyn, and I am sure you have heard many. After they escaped, the Rangers cut down the surrounding vines—it was difficult work, too!—and now you see the result." The softly spilling water tinkled as if in answer.
They both stood up, for the story was very clearly ended, and stretched out. They drank from the cold water of the lake, and continued on their way. They strolled through the glades of Ithilien, sometimes savoring the silence and tranquility, sometimes speaking eagerly to each other of their hopes and dreams, their childhood memories, their fears. During one of the silences, Faramir espied a fox. He knew Éowyn could not see it.
"My lady love," he said in a quiet voice, so as not to startle the creature, "look to your right."
Rather surprised, she did, noticing nothing. "What is it you wish me to see?"
"Look closer. Do not be blinded by your surroundings; look carefully."
Not understanding, Éowyn strained her eyes. Then, a flash of orange. The fox had moved.
Looking even closer, she finally saw it. "Oh!" she cried in delight, taking an involuntary step nearer. The fox, spooked, ran.
"Oh," she repeated, but this time it was a breath of disappointment. "I am sorry, Faramir. I… I didn't think…"
He laughed. "It is nothing, Éowyn. I only wished you to see it. But next time, you will have to be more quiet. If the animals can sense that you are at peace, they too will relax. And if you act as one of them, they will trust you."
She looked up at him—though she was tall, he was still much taller. "You sound like a wood-elf, my lord," she said laughingly.
"Nay," he countered, though looking rather pleased at this comparison. "I am only a simple ranger of Ithilien. And now, let us be off. I wish to show you something, my lady, that only we simple rangers of Ithilien know of. But we must hurry, if we are to reach it in time." And with this mysterious statement, they were off.
They went through a forest passage of such twists and turns that Éowyn despaired of ever becoming acquainted with it. Surely, without Faramir, she would have been lost and died of hunger. Here, they went down a path that descended steeply, lined with flowers; there, they went through a crevice in a rock, so narrow she would never have noticed it herself. Down and up and from side to side they went, finally passing into a stone passage with many steps. And all the while, she could hear the murmuring of running water. Then, they finally rounded a corner, and she gasped.
Before them was a waterfall—a waterfall of such breathtaking beauty that she barely restrained herself from rubbing her eyes to make sure it was real. Faramir, who must have seen it many times before, gazed at the falls with not so much awe as tender pride. The sun glanced into the water, and a single shaft of light cut straight into it, branching out into many faceted beams of every color imaginable. The water itself seemed to be made up of little jewels—silver threads of water pouring down, glinting with gems. And all of it was lit by the setting sun, giving it a fiery gleam.
"The- the water," Éowyn stammered, when she finally found her voice again. "It is on fire… And all those colors! Almost like an elven creation made out of rainbows that I could actually touch… This must be... " Faramir nodded his understanding at her soft exclamations of amazement.
"Henneth Annûn," he completed for her in a whisper, "Window of the Sunset."
She took a step closer, and the rose fell out of her hair—but she did not heed it. Faramir, too, came and stood beside her, and together they watched as the fire in the water died away, leaving the water to sparkle more dully on its own. Only when the fire had completely faded did Éowyn yank her gaze away and appraise the rather cavernous chamber made of rock that accompanied the lovely falls, rough and a little crude, with a sloping ceiling. Faramir proceeded to find a seat for them both, but Éowyn called to him.
"Love, I would be much more at my ease on the ground," and with that, she plopped down with her back against the wall.
He gave a droll bow and a grin, and sank to the floor beside her. There was silence for a while.
Finally, Éowyn spoke. "This is where you discovered and rejected the Ring, is it not?"
"Yes." Faramir answered simply, with no expression on his face, not of regret, or arrogance, or longing.
Éowyn shivered and thought on it—what would she have done if the Ring had passed just in her reach? She knew. She would have taken it, desiring to shake Rohan's king out of his apathy, desiring to show Éomer and the other men that she was a woman capable of deeds as great as any man's, desiring to win Aragorn's love. But I am wiser now, she told herself firmly. She was simply grateful she had never been put to the test.
Faramir deserves more praise than he receives for his great act, she thought rather resentfully. He was not in the last Great Battle, and so will not be remembered as one of the great ones, like Éomer and Aragorn and Imrahil and Gandalf, though he deserves renown just as much as any of them. Would Éomer have said no to the Ring, I wonder?
"You would have done the same in my place. Denying the Ring was not as great as you think it to be." Éowyn was startled out of her thoughts, and whipped her head around to find Faramir watching her closely. How did he manage to read her thoughts so easily? Were they written so clearly on her face?
