Dear wonderful readers, thank you to every one of you who read or left comments throughout the many years of writing this tale. The messages during the years of absence convinced me to return and give the characters their endings.
If looking for something else to read after this story, have a read of the first chapter of my new tale 'East of the Moon': Eowyn, Faramir and Legolas journey to Rhun to save Eomer, King of Rohan from a mysterious threat. A four chapter post-rotk adventure tale written as a self-challenge.
Apologies for the short delay in posting this very last chapter, it turned out to need a little more attention than expected. I hope it rewards you for travelling along the journey with me. Enjoy!
Chapter 55 - Ithilien
Golden heads rested together as the moment for departure arrived. The wind whipped around the small party as they huddled together at the sixth gate, and Faramir saw Eowyn shiver as she pulled away from her brother's embrace.
Eomer's men were leading their horses from the stables in a long line down the paved street before them. There was longing in the lady's eyes as she watched them.
"Do not fear, sister, we shall return before the leaves turn brown." Eomer glanced westward, wither the the riders were bound, and in doing betrayed his urgency to be begin the task at hand. "Are you sure you not ride with us Master Hobbit?" he asked, reaching up to secure his saddle with a small smile.
Pippin shook his head firmly. "I have had enough of riding, and the healers will no more let me out of their sight than your lady sister."
The face of the kindly Warden rose in Faramir's thoughts. He unconsciously drew a breath, and the familiar dull ache at own his side seemed a poor exchange for those who had suffered to bring them to this peaceful day. Healing would not be a simple matter of weeks, and much of the kingdom would never be fully healed. There was, however, much to be thankful for.
He gave the curly haired Hobbit a fond glance. "Do not fear, Eomer, we shall send them on when all Gondor's harvest is depleted and our stores empty, so that they can take advantage of Rohan's hospitality."
"Pray do not! I have heard tell of their appetites and I do not know if Rohan has sufficient defences."
Eomer grasped Faramir's forearm in farewell and Faramir could feel the other man's silent amusement as he was drawn into an embrace.
While Pippin shook his head at the jesting and made a face at Eowyn, Eomer kept a firm hold on Faramir's arm. He felt his own gaze drawn to the rider's bright eyes.
"I know your duties are many now," Eomer said beneath his breath, "and it will be long before we can sit before a fire together again in comfort, but I will look to that time with hope."
"As will I, my friend."
He would feel the horselord's departure as keenly as any in the city, for in Eomer he had found an unexpected companion. With a nature more eager and less patient than his own, the man's company had been a refreshing change from the sometimes staid society in the citadel.
"My sister has few friends in this stone city of yours, but in my absence I could not entrust her happiness to one more worthy."
Eomer loosened his grip, aware of Eowyn's querying look, but Faramir silently acknowledged the words before letting his own hand fall, the honour of the sentiment not escaping him.
His gaze strayed to Eowyn, wondering not for the first time, whether her brother's wishes were in any small way mirrored by her own. He could not say, and knew only that she must be sorrowful at this separation, for all that she now stood tall, raising a hand in farewell.
The Rohirrim would proceed now down to the city gates where a formal farewell would take place. It had seemed fitting that their first farewell was between only friends.
In the failing light Faramir and Pippin stood with Eowyn and watched the trail depart the city, turning west.
"The days shall be long without him."
The wind blew chill as they turned their steps towards the now damaged white tower.
"Gandalf promised me," Pippin said, wrapping his hands around his chest, "that with the passing of the shadow would come the end of this bitter cold."
"The Shire may have fine weather all year around, but the nights in Minas Tirith are not so warm as they were."
Pippin sniffed at his words, the prospect of further cold weather clearly not pleasing him.
"But winter too can be beautiful. Recall, if you can through all that has happened since, the first days of Winter in Lothlorien."
"I can remember," Pippin said, and seemed to forget his chill for a moment.
Eowyn looked to them both, always interested to hear more of their journey, and Faramir suddenly remembered the gift he had purposefully brought forth for the lady.
The gardens of the Houses were to their left. "Let us pause here a moment," he said, and drew forth the bundle of cloth he had carried.
Some kind of childish reverence woke as the midnight cloth slipped between his fingers. Hidden away for long years, the starry mantle had not dimmed in beauty, nor had its memories of first grief faded with time.
Eowyn received the cloak with equal reverence, her own fingers brushing lightly against the cloth as he wrapped it about her.
"So valuable a gift should not be given lightly," she breathed as he spoke of it being wrought for his mother."
"Not lightly," he returned, and as she pulled the cloak about her and turned to face the West she seemed to him a queen of fairer days.
"I shall take leave of you here,"Pippin said quietly, a somewhat knowing look in his eyes. "It's about time for me to seek out Merry. Until the wedding!"
They did not speak for a time, standing quietly together where Pippin had left them. Faramir felt that Aragorn and Arwen's wedding had risen between them, casting each into their own thoughts. He wondered whether sadness or bitterness held Eowyn's reflections now, and not for the first time wished he could offer comfort.
