A/N: This has been posted elsewhere under the name Lastharper, but I've decided to slowly pull all my fics together, despite writing for radically different fandoms. (If you know me through Rizzoli & Isles, this is quite a switch.) I want all my kids under the same roof.
The Last of the Stewards
I was given this journal by the Warden of the Houses of Healing, though I cannot say what he thought I should write at such a time when our future seemed at once so certain and yet hopelessly unknown. There was little to record beyond darkness, gloom, death, and not much food though I had little thought for hunger or for thirst. It was then that I met Faramir, the Lord Steward of Gondor, and life became a thing to be cherished for the first time in as long as I could remember. To write down the details of an afternoon spent together in the gardens seemed like caging a wild thing, and I knew too much of that already.
Some months have passed now, and with a scholar for a husband I am drawn back to that leather-bound volume again. I have never felt that I need earn his approval, and that is a gift indeed, but I find that his smile when he sees me sitting quietly with this book is as precious to me as a new-edged sword.
We have a garden in Ithilien: that shall be the first matter to be recorded here. Faramir promised it to me upon the city wall and he is a man of Númenor, ever faithful to his word. The land is more brown than green though for the soil has just been tilled and we await the arrival of Legolas in Ithilien when his travels through Fangorn are complete. The earth is not idle though as it receives the sun and rain, preparing itself for what is to come. I feel like this garden in some ways myself, as if I am only now ready for what one might call a proper life. My days until now have left little time for reflection and I am only now comprehending simple things about my own heart, which I should have known best of all but seem to have been the very last to understand.
I first had this thought when we traveled to Rohan to lay Théoden to rest and I saw the symbelmynë growing fair upon the mounds of my forefathers. When I set my hand in Faramir's and received the blessing of all, we too made a new beginning out of the death that nearly claimed us both. I fear however that Faramir was not so well versed in the customs of Rohan as to fully understand the significance of the ceremony. Prince Imrahil, to whom I owe my life, said as much later that night. We were seated near enough for conversation at the great table in Meduseld where so many silent, bitter meals had been served. Now the hall was filled with light and song and the laughter of even the sternest horse-lord.
"Forgive him, lady," Imrahil said quietly. "In Gondor there is some period between the announcement of intent and the deed itself. I doubt he was fully prepared for such a swift change in his estate."
I had thought that Faramir appeared somewhat dazed that long afternoon when Rider after Rider hailed him as brother. It seemed that no one had explained the ceremony to him, nor that this evening's feast was to celebrate our wedding, which he had quite utterly failed to recognize at the time it had occurred. Faramir had been in close counsel with Éomer for the better part of the night, one or the other glancing along the table in some pretext but unable to disguise that they were looking at me.
"Is he displeased then?" At the thought, I felt a coldness creep over me, one which had been all too familiar for most of my life and I knew now to be despair. I tried to marshal my thoughts and devise some plan by which he could diplomatically extricate himself without our countries, long allies, coming to blows. Perhaps my exclusive preference for white gowns had somewhat confused the situation. My face, once capable of masking what few emotions I permitted myself, must have betrayed my unease for Imrahil shook his dark head and laughed at my distress.
"No, lady—that would be the very last thing he wants. Faramir is simply unaccustomed to having his wishes granted, let alone one so extravagant. You have quite blinded him I believe."
That may well have been the case, for the men of Gondor are not ones to lie even in jest, but I could not see it. Faramir had told me more than once that he found me beautiful, but I had thought it was simply the awe that one might feel for anything new and unfamiliar. The women of Gondor are dark-haired and pale from long days in their houses of stone, while I am a daughter of Rohan in every way, or so men have said. Faramir saw in me something unlike what he had known, and all he had known was death and sorrow. Perhaps I was no different, seeking something besides what I had loved and lost before.
I say that the idea of marriage came suddenly for Faramir, but no less so for myself. I had no doubt that I wished to be his wife, for all that we had known each other for so short a time; but like a seed newly planted that idea had yet to firmly root itself. That night as I waited in my chamber, it seemed we were back in Minas Tirith where he had come each evening to bid me a peaceful night before retiring to his own rooms. But tonight he would stay and there would be no parting until death did that for us. It is almost impossible to imagine, with Sauron vanquished, that any shadow could return to trouble Middle-Earth, but I sense that when the time draws near I shall find death a more dubious and perplexing matter than when there was nothing for which I wished to live.
