After the evening meal, they sat together in the guest quarters of the garrison. Faramir was writing a letter to Eomer, counseling mercy for Wulf son of Wulstan. The bounty hunter would serve as a messenger and bear it to Edoras. While he worked on the letter, Eowyn studied the ledgers for the garrison storerooms. Faramir was grateful for her help with this task. After years of managing the great household at Edoras, she was well-trained in the duties of a steward and quickly saw any signs of waste or misuse. But her thoughts soon wandered from the columns of numbers, for she turned the pages more and more slowly until she had stopped and was staring into the fire. She put aside the books and took up her spinning. Back and forth she walked, drawing out the thread from a handful of fleece then winding it back on the spindle. But her mind was not on her work, for the thread kept breaking and dropping the spindle to the floor with a thud. Muttering under her breath, she put her handiwork away.
When Faramir had finished the letter, he sealed it, stamping his ring in the melted wax. To protect it during the long journey, he stowed it in a small box which he put inside a messenger's satchel. With Faramir's letter as proof, the bounty hunter could collect his fee when he reached the courts of Edoras. They had spoken with Aelric, and he had seemed satisfied with this plan for now he could travel unburdened by a prisoner. Pleased with his work, Faramir put the satchel by the door and went to sit beside Eowyn.
She was combing her hair, and though she did this every night, he never tired of watching her. She had loosed the braids, shaking out her hair until it fell down her back like a silken veil, and now she was running a comb along its length. Her hair was a wonder-soft and bright, pale as bleached flax.
"You are restless, Eowyn," he said as he watched her. "You flit from one thing to another like a swallow."
She handed him the comb to hold while she plaited her hair. "I take things too much to heart. I must try to share your faith that things will work out for the best." With the ease of long practice, she wove her hair into two long plaits. She took back the comb and smoothed the loose ends. "Did you notice the color of that Rider's hair?" she said without looking up. "'Tis almost as pale as mine. It is rare for one of our folk to stay so fair-haired past childhood." Then she settled herself against him, resting her head on his shoulder. He drew an arm around her and kissed the top of her head.
Despite her assurances, she still seemed ill at ease, and she twitched and turned beside him in bed until he finally fell asleep. When he woke in the morning, she brought him freshly baked bread and a pot of tea. She was already dressed for the day. Waking early, she had decided to offer a hand to the cooks, so her hair was bound up in a long white cloth. It gave her a matronly look that Faramir thought ill-suited his brave, young wife.
His morning was spent in council with the officers of the garrison. There was much to discuss for he rarely visited this northern outpost. At the end of the meeting, he summoned Aelfric son of Aelhere to give him the message for Eomer. He had brought the satchel to the meeting, but they needed Eowyn to translate so he sent the sergeant to find her. She was in the kitchen plucking chickens, and as she hurried in, she wiped her hands on an apron streaked with blood.
Sergeant Angrim handed the satchel to the bounty hunter. Faramir turned to Eowyn. "Tell him that the satchel holds the letter to Eomer King. As we agreed, Wulf son of Wulstan will remain in Ithilien awaiting the King's judgment."
His wife repeated this speech in the language of Rohan. To Faramir's astonishment, the Rider gave him a horrified look then spat out an angry reply.
"What is he saying, Eowyn? We spoke of this yesterday, so he should not be surprised."
"He's worried about his fee. There is no law for a case such as this."
Faramir tried to hide his annoyance at the man's greed. "Tell him that if Rohan refuses his claim, the Steward of Gondor will pay the fee. All these men present will bear witness. I will put it in writing if necessary."
Eowyn spoke with the bounty hunter. He shook his head, glancing at Faramir's men with an uneasy, almost fearful look. "He says that the lord's word will suffice."
"Good. Tell him that I will see that he has fresh provisions and grain for his horses."
"He thanks the lord steward and will leave for Edoras as soon as the packs are ready."
Faramir nodded. "Wish him fair journey and safe return."
True to his word, Aelfric son of Aelhere left in the early afternoon. He rode at fast trot from the garrison gate, leading his second, now riderless horse. Faramir was surprised that the bounty hunter did not wish to rest his mounts for another day, but the man had a long journey before him and the longest journey is the one never started. The rest of Faramir's day was taken up with the business of the garrison, and he did not see his wife again until it was nearly midnight. She had sent her women to bed and waited for him alone. She had taken off the bloody apron but still wore the long veil wrapped around her hair.
"You have the look of an ancient dame like Ioreth," he teased her as he unfastened his cloak and pulled off his boots.
"I need to tell you something, Faramir," she said, and the tone of her voice made him stop in his tracks. With a sharp tug of her hand, the coiled veil fell away. Her beautiful hair had been shorn above her shoulders.
"Eowyn! What happened to your hair!" He thought with horror of a fire in the kitchen or some mishap in the stable. Then suddenly he guessed the truth. "What did you tell that Rider, Eowyn? Aelfric seemed troubled by what you said, though I could not understand why."
Her face reddened, but she met his gaze without flinching. "I told him that you had changed your mind, as highborn men are wont to do. Since the evidence of guilt was so clear, you had ordered such punishment as the laws of the Mark demanded. You acted within your rights as the lord of this land. The proof he needed to collect his fee was in the box in the satchel—plaits cut from the deserter's head. Since he already had the deserter's sword, these tokens would prove that justice had been done."
"And why would anyone believe that the man had been punished? That proves that his hair was cut off, nothing more."
"That is true, so to make the tokens more convincing, I hacked off my plaits with an axe. Then I smeared them with chicken blood and dragged them through the barnyard."
"Small wonder that Aelfric looked at me as if I were the Dark Lord himself," he told her. "And though I detest the custom of paying bounties, he was trying to uphold the law of your people." Faramir wasn't sure which made him angrier—that she'd lied to the Rider or to him. He wondered if other men had such trouble with their wives, or was it only the men who were wed to shieldmaidens of the North?
"I did not say the deserter was slain. I said that you ordered punishment according to our law. And some folk would say that the plaits were cut from the head of a deserter."
Shaking his head in disbelief, he said. "You do great violence to the truth. You could find a place in the courts of law or on the Council of Gondor. But Eomer will be furious when he learns that I beheaded one of his Riders."
"The man had a price on his head. His life was forfeit to whoever found him. And Eomer holds you in high regard and trusts your judgment as much as his own. He also may be relieved to be spared a difficult choice. Besides, you can always tell him the truth and cast the blame on me."
"And what if some day this dead man turns up alive?"
"Gondor is a vast realm and can easily hide one Rider."
Once he looked past his own sense of outrage, what she said made a good deal of sense. He even had to admit that justice had been served by this deceit. Nothing would be gained by the hapless Wulf's death, and the man had already endured a grueling exile. "He might find a home in Eriador, It is still sparsely settled, and some of the lands are not unlike Rohan. We can give our plans more thought in the morning."
"A new home and a new beginning," Eowyn said solemnly, the words like a pledge.
"A new home and a new beginning," Faramir replied, taking her hand in his own. He hoped that his wife would never cease to surprise him.