"You are wrong, Faramir. It was a great deed, and deserves to be remembered as such."
"But I had no inclination to do otherwise. If I had, and I had refused the Ring regardless, then perhaps it might have been worthy of your praise."
"If you had no inclination, then you are an extraordinary man, Faramir, and I am glad that, tomorrow, I will have the honor of calling you my husband."
There was a companionable silence.
"My fair lady, it will be too dark for your liking soon, and we must be back or your brother will flog me for treating you so." There was a hint of amusement in his grey eyes. She silently took the hand he offered, though once she would have scorned such chivalry, and they followed the twisting passageway and winding paths out into the woods where Éowyn felt she could breathe freely again.
Now, the moonlight touched the surface of all the plants and the ground, gilding everything with silver. They walked in silence, for though Éowyn rather burned to exclaim once more over the beauty of Ithilien, now seen in the cool night light, Faramir was clearly deep in thought. Finally, she could bear it no longer.
"The stars shine brightly tonight," she commented noncommittally, giving him a sidelong glance.
"Yes, they do," he murmured, not even sparing a fleeting look at the stars which had indeed been sprinkled by a liberal hand that night. He cleared his throat, as if he had come to a decision. "Éowyn, I must ask you something."
She frowned. "What is it, Faramir?"
"What think you of Ithilien?"
What thought she of Ithilien? No words could do justice to her opinion. "It is a restful place, one of extraordinary beauty and hidden secrets," she finally said, truthfully.
"Do you… do you believe you could come to love it?" His voice was hesitant, though the expression on his face was unreadable.
"I love it already," she answered earnestly.
Faramir still hesitated. "And… would you enjoy being Princess of Ithilien?"
She stopped, confused. What on earth did he mean? Would she enjoy being his wife? Surely he already knew the answer?
"I mean to say," he continued, hurriedly, his words suddenly tumbling out in a rush, "would you pine for Rohan, if you lived here? Would you tire of Ithilien, fair though it may be, and wish to return home, one day?"
She almost laughed. Was that what was causing him such distress? That she might fall victim to homesickness? Surely his fears were unfounded—why, she had done nothing but praise Ithilien! And though she loved Rohan, always she had dreamed of places far beyond, places of adventure, places to relieve the monotony of flat plains...
The wind blew, and she pulled her garment closer around her. As she touched the mantle's silky surface, and brushed against an embroidered silver star, she realized. Of course. Finduilas. How could she have forgotten? Faramir must have been thinking of her… the poor, sweet mother he would never have the chance to see again, who had sung songs of the sea to her children while surrounded by those cold, hard walls, her back turned to the horror of the East, her grey eyes fixed longingly on the South. She checked her laughter immediately.
"Faramir, if I did not love you already, I would have to pretend to do so; for now, having seen it, I would stop at nothing to make Ithilien my home. Oh, but Faramir," she said with a sudden sweet seriousness, "I do love you, and even were you Prince of a dark abandoned hole and lord of brigands, still I would go and live with you happily, and think only sometimes of the plains of Rohan, and never longingly." And to emphasize her point, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
His eyes shone. "I can think of no fitting answer, save that tomorrow cannot arrive as soon as I would wish it to."
"We must be patient—but tomorrow will be the end of all our waiting, and the true start of a new life and beginning," she said, trustingly.
And she knew it to be true, too.
Back to where their horses stood tethered they walked, arm in arm, king and queen of the woods.
"… fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a disheveled dryad of loveliness."
-"Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit", The Two Towers
A/N: Valacar and his son, Eldacar, are both mentioned in Appendix A, underneath Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion. Valacar did indeed marry a Northerner, thus angering several of the Gondorrim (many of whom were his own kin) and causing the Kin-Strife, though it took place during Eldacar's time. The basin was the same one Frodo, Sam, and Gollum stopped at during their journey through Ithilien. I linked Valacar and the basin, and VAVOOM, we had a story. :D I believe the story is entirely possible, though it isn't canon. Also, it is not specifically stated that Eldacar married a Northerner too, but I quote: "After the return of Eldacar the blood of the kingly house and other houses of the Dúnedain became more mingled with that of lesser Men." Eldacar lived to celebrate his 235th birthday.
The Window of the Sunset, of course, is straight from the book, also from Frodo and Sam's experience in Ithilien.
When Éowyn ponders on her choice regarding the Ring, she is assuming the Ring comes to her during her darkest hours, when Théoden still did nothing and listened to his treacherous counsellor, when Eomer was forever riding out on raids she wished she herself could go on, when she still "loved" Aragorn.
So... that's done. Thanks for reading! A review would be lovely. :)