DISCLAIMER: This is not about any characters I created, and I have likely mucked them up beyond their original Tolkien awesomesauce-ness. Enjoy the plot, though, if you may...it's mostly mine ^_^
"Now, my lady, you do promise to abide by the pact we made ere leaving Ithilien?"
Faramir pulled his reins gently, and Eowyn obliged by stopping her steed as well. This wasn't the first time she'd had to reassure her adoring Prince of Ithilien of her self-control and safe behavior. It had taken weeks of pleading simply to be allowed along in the first place. Eowyn was certainly not about to venture off on her own and lose the former steward's trust entirely…at least, not just yet.
"Faramir, I promise. I have promised, and continue to promise, that I will remain with Merry and his folk until you return. I'll strive to avoid doing anything you might deem unnecessarily risky or dangerous. Does that satisfy you, my lord?"
Here the young woman smirked, though not unkindly, and took her reins back in her grasp. A quick hand on her upper right arm gave her a moment's pause, however, and she turned to face her riding companion: Faramir's face, eyes piercing through her with their intensity, gave every sign of love, as well as his acceptance of her most recent promise. The concern with which he treated her moved Eowyn to a sort of guilty pity, as she was still unable to fully reciprocate the feelings he'd first revealed two years before on the walls of Minas Tirith.
"Very well, Eowyn. I'll hold you to your word. And so shall Master Merry, make no mistake." The chestnut mane shook with Faramir's silent laughter, and Eowyn let him lead his horse in front before resuming her spot on the trail.
As the couple rode once more, and the few soldiers accompanying continued behind them, the White Lady reflected on the sticky situation in which she'd landed herself. When the War of the Ring had ended, the free peoples of Middle Earth could only remain so by the hard work of Gondor and Rohan, as many orcs and evil men still roamed and challenged abroad. They needed no master over them in order to cause strife. And so, at King Elessar's command, troops often rode from the many kingdoms in order to keep minor evil factions in check. Just such a troop was now at Faramir's command, as they headed west and north, to the old realm that was once Arnor, land of Isildur. There, from what rumor and evidence could tell, was a group much more organized, mostly composed of potentially wicked men working in tangent with a few orcs. With his twenty men, Faramir was meant only to seek out the grouping and report back through Rohan if he required more men to help end its activity.
Naturally, Eowyn was not being allowed to fight or really endeavor at all in the task. The moment she'd heard of the trip, however, she begged Faramir to allow her to ride with them at least as far as Buckland to visit Merry and Pippin. She did miss her friends, and it was as good an excuse as any to escape being a virtual prisoner in her alien Gondorian household in Ithilien. Faramir, eager as ever to please the lady he sought to marry, did finally consent…though quite reluctantly. In spite of the former steward's great respect and admiration for the golden haired shieldmaiden, he always carried a small fear of something happening to Eowyn from which she could not recover. The idea of losing her, this one other person who seemed to mirror his sadness and understanding of the world, was unbearable. And though she only remained a close friend, refusing marriage for the time being, nevertheless he felt her his charge, and so he kept her close and safe as often as he could manage.
Taking Eowyn with him into Eriador and beyond was not a concept Faramir relished, but if it made his lady feel he trusted her, perhaps it would aid her in realizing how much of what she bore him was love. At least, that was his hope, and it did make him feel more at ease leaving her with someone who knew her and her nature. Merry would watch her better than any servant back in his land, and keep her better occupied.
"Ah, Faramir, look!" A flash of brilliant gold caught his eye as Eowyn bounded forward, practically standing up in the stirrups as her horse dashed out from under the trees and into the brilliant green of the Shire. The afternoon sun turned the White Lady into little more than a brilliant glow on the back of her fair steed, and Faramir felt a smile creasing in the corners of his mouth. One day, this free spirit of a woman would run to him with such intensity, or so he dreamed.
As he trotted to catch up with her, he had a difficult time quelling the mirth from his voice. Eowyn was seated back in her saddle again, but her arms were outstretched, eyes closed as her pale face peered up blindly to the sky. Her skirts blew against her horse's side in the soft wind, and as her tresses of varying yellow and brass hues flitted around her uncaring face, Faramir of Ithilien felt his breath tighten in his chest. Even when childlike or nonsensical, Eowyn of Rohan was every bit the loveliest woman he'd ever known.
"What exactly are you trying to do, Eowyn? I must admit, you're a fair-seeming, if odd, bird on horseback."
Ignoring him, Eowyn smirked but kept her face to the sky, eyes shut. "This is bliss, Faramir: being in such a wide, green space. Can't you feel the purity of life here?" It was a scant poetic, even for Eowyn's sort of banter, but the honest and earnest nature of it moved the dark-haired lord to sympathize.
"I see, my lady. We cannot be far now from Buckland. You said you hoped to be there before nightfall, and so we shall. If ever you're prepared to leave this one, albeit lovely, field."
