When we reached Emyn Arnen six very similar nights later, I hoped that I could collect myself before we faced the household, but as we reached the first outlying cottages Faramir was besieged with a dozen urgent matters and I was left to find my own way in the house that first day. Beregond had been appointed as to serve as steward until a permanent selection could be made, but a week standing the night watch without relief had utterly exhausted him. When our mother died, Éomer had tried to help me sleep by counting ponies but now all I need do is recall Beregond's marching feet circling the tent in steady time. I was not completely sorry to see him take his leave, but ruefully jealous that he at least could find a bed to his liking. Falborn remained with me in his stead, as there were a dozen new customs to learn and twice as many names. Eventually he too was required elsewhere, but he promised to show me the land set aside for my gardens before the week was out. I suspect that he, like Faramir, has little love for battle and is glad for this time of peace.
I managed to free myself by late afternoon and spent the last hours of daylight exploring the halls and committing the way to memory. Each room was roofed high against warmer summers yet with tall windows to invite the breeze. The walls were built of the richest timbers upon a foundation of stone of which even a dwarf would approve, and all the best materials of Ithilien were given to its construction. There were more rooms than I could count and even now it is only by the variety of tapestry upon the walls that I am able to guide myself. As some proof of his sincerity, before our marriage Faramir pledged to Éomer that he would build a fine new house here in Ithilien, one that will be worthy of the gardens Legolas has promised, and which I hope will less resemble a labyrinth.
I found my way at last to the master chambers that were twice the size of any I have seen, though dark from long disuse. There was still time to pry back the oaken shutters of each window, which I did without calling for assistance. The last light of the west came streaming across the low hills and suffused each corner of the room, sweeping away every shadow and leaving only quiet hope.
I turned quickly at the sound of steps behind me, so preoccupied in my thoughts that I had not heard Faramir enter. He held himself quite still at the chamber's entrance, half-expectant and yet hopeful, as if I might order him out at any moment. "Do you have all that you require?" he asked quietly.
I held out my hand to him in silent response and he crossed the room to stand beside me, looking out over Ithilien below. "It has been long since I stood here at sunset," he said after a long moment. I did not reply but took his hand and he laced his fingers tightly through mine in mutual accord. "We should visit Henneth Annûn in the spring. The waterfall at sunset would be to your liking."
"If you are there, how could it not be to my liking?"
Faramir smiled again, something that comes to him more easily each day. "You are too kind, Éowyn," he murmured and brushed my forehead with his lips. Freshly scrubbed since our arrival, his dark hair was just drying in a tousled shock that I pushed back from his forehead. I thought he might kiss me then, but he hesitated, standing more stiffly somehow though he had not moved. "The moon will rise soon. Even though we have long feared what lived within the night, the moon has special reverence for us here."
"You have not wed an entirely unlettered woman. Ithilien—Land of the Moon?"
Surprise and pleasure filled his eyes, though the gathering dimness made it difficult to detect. "Do they still speak the Gray Elven tongue in Rohan?"
"When I was young, before the dark years, it was heard in Thengel's house. I remember little," I admitted, "but in Minas Tirith, with Legolas and the King's company, some words returned to me. It is not so difficult to deduce the parts when the sum is known."
Faramir nodded, approving, and something seemed to have kindled in him. Little did I know that he had long cherished a hope of returning the Sindarin speech to his house, as the Númenórean lords of old, should he ever have the chance. "If it pleased you, I have some volumes, small perhaps but well-composed…" His words trailed slightly, like a horse with one hoof just bruised. I realized then that he rarely had the opportunity to discuss such interests and was all too prepared for a rebuff.
"If you will read them with me," I said, and was rewarded by his fully delighted smile. "In faith, I believe you would make a fine tutor."
Faramir shook his head, demurring but obviously hopeful. He had taken my hand in his without seeming to know it and held it close against his chest. "What aught I know came from Mithrandir and you shall have him to thank."
"Perhaps you should offer your services to Éomer as well when we see him next," I bantered, but my intent was serious. "The ways of horses he may know, but women are another matter. He could well use a lesson from you in that."
Faramir's pleased expression faltered in some confusion. "What he may lack in discretion, your brother makes up for with great enthusiasm. I hardly believe he needs my assistance."
"If word from the maidservants is to be believed, he does indeed. You cannot tell me that the steward's son, and quite handsome if I may, never had opportunity to—how do you say?—show his quality? Tell Éomer some good carousing stories from your soldiering days, and then how you found true satisfaction at last with a proper wife after your wild oats were sown."