"Eowyn," he began at last.
She looked up and it was with a small ache that he failed to meet her gaze, unsure how to lighten the shadow their King had left upon her heart.
"Eowyn it pains me to think you unhappy. Beyond all else I would see you joyful and loved."
When she said nothing, he reluctantly met her eyes. They were bright yet there seemed to be tears behind them, though she did not weep.
Another breath and he pushed onwards, something of bitterness now touching his words. "What a cursed fate that the love of one so valiant and fair could not be returned."
Her mouth opened and he saw sudden hurt in her face and wounded pride, perhaps in it being stated so plainly. She rose to her feet and moved over to the balcony, turning her back on him.
The injuries that yet pained him were little to witnessing her grief, and he lingered a little where he stood, wondering if he had supposed too much of their friendship to speak in this way, but feeling too that saying nothing would have been cold and unfeeling. With faltering steps he came to stand beside her.
"I had wished," she spoke at last, "to be loved by another. When the Lord Aragorn first came to Edoras bringing the hope that the house of Eorl..." she broke off, the reminder of her Uncle perhaps too vivid, "and all that has happened since then... I had believed..."
Without thinking he moved to touch her hand, but she pulled away as though burned. His own heart sank further.
"Aragorn's attachment for Arwen," he said softly when he could speak, as though his tone might soothe the hurt, "has grown out of an exiled past, and the passing of years uncounted among the Elves."
Slowly he realised she was looking at him, eyes wide. When she spoke her voice seemed changed.
"I have heard it said in Gondor," she begun slowly, suddenly placing her arm within his and drawing him towards the furthest, highest balcony, "that the lord Faramir can read the hearts of men, and see what secrets are written in their thoughts..."
He was watching her carefully now as they walked, their steps seemed lighter than before, and they did not feel the cold. Her eyes were bright but not with tears, the corner of her lips curving up into the beginnings of a smile.
"But now I see," she continued, "that he is quite lost when it comes to women."
She reached up and brushed her hand along his cheek, still smiling. The light dancing in her eyes brought a confused smile to his own lips, and everything took a new colour. The stars of her mantle were mirrored in the new night sky.
"I thought I would lose everything," he said when they came to the balcony and looked down upon the battle scorched earth, thinking for the first time that he truly understood her, "but it appears I have gained something more wondrous without seeing it."
His gaze moved further a field to where the deep ocean seemed to sparkle in his eyes. Something leapt within and on an impulse he grasped her hand once more, searching her face earnestly for the truth. "You truly want this?"
It was a long moment before she looked back at him, for the distant horizon where Ithilien stood north of the river seemed to hold her. "We stood together to face the shadow," she said, "When you next stand by my side I would have it be as my husband."
He embraced her then, holding her tight and fearing the darkness no more, thanking all the graces that had brought them out of the darkness to this happy end.
Eowyn lightly tapped on the door, too lightly perhaps, for there was no response from within. The Houses were one of the only places she felt at home in the great stone city, and within the last weeks she thought she had seen the same restlessness in Faramir as was in her own heart. Longing to leave the stone city and ride into the hills. Much must be done before that could happen, and she was not patient.
She pushed the door open slowly, wondering if perhaps she might again find her betrothed, how strange to think that word, asleep while working.
She smiled seeing the dark head bent over in concentration. The room was in full sun, and she saw that he was in his shirtsleeves, cloak folded over the chair.
She glanced around to see that they were alone. "I can think of better ways to spend the afternoon."
Even as she spoke, she knew her mistake.
The head turned and she half opened her mouth, not knowing what to say as she beheld the lord Boromir.
There was a mischievous sparkle in his eyes and his amusement was so infectious that she gave it up and laughed along with him.
He stood with some small difficulty and ushered her into the room, moving a pile of papers from the spare chair onto the bed.
"You look so alike," she managed at last, still feeling her cheeks heated.
He flexed his hands, looking with displeasure at his arms. "You would not have said so last fall. I will have none of bows and knives. The broadsword was my weapon of choice, and to even lift it now is a challenge. But my full strength shall return, and you shall have no excuse for mistaking us."
"I did not think to find you here... I thought you had taken up your own chambers."
"That I have, but I have discovered the key to avoiding the councillors and questioners is to keep on the move."
"You are in hiding?"
He swept his hand dramatically into the pile of papers, letting them float to the floor.
"Would you not were you in my place? I have no patience for this."
"But surely during your Captaincy accounts were a matter of course?"
"Supply orders and accounts of battles are are a far flung thing from damage reports and requests for drain maintenance."
She took up the pile, sifting through it. "The key to this is to employ someone you trust to sift through and deal with the less important correspondence for you."
He was quiet, and she looked up to find grey eyes upon her somewhat pleadingly.
"I am not the one to solve your administrative burden! Faramir is already snowed under as it is." She took a breath, realising she was talking to this man she had hardly exchanged ten words with as though he were her own brother. As she looked over the papers she was slowly realising that she had likely exchanged the management of Edoras' administration for a more onerous task in Ithilien.
