Note: Written for the Summer Exchange at the LiveJournal community "faramirexchange". Butterballer had requested an adult-rated but non-slash fic, featuring Eomer and Faramir, where Eomer smells like onions.
I don't recall any mention of saunas in LOTR, but if anyone would have them, it would be the Rohirrim since they are a northern Germanic people. The long race exists nowhere except in my mind.
Thanks to Annmarwalk for her helpful comments!
"Why are you so angry?" Eomer asked in the most reasonable voice that he could muster while trying not to laugh. Word of her wrath had traveled swiftly in the crowded courts of Edoras, and he had found her in the kitchens, stabbing the hapless vegetables. She wore her hair bound up in a kerchief, as if she were already a wife, and a loose smock covered her gown.
"I cannot believe you are making him do this, as if he were some beardless, young Rider." The knife blade went thunk, thunk, thunk as Eowyn slammed it on the table. Without looking up at him, she tossed a mangled turnip aside and seized a handful of parsnips. "He was made a captain of rangers when you were still straddling a pony. He has no need to prove his prowess to anyone. I daresay he would knock you sprawling in a fair fight."
Eomer smiled, refusing to rise to the bait. "He is brother to Boromir of Gondor, so you may be right about that. But he still is a stranger to our folk. Do not forget that you are the last heir of our House, and if I die childless, Faramir's sons will rule the Mark. If he is to be your husband, he must abide by our ways."
For a moment, there was no sound as Eowyn pondered his words and pounded the knife on the table. Thunk, thunk, thunk, then scrape as she used the blade to sweep the carnage aside. "There is some truth in that," she said at last. And he thought he heard the slightest softening in her voice, but then she looked up and shook the knife at him. Strands of fair hair had escaped from the kerchief and curled about her angry, rosy face. "But I remember the last time that they held the long race. Elfhelm's arm was broken, and you came back with your beard singed off. I heard that you were drinking brandy and tried to light the fumes on your breath."
Eomer blushed in spite of himself. "Eowyn, who told you about that? Bema's boots, is there nothing secret in this town?"
"Not from me, it seems. You are lucky you took no hurt."
The words were sharp, but he saw the faintest trace of a smile, so he took advantage of this opening. "Since he arrived in Edoras, Faramir has taken counsel with the thanes from morning until night. It will do him good to ride free, away from his duties and dusty parchments. We will hunt the wise stags of the Emnet, sing the old songs, and sleep under the stars. I swear to you that no harm will befall him." Well, no serious harm anyway, Eomer said to himself. He knew of only once that a Rider had been killed on one of these forays.
"Perhaps you are right," Eowyn replied slowly. "He has done naught but sit with the counselors for the better part of a week. And indeed he should learn our ways, just as I must learn the ways of Gondor. But do not be gone for too long, for I will miss you both dearly." Still clutching a bundle of leeks, she threw her arms around his shoulders and drew him close. The reek of onions was overwhelming.
Eomer leaned down and kissed the top of her kerchief. Then he left, for much remained to be done.
He had not been entirely frank about the reasons for this journey, for he did not wish to distress her. He had seen the measuring stares, not hostile yet still not friendly, when Faramir had arrived. Grima Galmodson had not been the only man who had watched his sister with longing. That she was to wed an outlander was like pouring salt on an open wound. And now the news was abroad that Eomer was seeking the hand of the Lady Lothiriel. Would southern ways soon displace the customs of the Mark? Such, no doubt, was the fear of his men.
And to make matters worse, little was known about Faramir of Gondor. Boromir's kind and high-spirited manner had easily won their hearts; and Elessar King was held in high regard, for the Riders felt that bond that grew from shared hardship and battle. Yet Faramir had lain wounded when the hosts marched to the East, so the soldiers of the Mark had never fought by his side. They knew not what to make of this quiet stranger from the south. Eomer had decided it was time that his future kinsman became a Rider of the Mark.
They set out the next morning while the blackbirds were trilling in the grass. Eomer and Faramir rode with Marshal Elfhelm, followed by the men of the household. Despite the protests of its captain, the steward's bodyguard had been left behind in Edoras.