I was wrestling with this very thought when there came a hesitant, almost embarrassed, knock at the door. I had hardly expected Faramir to pause at his own chamber, but he was ever proper in his manner towards me. When I opened the door though, it was to find two of the White Company who had escorted us, Beregond and Anborn, and with Faramir between them. Many a bridegroom in Rohan had gone to his bed so drunk as to have little memory of what followed, but I had never imagined that Faramir would join their ranks. Beregond seemed to feel personally responsible for allowing his lord to reach this state, and on this of all nights. I struggled to reassure him, afraid that he might offer to exile himself from Ithilien entirely if he felt he had failed the Steward.
"I am guilty in not acting swiftly enough," he repeated stiffly. "The Rangers drink very little when afield and the Lord Faramir has never been one for the inns of the city. I fear this is what your brother's ale has done, and…" He paused, mouth working uncomfortably. "…there was a dwarf."
I allowed myself a smile at that, recalling Gimli's determined efforts to best our Riders at their own pursuits. I had thought for a fleeting moment that this had been Éomer's doing, and I would not have been surprised if it were. Did he yet think it his duty to protect me from anyone who showed the slightest interest in my person, even my own husband? And yet it was because of Éomer and his men and their nights at the mead bench that I was not dismayed. I knew as any other woman of the house how best to tend a man in this state.
"Leave him with me, Captain Beregond. I will care for him."
"Yes," I said simply. "I am, and as such please place your lord upon the bed. You may stand watch outside if it would ease your conscience."
When Anborn finally coaxed Beregond out to the hall, I turned to the matter of undressing Faramir. It was a process I had contemplated on several occasions before now, but in those imaginings he had always been a willing participant. One boot came off easily enough but the other seemed to have been stitched to his very foot. My right arm was regaining some strength but I still favored it gingerly and it took some persuading on my part to pry the boot loose. As the night would be colder than what he was accustomed to in Ithilien, I left the rest of his garments for morning and pulled the blankets close about him.
The problem now was that Faramir occupied the exact center of the bed, which I had never thought of as small until I had to share it with someone whose shoulders were twice the width of my own. There had never been much privacy in Meduseld, but I had my own quarters as a member of the royal family and had never shared a bed before. The choice might have been taken from me had I not made certain my door was secure when Gríma Wormtongue's ways turned dark, but this sanctuary had remained inviolate.
I had heard of some men who woke roughly from a drunken sleep, attacking even those they loved most, and I had no desire to discover the truth of this for myself. I laid beside Faramir with one hand pressed to his shoulder in hopes he would sense my presence, as I had been taught to with stabled horses when moving beside them in their stalls. I had not intended to remain so, but I found the scars of some old battle there upon his skin and gently mapped their constellation with my fingertips to guide me. There would be a thousand nights and more to spend together, but for that one I held watch until a deep peace unlike any I had ever known settled over me and I slept at last.
I have always been a restless sleeper and had assumed I would wake often, unaccustomed to the presence of another, but I slept the night through for the first time since the Riders had borne my father's body back from the Orc raid. Death has always been known in the Mark and while I numbed myself to the fear of it, my dreams have never allowed me to forget. I turned during the night and woke with my face to the Eastern window, as I had all those days in Minas Tirith as we waited for some word from the Captains of the West. Faramir had turned with me, drawn in sleep to the light, so that we woke to hope together, both in the sunrise and each other. Set atop a hill, Meduseld faces the brunt of the winds from the valley, for safety is more important than comfort. I had woken chilled nearly every morning of my life but now I woke to the feeling of soaking in the warmth of a perfectly drawn hot bath. I had never known the indulgence of a warm bed before: the luxury of it was intoxicating. Tucked within the curve of Faramir's body, for the first time in all my armor-clad life, I felt myself truly protected.