Faramir's hand laid cold about mine as he held motionless, like a rabbit caught just beyond the verge of high grass. His gaze wavered to the door as if hoping for a very long council meeting to rescue him from the moment. "No," he said quietly at last. "Boromir excelled in that, as always."
I looked sharply to Faramir in surprise, only just able to hold my tongue as I saw from his pained, averted expression that I had misjudged him badly in this. As in so many things, I had taken Éomer as the measure by which all men conducted themselves, which is a noble standard in many ways though somewhat less so in romantic matters. Yet, if it were true that the Rangers had been afield in Ithilien more nights than not, Faramir would have had little chance for the company of women, and not just any would have done. He had lived in fear of disappointing a father who could never be pleased in any matter, much less one so delicate. As Denethor cast his long shadow across Minas Tirith, haunting his son with accusations and derision, would Faramir have even had the opportunity for mere acquaintance, much less something more? He was, after all, a disciplined man of Númenor who aspired to the high romantic ideal of Beren and Tuor; he would rather withhold himself than risk dishonor.
As I struggled to find the words to show that my surprise was anything but displeasure, a persistent whinny drifting up from the meadow below interrupted my thoughts. We glanced together out the window, both glad to have something to consider besides each other. The gathering dark had turned the yearling's coat ghostly white, clearly visible as he charged in snorting spurts along the fence line, then circled back after only a few strides to the low outbuildings reserved for hay and stock feed.
"He does not yet understand, does he?" Faramir's voice nearly broke with wonderment and pride. He released my hand to brace his against the window casement as he gazed down upon the yard below. "In the mere space of a month he has come from hopeless captivity to the full length of this blessed valley. He is lord of all he sees, yet he hardly knows how to claim it as his own."
My jaw slackened for the second time that week as I recalled a lesson I had learned as a girl, one so simple that I had forgotten how true it held for men as well as horses. When a creature has been hobbled long, he can be slow at first to accept freedom, often remaining close to the circumscribed space in which he was held, no matter how resented and despised. Was Faramir, long held in the grip of a sick, despairing father, any different?
"All this land is his by right," I said softly. "He will see that in good time." And time was the surest cure for such a malady, though I ached bitterly for the healing to have finished for us both. I turned to rest my head against Faramir's shoulder and smiled up at him in calm assurance that all would be well. In truth, I was enraged, though not with him nor any other who yet lives in Middle-Earth. Faramir's arm closed somewhat absently around my shoulders, but remained secure as we watched the sun's last light fade beyond the encircling hills.
I am not gifted with the future sight as some Elves are, but I can read the river waters to seek out the currents beneath, and deeper turmoil oft betrays itself in a smooth surface. This shadow had troubled Faramir long enough by my reckoning, but it would not be countered directly. There were some horses I had known who were unaccountably shy about taking apples and carrots offered from the hand, but would readily claim what was left on fencepost or manger rim. I doubt that Faramir would have approved of my likening him to an aging war mount, but the likeness was plain. Though he could not yet accept the gift I offered, fearing it would be lost as soon as he stretched forth his hand, I could make plain that I had given myself to him and to no other, then leave the rest to time.
"Have you written Éomer's letter yet today?" I asked, as if this were a formal ritual we had established for our house.
Faramir shook his head with a rueful sigh, breaking free of his reflection. "Amidst the turmoil of tenants, each with a grievance most pressing, I had somehow managed to forget your brother's glowering visage."
"Have mercy—he lost his only sister to a strange lord from the Southlands. Go," I gently prodded, "see to your dispatches or you will have that much more for the morrow. Would wine help ease the task?
Faramir shook his head warily but his voice was light. "I fell prey to Rohan's spirits once before and do not need the lesson twice."
I went to the sideboard and held out the bottle blown of a curious green glass that had arrived from Dol Amroth only that morning, sent as a special gift for this first night in Emyn Arnen. "May we trust to your uncle's impeccable taste?"
The eagerness with which Faramir found two goblets was answer enough. He did not raise the golden cup until mine was full and even then he hesitated, as if searching for some way to toast a hope that he could not bring himself to name. Swiftly, I drained my cup to spare him the effort and he followed suit, glad to keep a while longer what lay heavy on him. I kissed him quickly as he looked down, all the sweeter for the wine, then refilled his cup and nudged him back towards the narrow writing table upon which he had established a small city of ink bottles, pens and parchment rolls.
I busied myself about the chamber, finding candles at last in the lowest drawer of the massive press. I had no desire for my husband's eyes to grow dim before their time so I lit a full dozen fat tallow tapers and set them in black iron sconces to light the recessed bay where he wrote. Other possessions had been sent directly from Minas Tirith and still needed sorting and unpacking as well, all of which occupied my hands and allowed me to find peace in the simple competency of ordering the room. I cast brief glances at Faramir as he wrote and felt that though he worked steadily, filling each sheet with precisely inked characters, his thoughts were more upon me than his undertaking.