Boromir had once taken part in the long race, so Eomer had had no trouble persuading Faramir to join them on this journey. And besides, the man of Gondor was deeply interested in their customs. As they trotted along the stone road, he listened gravely as Eomer told him about the race. "Most men are eighteen or nineteen years of age when they hazard it, for it is a test of both wit and endurance. If they succeed, they are then allowed to join the ranks of an eored. The course is over broken terrain to remind us of our people's ride from the North, when Eorl the Young led them to battle."
"And there are still other trials that you must endure, after the race itself," Elfhelm added.
"What other trials?" Faramir asked.
Elfhelm shook his head with an expressionless look.
"We cannot speak of it. Those are the ancient rules," Eomer said solemnly.
Behind them, one of the Riders gave a loud snort of laughter. Eomer wondered if their guest had begun to regret his decision to join them.
By midday, they had reached the deep, green vale where, by tradition, the long race was held. A small hostelry had been built by the road, and two white goats were grazing on the turf roof. They raised their heads to stare at the horsemen, but the party trotted by without slowing. "We will stop there on the way back," Eomer said. The Riders were silent, but a few cast longing glances at the hostelry. When they reached the place where the road turned, skirting the valley below, they halted and dismounted.
"Here the race begins," Eomer told Faramir. "See that peak of stone on the other side of the valley?" He pointed to a pale hump of rock that rose above the distant hillside. "That is the goal. The rest of us will follow the road along the hillside. But you must cross the broken country below. Not only must you get there first, but your horse must be safe and unwinded."
"This is not enough water for my mount," Faramir replied, staring at the provisions they had given him. "The distance is at least ten leagues as the crow flies, and the day will soon turn warm." His grey gelding whickered softly and nibbled at his sleeve. The beast was tall and clean-limbed, with a graceful bend to his neck, and though he was arrayed in strange southern tack, it was plain to see that his sires must have hailed from the Mark.
Eomer shook his head. "You will have to find more water as you ride. Those are the ancient rules."
"And what is this?" Faramir gestured toward the sacks of grain and heavy armor that the Riders were loading on his horse.
"When the Eorlingas rode from the North, they carried gear of war and provender for a long journey."
"That weighs at least a hundredweight; Mithrin will be overburdened."
"Faramir, you are supposed to be hastening to the aid of your southern allies. You forfeit the race if you throw away your own provisions and armor," Eomer said pointedly.
Halfway through the course, when he reached the steep ravine, Faramir would have to choose between endangering his horse and abandoning the gear. Despite the shame of losing the race, a true Rider would leave the armor and grain in a heap.
When all was ready, Eomer and the others wished Faramir luck, and then the steward spoke quietly in Sindarin to his horse and led him down the steep bank of the road. He turned to wave in farewell then disappeared into the thickets, still leading the horse by the reins.
"So how long do you think he will be waiting before we get there, Sire?" Elfhelm asked.
Eomer rubbed his chin. "Hmmm. You may be right. We should have devised a way to make this race at least somewhat difficult."
A short while later, the two youngest of the troop led their horses down the bank and into the thickets, after Faramir. Traveling in such wilderness was not without peril, so someone was always sent to shadow the horseman. These two lads would watch over him with Faramir none the wiser.
Eomer's party set out at a slow amble. It was high summer, and though the air would soon be hot and still in the valley below, the road ran high on the hillside where the wind was cool. The horses' hooves clopped at an easy walk, while the Riders sang, with varying tunefulness, the old song about the maiden and the onion. Most of them knew only portions of the verses, so the song would come to a halt until someone called out the next words—"She grabbed the onion firmly and pulled it by its hairy root"--and then the singing continued. On such a fine day, what could be better than to ride out in the company of friends, Eomer thought.
"Prince Faramir seems most unlike his brother," old Todric remarked as they rode. "Save for his looks, of course."
"Well, they say that the old steward was a silent man, little given to mirth or song," another Rider added. "Perhaps this one apple fell closer to the tree."
In the late afternoon, they reached the meeting place. Three horses raised their heads from their grazing and whickered in greeting. One of the two young riders sat against a tree, with a bandaged leg stretched out before him. The other was stirring a pot over a small fire. His right arm was set in a sling.
"What happened to you two?" Eomer shouted as he swung down from the saddle. "And where is Prince Faramir? Is he hurt?"