I shifted carefully, mindful of my arm and of waking Faramir, to face him on this first morning. All feeling of contentment turned to ice within me at the sight of his face, troubled deeply as though he had hardly slept.
"M'lord?" I whispered. He had begged me quite sincerely on bent knee to call him Faramir even before his men, but I was so concerned for him that the formality came unbidden. I knew the shadow of old wounds could linger for years, but Faramir had seemed to heal so completely, far more quickly than I had, that I sometimes forgot how grievously he had been hurt. If only the Rohirrim had ridden sooner that I might have slain the Nazgûl before so much as a shadow should ever have touched this man! But some shadows had fallen into both our lives long before we met.
Faramir's eyes cleared as he looked at me, his brow still knotted. I knew that his eyes were grey, having made something of a study of them, but I had not realized how they would lighten in the morning sun. Quite seriously, he took my hand in his, drawing it to his chest as we lay together.
He found his voice with effort and said gravely, "I hope you will not think ill of me, but may I presume that we were wed?"
At that my jaw dropped, though I have been told it is generally quite fixed and even stern at times. I tried to compose some clever remark about having expected him to forget our anniversary but certainly not the wedding itself. What I finally said was, "And what precisely might you take me for?" I said a bit more after that too, and only stopped when I saw Faramir pressing the flat of one hand across his forehead.
"Yes," I repeated, lowering my voice to a whisper. "We are wed, though I have been informed that weddings in the Riddermark bear little resemblance to the affairs of Gondor. You have my brother and his favorite dwarf to thank for anything else you cannot recall."
It took every ounce of Faramir's valiant courtesy, which was no small thing, to right himself onto one elbow. I stared up into his eyes, as I had upon the wall when I felt the Shadow lifted and my heart set free, in the same instant when it was lost forever. "Éowyn…leofu…if I may presume again…I cannot seem to…" He glanced repeatedly down at himself, still fully dressed save for the infernal boots, and then more furtively at me, as if he had not the right.
I took mercy on him then, though I was sorely tempted to play the matter as far as it would last. I have found that the men of Gondor are as sincere as they are brave, but it leaves them somewhat vulnerable to dissembling. "Beregond and Anborn brought you to me drunk and asleep on your feet, and that is all there is to the tale."
"This tale improves with each new verse," Faramir said grimly, but some of the bewilderment eased from his face. "Am I to hope at least that I was not too much of a nuisance?"
I held fast to his hand, which was already withdrawing, and brought it to my lips. "Let me be plain in this at least: there was no nuisance, nor dissatisfaction. To know that you walk upon this land is more than I could ask; how could there be any disappointment to wake beside you?"
Faramir looked at me in stark surprise, as if he had not expected me to speak so plainly. I understand now that it is his way to accept little thanks and as much blame as can be had, some bad habit from his father whom I shall never have the displeasure to meet.
"Very well," he replied, having considered his answer. "But let me to swear to you, again, Éowyn of Rohan, that I shall fulfill all my obligations to you as a proper lord. You will lack for nothing."
I had hoped that he felt more than a simple obligation towards me, but I was beginning to learn something of how my husband spoke, as though his every word were being recorded to quote back against him at some future point. I had not yet decided if I should adopt the same cautions for myself or speak plainly in hopes that he would see in time that he could trust me with his words as well as his heart.
Something of this confusion showed on my face as we considered each other in the early dawn. Without a word, Faramir drew me to him, my head just beneath his chin until I could hear the beating of his heart. It had a peculiar limp, one beat softer and just behind the other, which I know now is simply the manner of hearts. But before that morning I had never allowed myself close enough to another to listen carefully, and mine had fallen silent long ago. I felt my breath come into pace with his as we lay together, and minutes passed, or possibly an hour, before we spoke.
"We should arise or the men will talk," Faramir said solemnly but did not let me go.
"Truly," I replied, looking up, "but they have so little to occupy them now that Mordor has fallen. We should give them at least a morning's gossip."
Faramir looked as though he hardly knew what to do, which was not what I had intended, then laughed as clear and bright as the morning sun. But just as I hoped we might make good on my words, the beloved and benighted Captain Beregond knocked at the door.