The night, pleasantly warm, had fallen fully now but I had not closed the windows, allowing Ithilien's beloved moon to shine full into the chamber. My hair had been elaborately braided for the day and I was all too glad to loose it now, combing the length of it with a care that would have made my childhood nurse proud indeed. I was long accustomed to serving as my own maid, having little patience to wait for another to do what I could tend to for myself. Getting on with the business of the day has always been far more interesting to me than the preparations for it. For just that reason I have never worn attire that required much in the way of fastening and I could manage that for myself as well.
Behind me, the sound of pen on parchment had become somewhat erratic and stopped altogether with a shuddering scritch as my gown fell away, pooling at my feet. I gave no sign that I had noticed, but swept it up and laid the length of it upon the bed. I had set out the shift I wore on our wedding night, as Faramir could not claim to have had full opportunity to appreciate it the first time. As I slipped the white linen sheath over my head, I heard Faramir's soft cursing as the parchment tore through completely. I know more curses than most from keeping the company of men and I judged my husband was most distressed to have selected that particular one.
"Have you given a full account of our journey?" I asked, barely glancing over my shoulder. Faramir nodded somewhat jerkily as he searched for a fresh page and began again from the ruined copy. "I trust you assured him that the yearling is well?"
"As best I could, though I expect you should do a more satisfactory job of that." Faramir sounded calmer now that I was dressed once more, though he remained staring fixedly down at the desk. I moved to stand just behind him and leaned to peer over his shoulder at what he had written. He tilted the sheet to let the light fall more favorably and the page trembled faintly in his hand.
"Most diligent," I pronounced after a moment. "Your Rohirric is to be commended." Under the circumstances, his penmanship had remained remarkably steady as well. "Perhaps we should give the horse a name. It should have received one at birth, like any king's child."
"Éomer mentioned as much, but I thought you should like the honor. As you say, my Rohirric is passable but I should never live down the shame of mistakenly christening it Slow-Foot or Stumble-Leg."
I have rarely laughed without expectation or control, but Faramir has some quality about him that looses all bonds within me. I kissed the crown of his head and pressed my cheek to his in joy at the thought. "I shall give the matter careful consideration before our next letter. Is there any other subject we should address?"
"I can scarcely imagine what has been left unsaid! Éomer spent most of the wedding banquet instructing me in every accumulated point of horselore that your long-fathers have acquired in all their venerable generations."
I turned to face Faramir, suddenly stung by my brother's mistrust. I doubted he had learned anything from the horse-masters that I had not wrung from them myself. "What wisdom did he feel I lacked?"
"Peace, Éowyn," Faramir said, but fondly. "Your brother spoke for my benefit, not yours. In Gondor we value our horses but we do not think of them as our own children as you do. Éomer advised me to be patient while becoming familiar, to allow it time to learn my voice and scent."
"Sound words," I agreed, begrudging. "Simply having such a creature in your stable does not grant you the lordship of it. Did he warn you that the mearas would suffer none but the kings of Rohan to ride them?"
Faramir nodded, shifting somewhat uneasily. "But as he has reminded me more than once, you are the daughter of kings and so shall your children be, though I am not."
His tone seemed light but we were circling each other warily where we had spoken openly before. Our words were simple enough but Faramir seemed to have steeled himself for battle. We had arrived at some tender point, and though I could not fathom it, I would not shy away.
"And what else did my brother mention?"
Faramir had turned half from me to gaze out at the valley below, the early moon's light silvering his pale features. When he spoke, his words nearly ached with regret and longing. "That proud creatures which have been neglected long and come to mistrust the touch of men should be shown nothing but patience and kindness before anything more could be asked."
So perhaps some spark of the bards of Rohan was yet alive in Éomer: he had not been speaking of horses at all but of his sister. We had never spoken openly of what happened in the darkened corners of Meduseld—that was not Éomer's way, nor mine—but I knew he watched Wormtongue as closely as Wormtongue watched me. In truth, there had been nothing to accuse the wretch of beyond the ever-present dread he cast over my life, though surely matters would have gone differently had the White Rider not delivered us all, and myself not the least. Éomer had seen all that, but he had been at the Black Gate when I met Faramir and did not fully know what kind of man he was. Éomer had protected me as best he could, first in our orphanhood and then during the long dark days in Edoras, so that he could not stop even now when I was wedded to the very one who had drawn me back from the shadow.