"No, Sire. He is searching for some herbs," the Rider with the sling replied. "He needs them for my arm. I sprained it when I was thrown in the river after Freydis stepped on a hornet's nest and bolted away. Prince Faramir heard my shouting and fished me out of the water. He says that the herbs are also needed to treat Heregeard's leg."
"And what happened to Heregeard?"
"He twisted his ankle while he was trying to outrun the wolf."
"That one, Sire." The young Rider pointed, and Eomer stared. Nearby lay the hunched carcass of a wolf, the largest that Eomer had ever seen in his life. The creature had been felled by a single shot to the throat.
"Good thing we sent that outlander along to keep an eye on you two," a Rider muttered under his breath.
Faramir soon returned with a handful of what looked to Eomer like common weeds. His adventures had left him unscathed save for his soaked clothing. The Riders gathered together to judge his success on the course.
"I must forfeit the race," Faramir told them simply. "I had to leave the armor and grain when we came to a dangerous slope." Then the man of Gondor stared in surprise as the Riders cheered.
"You made the right choice!" Eomer said. "You refused to risk your horse for the sake of a challenge."
"And even after taking time to slay the wolf and haul young Finn from the river, he still outstripped us by at least an hour," Elfhelm stated.
Old Todric scowled and stroked his grey beard. "And bringing back Heregeard and Finn is worth at least a few points."
"But only a few," someone added. Finn blushed as the Riders tousled his fair hair and thumped him on the back.
Eomer raised a hand for silence. "Then if we are agreed, he has won the race. But now, having ridden the course, he must prove that he is still fit to fight at the journey's end."
Elfhelm glanced at the arrow in the wolf's throat. "No need for a trial with the bow, so that leaves swordsmanship to judge. However, since Prince Faramir's skill with a blade is well-known, Eomer King and I have devised a different challenge."
"Your words make me most uneasy," Faramir said with a laugh.
"As well they might," Elfhelm replied. "For you are to fight Eomer King armed with naught but an onion"
The Riders shouted with laughter, and even scholarly Faramir grinned like a young lad. To ready for the fight, Eomer and the steward put aside their arms and stripped down to their braes. The men of the eored quickly made wagers on who would be the winner.
"Your weapons, lords." Elfhelm handed each a large onion with long green leaves. "There are no rules, though I would point out that if either fighter is hurt, you both will face the wrath of Lady Eowyn."
Armed with vegetables, the two warriors circled each other at a wary distance.
"Surrender now, old man," Eomer growled, trying not to laugh. The steward was his elder by eight years.
"Do you not have the onions to fight me?" Faramir replied, brandishing his floppy weapon in an unseemly fashion. While Eomer was laughing, the steward sprang at him and bore him to the ground.
"That was a low trick," Eomer sputtered through a mouthful of grass. "Boromir would never have done such a thing." With a great heave, he managed to pin the steward under his weight.
"Who did you think taught me to fight?" Faramir replied as he shoved the onion in Eomer's face, driving his head back. The man of Gondor wiggled free and rolled to his feet. Quickly recovering, Eomer caught at his ankle and tripped him.
Elfhelm strode forward. "I declare this match at an end. Prince Faramir has duly proven his skill. And so the long race is ended."
The men crowded about the new Rider and buffeted and embraced him until Eomer feared they would knock him to the ground. Half-naked and streaked with dust, Faramir smiled.
"And now you must get a tattoo. In honor of the events of this day," Eomer told the steward. The troop had ridden back to the small hostelry and sat on the benches by the fire.
"A tattoo?" Faramir asked.
"I know that they practice this art in Gondor," Elfhelm said, as he untied a small bundle and set out the shining needles and tiny pots of pigment. "Did not your own brother sport a large tattoo of a horn on his—uh, backside?"
Faramir smiled wryly. "He had it done after a late-night revel in Dol Amroth, and he rued the deed when he woke on the morrow. Though the mark was in such a place that few would ever see it."
Someone made a strange sound, halfway between a laugh and a cough, and several of the Riders were grinning broadly. No small number of people had gazed upon that famous tattoo during Boromir's visits to Edoras.
"Well, you need not worry, Prince Faramir. I can make the mark small. It is always drawn on the back of the right shoulder, so your tunic needs to come off." Faramir stripped to the waist, then as he sat on the floor by the light of the fire, the marshal laved his right shoulder with soap and water. His back was terribly scarred where the southron arrow had torn his flesh during the siege of the White City, and the tale of other battles was traced in jagged runes on his body. It is a wonder that he lived to see this day, Eomer thought grimly.
