Lady of Rohan, Captain of Gondor

Chapter 1

Théodred was dead. The people of Rohan, tall, fair, stern of purpose, had grown used to awaiting their dead from each sortie, each battle with roving orcs on their borders, but no one had expected that Théodred, the son of the king, Second Marshal of the Mark, a fell warrior, would fall. Who now would lead them? They had watched their king grow prematurely old, infirm of purpose, confining himself to his hall, he who had once ridden tall and strong. They had looked to the wisdom and strength of Théodred. Now they would look to his kinsmen, the son and daughter of the warrior Éomund and Théoden's sister Théodwyn. They turned their eyes to Éomer and Éowyn.

Théodred was dead. Her cousin, her swordplay tutor, her childhood hero. Éowyn had seen her cousin ride away to the west to counter a marauding band of orcs on the Westfold and had longed to go as well. Her hand longed for the hilt of a sword, her muscles for the ache of battle. She was of the Rohirrim! But she had stayed home in Edoras, and Théodred had died. And she was alone in the Golden Hall with the shell of the man who had once been Théoden King. Éomer was gone, against orders, on another quest for orcs. The people would look to her. She had to prepare her cousin for burial. She had to inform her uncle.

The tears she shed fell in the dark and quiet and solitude of her own chamber, and when she emerged, there was no trace of them on her face except for the slight reddening of her eyelids. As she walked through the corridors of Meduseld, none saw the struggle of her soul in her cool glance save one, and him she feared alone among men, for he could see what was hidden from others. She did not acknowledge the presence of Gríma Wormtongue beside her uncle nor seem to see his pale wise face and the sharp glance from his eyes, but inwardly she trembled. She knelt before her uncle and looked up into his face, taking his hand.

"My lord," she whispered, "your son is dead."

Once this same king had been tall, straight, and strong, the white of his hair and beard speaking of strength and wisdom rather than age, his eyes as blue as the sunlit sky. Now he was stooped with age beyond his years, bowed with sorrow and black anxiety, and his eyes had faded to a pale, watery blue from which but rarely came the old, keen light. That fire seemed kindled for a moment, and almost she thought he would rise from his chair, the carven throne on which he had once sat with kingly dignity, but at her words Gríma had risen, his long, pale fingers lightly touching Théoden's sleeve.

"Ill news, my lord," his smooth voice said quietly. That voice crawled up Éowyn's backbone with chill fingers and seemed to seep into her mind. "Ill news but not unexpected, I fear. Long had your nephew incited your son to needless battles, and who may say what was his motive? So is your line ended, my lord." There seemed to be compassion in his voice, but beneath it there was something else entirely.

The light died in Théoden's eyes, and the news, instead of spurring him on to action as Éowyn had hoped, seemed only to add to the burden that pressed him down into his chair. Full of fury, Éowyn turned her eyes to Gríma, wishing for a sword to leap to her hand, but his eyes caught hers and held them. Black his eyes were, pits of darkness that only mirrored the blackness that rushed in to fill her soul, the blackness of despair. She rose, turned, left the Golden Hall to stand on its high platform, let the wind lift her pale hair, wordlessly beg the Sun to warm the chill inside her, but not even the strong winds could sweep away her despair nor the heat of the Sun bring life to her living death.

The second son of the Steward of Gondor sat beside the Great River under the young pale Moon and faint stars, watching the rippling reflections in the grey dark, his mind lost in thought while his ears were sharply alert for the sound of orcs. Broken Osgiliath was at his back and the River before him, and beyond the Anduin could be seen the mountains of Mordor. His thoughts were with his brother and the sound of his horn heard in Minas Tirith three days before. Faramir had not seen Boromir in nearly seven months, and those months had laid on him the weight of his brother's duties and reputation, but three days ago the wind had borne an echo of Boromir's ancient horn, the deep, echoing, throbbing blast that resonated in the hearts of the Men of Gondor. He had felt a swift presentiment of danger to his brother, but no news had come.

The quest should have been his, but he did not begrudge it to his brother. Did not begrudge it but wished it had been his to unravel the mystery of his dreams. Just before Osgiliath fell, he had had the dream, and many times since. He had seen the eastern sky grow dark and a growing thunder, but in the west a pale light had lingered, and out of it came a voice, remote but clear, crying:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:

In Imladris it dwells;

There shall be counsels taken

Stronger than Morgul-spells.

There shall be shown a token

That Doom is near at hand,

For Isildur's Bane shall waken,

And the Halfling forth shall stand.

Night after night he had had this dream, and once it had come to Boromir, and in the singleness of purpose that sometimes would come over the brothers, they set it before the wise Steward, their father, and discovered many things. And Faramir had been filled with purpose and the knowledge that he must seek out Imladris and discover the mystery of the riddle. It still haunted him at night, like tonight as he gazed at the Moon's reflection. But Boromir had firmly set him aside in the masterly way he had and gone in his place. And Faramir did not begrudge him the glory and hardship of the journey, but still the dream and sense of purpose haunted him, and he wondered how he would be able to forgive himself if his brother died on a doomed quest that should have been his.

As if in answer, he saw something moving on the stream afar. He sprang to his feet, hands already fitting arrow to string, but in a moment he saw that this boat had nothing orcish about it, and there was none to row or steer it. A pale light seemed to be on it, and something like awe came upon him. He strode out into the water, something drawing him to the strange, delicate boat glimmering grey like a dream. Still in awe and fear, he did not dare to touch it though it passed within an arm's length of him, and it seemed almost filled with clear water, from which came the light, and lapped in the water a warrior lay asleep.

It was a moment before Faramir knew he was seeing his brother Boromir. He had been pierced with many wounds. His familiar sword, broken, was on his knees; his round shield, battle-scarred, was at his head; at his feet were many foul orcish weapons. Pillowed under his head was a cloth of shimmering hue, and around his waist was a fair belt that seemed to be made of golden leaves. On his face was a peace that Faramir had never seen there, but missing was his ancient horn.

"Boromir!" he cried out. "Where is thy horn? Whither goest thou? O Boromir!" But his brother was gone, borne by the boat glimmering into the night, and Faramir could never be sure thereafter whether it had been reality or a vision. But his men found him fallen on his knees in the Great River, weeping for his brother who was dead and had passed down the River to the Sea.