She has not yet returned; Faramir fretted, twisting his wedding ring again. Outside the thick stone walls of the Prince's keep, the wild wind howled, the rain clattered against the closed windows. At least that rain had lessened in the last hour. So where in Emyn Arnen were his lady and son on this cruel December night?
He stood up and paced once more about his study. The sight of fine books and parchments mounted on sturdy shelves brought Faramir no comfort this eve. They should have come home by now!
They were not unguarded; he told himself. But even strong guardsmen who would willingly die to save his family's lives might not provide enough protection. A tree could fall suddenly and spook the horses, leaving Eowyn and Elboron hurt or worse! The Sun had just set. Footpads, brigands, wolves, who knew what fell creatures could stalk them on the outskirts of their own townlands!
Enough! The Prince stopped pacing, then stormed out of the peaceful study, to his own chambers, where he fetched a warm cloak and donned riding boots. No more waiting, he would go search for his lost ones himself!
As he ran down the wide stone steps to the main hall, the doors were flung open and Haldan, captain of Éowyn's guard, came through them, windblown but hale.
"Haldan!"Faramir shouted. "How fare they, and where--"
"Fear not, all is well, my lord," The old mansaid hastily as he held the door ajar. Faramir beheld the dearest sight imaginable: his little son bounded through the entrance; and beyond, her hair and cloakwet and her face alight, came his lady.
"Adar, adar!" Elboron chirped, running across the hall to hurl himself at his father's knees. Faramir swiftly kissed the child and lifted him. Then he crossed to Éowyn and wordlessly pulled her into his arms.
"Where have you been?" He asked, realizing that his voice sounded peevish and not caring. He set down Elboron and pulled off Éowyn's sodden cloak, draping her with the cloak he had carried. "You are wet and cold. And you were due back two hours past."
"Why, I went out for a ride, of course, as I told you," Éowyn answered calmly. "And then the rains came. Daereth, come in and warm yourself and Elboron by the fire, and you others as well." She gestured and Elboron's plump nursemaid hurried forward and took charge of the boy, removing to the great hearth, where high flames cheerily burned. Three guards followed, one of them bearing parcels.
When the guards had departed and Daereth had taken Elboron to their shared quarters, Faramir released Éowyn with some reluctance. "I feared for you," he said; as they stood with their backs to the fire.
"I am fortunate to have a husband so careful of my safety, but there was no danger, only foul weather," Éowyn replied with a fond smile.
"No danger? Winter comes soon. There was the driving rain. There could have been accidents, branches falling, horses slipping. And bandits, and-and orcs! You remember that little lad and his mother slain by orcs attacking their farmstead."
"Faramir, that attackwas many leagues away, an isolated holding, three years ago. And you led the White Company to burn out the nest of orcs. None have been seen so close to our people's dwellings since."
"Perhaps…" His voiced trailed off, but his heart was unquiet. Truth be told, keeping track of Éowyn was harder than ordering five companies of Rangers. "Where were you?"
"We had a good ride. I let Elboron hold the reins beneath my hands, while the day was fair. Then the rain began, lightly at first. We reached the village before the rain increased; and stopped awhile at the chandler's shop."
"Awhile? And you sent no word?" Faramir could not help wonder how long they had lingered there, while he had feared for their lives.
Éowyn shot a cool glance at him. "I would not have sent man or beast out in the storm; not until they could see where they set foot, and by then, when the rains lessened, we were on our way." A certain frost had crept into her voice.
Faramir sighed. Her words were certainly reasonable. "I feared for you," he repeated.
Éowyn's wintry aspect warmed, and her eyes smiled again upon him. "Husband, you fear for me when I come late from the gardens to the Hall for supper. Know you not that you can trust me to safeguard myself and our son?"
"'Tis not you I mistrust," he said; "but the hardship and danger that could befall you."
"Ah, but look what I found after braving a little rain," Éowyn said, unpacking one of the parcels. She pulled out two candles. "When I was a young maid, my grandmother set sweet-smelling candles in the Meduseld during the days of Yule. But later, Gríma was given even the purse-strings of the household. Glad he was to have me come to him to ask for necessities. He said there was no need for any but the few broken candles that remained; and I would not beg him for anything else. The Golden Hall stayed drear and dank during that last year-end."
She continued in a low voice: "It was the last time that Théodred came home from Helm's Deep, to mark Yuletide in that cheerless hall. I remember how sadly we four heirs of the kingly House of Eorl sat in the dim light while the torches sputtered and the wind howled outside."
Éowyn lifted the candles. "Smell them, Faramir," she implored; and he did. One candle bore the tang of mint, near to a scent that Éowyn favored on her person. He caught a whiff of cinnamon from the other one, and could not help but smile.
"When my Rangers were late to return to camp or the refuge, it often meant that they never would," he told her. "But I forgive your tardiness, since I am not your captain. Besides, these candles have a most pleasant odor."
"I would order more of them, for winter court. Which scent do you prefer?"
"I like them both," Faramir answered. "Pick the candles you deem are best for the occasion, as many as are needed."
He wrapped his arms around Éowyn once more, then kissed her forehead. As he felt her relax against him, Faramir declared gladly: "We cannot forget the sorrows of the past, my heart. But when winter's shadows grow long, we will fill our hall with light."
Author's Note: Haldan, captain of the household guard, was created by Lady Branwyn in her wonderful story Book Learning, and is used here with her permission.