Faramir watched with great interest as, using ink and a tiny brush, the marshal sketched the traditional design—a running horse--on his skin. He stared very closely as Elfhelm held a long needle in the fire to clean it.
"Are you certain you would rather not have a big horn on your backside?" Eomer asked, trying to distract him. He thought the man looked a trifle pale.
"Now try not to jump. The needle will sting," Elfhelm warned as he made the first stab.
Faramir winced; then he glanced uneasily at the needle poking into his skin.
"Drink this." Eomer handed him a cup of mead. "You are far too sober to endure this. You need to be drunk. The drunker the better."
Faramir took the cup. "Just remember that your sister will someday see whatever you and the good marshal draw on me while I am besotted."
Elfhelm looked up from his work. "Why do you not trust us?"
"An onion," Eomer said. "Draw a giant onion, right on his--"
"However, sire, for my own health and well-being, I will have to tell the lady Eowyn that you ordered me to do it. And now we had better stop making Prince Faramir laugh or this tattoo will have five legs."
Two cups of mead later, the drawing was done. While Faramir donned his shirt and tunic, the maidservants brought their supper--berries and cream and good roast mutton and freshly-baked bread. The soldiers, after a long day of riding, stuffed their faces like a pack of starving squirrels.
Smoothing the front of her apron, the innkeeper leaned down to speak to Eomer. "Who is that dark-haired man?" she whispered with a sidelong glance toward the steward. "He is most handsomely made."
"A new Rider," Eomer told her.
She gave him an arch smile. "After the long race, no doubt he is dusty and weary and sorely in need of a bath and a backrub." This innkeeper was well-known for putting comely guests at their ease.
When the men had blunted the edge of their hunger, they raised their cups and drank waes hael to their King and also to the new Rider--the overly quiet yet valiant Prince Faramir, slayer of wolves and by far the oldest man to ever ride the long race. The cups were raised again and again. The mead was sweet and strong, and the weary steward's eyes soon grew bright.
When the dishes had been cleared away, the innkeeper told them that the bathhouse was ready.
"It is part of the tradition to take a steam bath after the race," Eomer told the man of Gondor as he led him to the small hut behind the inn. A tiny stove sat in the middle of the low room, and wooden benches ran around the walls. They stripped off their dusty clothes and boots and left their weapons by the door. With a happy sigh, Faramir lay full length on one of the benches, while Eomer flung some water on the hot stove.
"Folk in Dol Amroth also take steam baths. I ought to build a bathhouse like this in Ithilien," Faramir said drowsily, his eye half-closed.
Eomer stretched himself out on a bench. The warm cedar wood felt so good against his weary back. "Eowyn would be pleased. She was always fond of the one at Edoras."
Then they fell silent, and the only sound was the hissing of the stove. After a while, the door creaked softly, and the innkeeper stole into the room. She bore soft, fluffy towels and a small bottle of sweet-smelling oil to knead into sore muscles. With a wink at Eomer, she leaned over the other man. She ran a hand softly along his cheek. Faramir stirred a little but did not open his eyes.
The innkeeper looked up, startled. "What ails him, Eomer King? He is either stone drunk or dead weary."
Eomer peered in the man of Gondor's face. "Both, I fear. He is unused to mead for his people do not brew it. He will not wake for hours, so I deem we had best get him to bed."
"What a shame. I was so looking forward to working the stiffness out of those shoulders," the innkeeper murmured, her gaze lingering on Faramir's nakedness. She traced the curve of one hip with her fingertips, and she brushed his throat with a light kiss. Then she tore herself away and went to fetch help.
"Now he looks like a member of this eored," old Todric muttered as they carried Faramir, wrapped in a blanket, back to a room in the inn. They settled him under the coverlets then snuffed out the lamp. With a last wistful look at the sleeping man, the innkeeper quietly closed the door.
"I have been riding since sunrise, and my back is causing me terrible pain," Eomer told her with a smile. "Such pain as I can scarcely bear."
Raising an eyebrow, she smiled in return, and taking his hand, she led him to the bathhouse.