He was grinning, and she raised her eyebrows in question.
"I am happy to see you will take a firm hand with my brother, and will tell him firmly when he has taken too much upon himself."
"As far as I can see you both need to be taken in hand and made to rest before you do yourselves more damage." She wondered if she had gone too far, but the other man only continued to smile.
"Faramir mentioned you were considering hanging up the sword in return for a healer's robe?"
"After our stay here I am interested to learn more, but that was not quite my words. While the peace lasts we shall have no need for swords." She thought she saw a shadow pass over his features. "Should another darkness threaten I shall be as willing as any to take up my sword."
"And how about now?"
"Aye, I am tired of trawling through reams of correspondence. Let me try my sword arm against that of the slayer of the Witch King."
She laughed, sensing no mockery in his words, and delighted that he should think of her thus. "That arm is not yet fully healed, but you may attempt to defeat the other." She glanced down at her skirts, "I am not sure I am dressed for this."
The alley behind the Houses drew Faramir away from the bustle of the street and into the quiet of a courtyard. His conference with Mithrandir had been brief and he had been saddened to hear that his old friend planned to stay no longer in the city than the Hobbits.
He paused to rest a moment, setting his armful of papers upon a stone corner marker, and taking several breaths of the fresh morning air.
Looking up at the sound of laughter, he wondered whether he had ever truly woken from his injuries, so strange the sight that met his eyes. Two figures, one crouching, one leaning against the curved stone wall raised their arms in welcome.
Even at the distance, the golden hair of the second left him in no doubt as to their identities. "Eowyn!"
"Do not fear, brother," Boromir stumbled to his feet as he approached and slapped a sweat-dampened hand upon his good shoulder, we are both already too injured to do any damage. He shook the narrow blade in his brother's direction. "Who would call this a sword?"
"I would, it is my sword." Faramir made a snatch for the blade, but his brother twisted it away.
Eowyn smiled and he felt his own face light up to see her flushed cheeks and the competitive look in her eyes.
Suddenly recognising the tunic Eowyn had donned, he followed it down to find her feet looking unusually large. "I see my spare clothes are being put to good use also."
"I did not think you would mind."
"Take care, she shall be attending your councils and commanding your labourers soon enough."
"And welcome to them, as I am already attending in your stead." Faramir shook his head.
"You work too hard, brother. But you must not blame me for taking advantage of you both while you yet remain in the city. Too soon you shall scarper to Ithilien and leave me with all the drudgery of court." Boromir feigned deep disheartenment at the thought.
"True enough."Faramir moved forward with a hand outstretched to comfort his brother, but at the last moment stepped smartly on his foot and twisted the blade from his surprised fingers. "But first give me the chance to better your efforts!"
Eowyn narrowed eyes full of laughter and raised her sword.
"I shall not complain if Gimli comes to Emyn Arnen for a time." Even as Faramir shouted the words over the wind it threw them back at him, whipping his hair into his eyes. He trusted the Elf had heard, but tugged on his horse's reigns, urging the animal to move a little faster up the slope.
Legolas was quite a way ahead, peering back over the landscape and paying no attention to the blustery day.
"You can see Minas Tirith clearly from here," the Elf said as Faramir reached him, breathing hard. He had had far too many hearty meals since their return to Gondor, and felt out of shape compared to his days as Captain in Ithilien.
"I shall not miss it," Legolas continued, "marble and stone. I look forward to making our home here amid the trees."
"You may be able to see the city," Faramir said between breaths, "but I can only see a white shape on the horizon. I do envy your eyesight. But you have changed the subject."
Nothing had pleased Faramir more than the news that Legolas had decided to establish a home for his kin alongside theirs in Ithilien. He had seen a twinkle in Aragorn's eye at the news also, and would not be surprised if the new King slipped off to his Eastern outpost for some time with his friends away from the pressures of council. After Legolas and Gimli's travels together to Fangorn and Helm's deep, the Dwarf had expressed an intent to 'ensure the foundations of Legolas' colony were to the standards of a Dwarf.'
"If the Dwarf wishes to come and help establish the colony I cannot stop him," Legolas said with a sour expression, but there was humour behind his words. "I cannot promise, however, that he will not be outnumbered by Elves, and if he insults them as he does me he will find his beard in a twist faster than he can say Dwarrowdelf."
"You are beginning to sound like him," Faramir said, because he knew it would annoy the Elf.
"Your brother," Legolas began in cheerful retaliation, "has been telling me interesting stories about when you learned to shoot a bow..."
"All lies," Faramir returned too quickly, then laughed before he had a chance to be convincing. "I shall have to speak to him - what respect can I command if he continues to tell anecdotes at my expense?"
Legolas smiled, "Never fear, here shall be our home and no Dwarves or elder brothers shall disturb our peace."
Faramir smiled too, knowing the falsity of the sentiment. "I am happy you agreed to come to Ithilien, my friend."