Eowyn smiled, taking her horse to trot once more down the dirt lane. Before this journey, she hadn't realized how much she missed the openness of the land, untouched and wild. Too much of Gondor was structured with shaped stone dwellings and wrought gates: it was difficult to live among those people, who seemed so discordant with nature and the elements, when she'd been raised to embrace and use them as they were. Faramir, too, seemed more at home in the open hills and woods. Gazing at him, Eowyn felt the pressure of her indecision: this handsome man, now in his thirties but still in his prime as most men of Numenorean descent, was more than anything else she could want, she knew. His kindness, nurturing nature, and patience alone were worth every inch of her, never mind the broad shoulders that could protect her and fair face that she enjoyed brightening with laughter, or reading when it reflected distress.
As they crossed a small wooden bridge, rounding one last set of muddier hills spotted with fresh green turf, Eowyn and Faramir knew they'd arrived: there was a large grouping of smaller people ahead in the lane: a welcoming party, thanks to Faramir's sending word of their arrival weeks prior. Merry and Pippin were near the front of the crowd, blatantly as excited as Eowyn. She leapt down from the horse nearly thirty feet away to keep the beast from knocking the hobbits down as they ran to greet and embrace her. She was on her knees and in their arms almost instantly, and there was a camaraderie and love there beyond words: only friends who have dealt with the great and the grave of adventure know each other in that way.
"I see you have grown somewhat in comparison with your kinfolk, Peregrin Took. How do they see you, you heroes of some distant war?" Faramir knelt slightly beside his lady to properly embrace his friend, Pippin, and shake Merry's hand. He and Eowyn stood then to be received a bit more formally, and the gentleman let his arm shift around the maiden next to him. Eowyn was proud not to wince, as his embrace was both gentle and without expectation: an improvement over most men who pursued her affections. Faramir, even among friends, was focused on the comfort and support of the woman he loved. It was flattering, at least.
"Ay, Faramir, I have grown. That's about all they'd notice around here. We're only heroes when Sam, Merry, and I sit around with a flagon of ale and tell the tales to the children. And naturally, we edit a bit of those. And Merry usually comes out sounding like the biggest hero…you'd think he slew Sauron and won the war all on his own."
Pippin clapped his arm around his best friend, who was looking none too pleased. "Please, Pip! As though you ever told the story of Treebeard in the honest way it happened. By your account, you slew the whole band of orcs outside Fangorn with your hands tied behind your back, while the Rohirrim showed up to watch and roast marshmallows over the fires. Such a Took."
But he smiled, and already Eowyn was glad to have her comrades once more. Faramir was a great comfort among the people of Gondor, but even with a lighter heart in hobbits' company, he was no comparison to her dearest Merry. Perhaps a few weeks with him would help her to recover a bit of the self she felt she'd lost abroad in a strange land. As her Gondorian steward prince took both their steeds to the waiting encampment of guards, Eowyn followed her friends (and the crowd that came to welcome) all the way to Brandy Hall, where they had a feast laid out already under tents on the lawn. Faramir joined her soon after, alone as he left it up to the men whether or not they joined the celebration. "Too many of them are ill at ease among the unfamiliar." He spoke softly to Eowyn, wishing no offense to their wonderful hosts.
"Too many in Gondor are ill at ease with anything outside their realm." Unwittingly, the sadness in her voice betrayed Eowyn's dissatisfaction. She knew by the wariness in Faramir's soft brown eyes that there would be questioning and discussion before long. But now, with giggling hobbit children shyly asking the larger, lovely young woman questions of all natures, and with Merry trying to control the throng attacking the food spread on many tables, there was too much going on for Faramir to openly question her. And as long as that lasted, her outlook could at least seem bright.
There was too much going on within to keep it from showing without, Eowyn knew, but she also knew she was unready to approach what went on deep inside of her. Her habit of dreaming and connecting visions had reared its ugly head again, and Faramir would have difficulty fathoming any sort of reasoning behind her most recent episodes. This celebrating with Merry and Pippin needed to distract her, lest she betray herself. She was ashamed of the state her life: she couldn't bring herself to marry Faramir, a good and honorable man who loved her in an honest fashion. Eowyn was more shamed, however, by her visions of what was to come in her innermost, dark thoughts. She had been told not to despair, but some things….and people…that surfaced in her mind as she slept had her questioning the supposed victory years prior. She certainly hadn't slain any of her own demons.
And, unfortunately, even in the merry company of hobbits and an adoring steward of Gondor, there was little escaping the sense of impending doom. Eowyn was too attuned to that feeling in particular.
Author's Note: Hey guys, welcome to my madness...sorry there's absolutely NO Grima in the first prologue-y chappie. It's background and intro, though I'm not sure if I'll keep it once these next two chapters are in...it's been difficult to frame where I need my story to start on this one, since it has some timeline to it. Hope you'll come back for the better bits to come, in all their Wormtongue-y goodness!
(And yes, I *am* updating this, as of 6/8/11. Sorry for those few who found this and had to let it go, but had a minor medical crisis and then proceeded to let my Disney career sap me of time and energy. No more of that laziness, though. Found my old draft and notes, and am attempting to get this done ASAP. Thanks!)