I had been mistaken on nearly every count. Faramir's hesitation came out of concern for my sake and not his own inexperience, real though that was. His hands trembled not from fear or reluctance, but the greatest restraint as he willed himself to abstain from that which he desired above all else. He knew how I had been injured and would rather deny himself than be the cause of another wound. Like myself though, Faramir was mistaken in that he did not comprehend that he himself had healed me long ago in Minas Tirith, a curing so complete that it ran back through all my years to the first roots of neglect and abandonment. I did not fear pain or death, and because of him neither did I fear love.
I am not certain what led me then, I who knew more of swords and horses and funeral songs than the ways of men. It was instinct and desire alone that led me to where he sat, still staring fixedly out the window, and to sink down astride his lap, legs tucked beneath me. My forehead came gently to rest against his as I gazed into his eyes and did not allow him to look away.
"And did my brother give you any sign by which to know when such a creature was willing to be asked for further trust?"
Faramir seemed to swallow deep within his throat, searching for words that had eluded him for perhaps the first time in his well-spoken life. "I believe he, ah, may…"
I grew impatient—it is a fault of mine since childhood—and kissed him instead. We had kissed before, somewhat chastely though not without feeling, but this was something wholly new. Had Éomer seen us kiss thus before we wed, he surely would have ordered Faramir to sleep in the stable under armed guard. Even when we broke apart there was barely space between us and Faramir's hands remained occupied, though not quite as I had hoped.
"Did you misplace something, my Lord Steward?"
Faramir looked distinctly guilty and he laced his fingers together across the small of my back, as if they could not be trusted. I sat back some few inches, resting against the cradle of his hands and fixed him intently.
"Forgive me," he said at last, "the wæpnan?"
Faramir straightened slightly beneath me and I shifted with him. I had ridden every horse in the King's stable save Shadowfax: he would not escape so easily. "The, ah…" His attention wavered and it seemed that he had difficulty composing his thoughts. "The wæpnan, the dagger each bride of Rohan receives from the men of her household and bears with her on her the night of her wedding, in case…her husband does not…she is…well, to…"
I tried desperately not to laugh but Faramir looked so earnest that I could not help myself. I might have laughed a scant dozen times in the years of Théoden's decline and now it seemed that once I began I could hardly stop. I slumped against him in relief and I felt Faramir begin to laugh as well though he knew not why.
"Swear to me," I whispered, "that you will not hurt Éomer? I know my brother, he would not have done this if he did not love us both."
Faramir was not as reassured as I had hoped. "Is...is this how the m-men of the Mark treat their sword-brothers?"
I nodded, one hand pressed to my mouth to still the last traces of laughter. "And you had best prepare yourself for more of such if you wish to return to Rohan."
The last of the shock receding, Faramir quite nearly grinned in relief as he gamely accepted the jest. "Well, I had wondered where you might hide it."
"I welcome you to search," I replied lightly. The shift I wore hid little enough, a fact that did not seem entirely lost on my husband. I confess now that although I did not lie to him, I had for many years slept with a knife no more than a handsbreadth away, but I would not invite that foul shadow into our chamber, now or ever, even by the mention of it. Perhaps Éomer knew of this somehow—he had given me the knife himself on some pretext—and wished to protect Faramir, though I would wager it more likely that the idea had begun as another of his pranks and the chance to accomplish both ends at once had been too much to resist.
It was some time before we spoke again, which was no small feat. Faramir chooses his words most wisely, but we had found such pleasure in speech together that prolonged silence was unusual. I had to make some excuse at last, to regain my breath if nothing else.
"It may interest you to know, as a scholar among men," I said with some effort, "that there is a point to note regarding the women of Rohan."
Faramir affected a look of great interest but managed another kiss when my guard had lowered. "Alas, my tutors neglected the subject in favor of the history of table manners. But as I only desire to know one woman, perhaps you will be so kind as to teach me yourself?"
"Gladly, and likewise! This is your lesson for the day, m'lord, so pay heed. History has taught us in the Mark that shieldmaidens who spend more hours on horseback than their own two feet are highly sought as wives and well-prepared indeed."
Faramir grappled with the implications, and when he finally arrived at my full meaning his embrace tightened about me as though he might not release me ever again under the sun. Swinging me up into his arms, he laughed with joy unrestrained until the rafters of the chamber rang and the echoes carried out to the courtyard itself, causing the yearling to whinny in reply.
"The door!" I begged him through my own laughter, gesturing at the iron bolt. "For pity's sake, bar the door or Beregond will rush to protect you and I shall be forced to slay the poor man!"
The speed with which Faramir secured the door could only be matched by how quickly he returned to me, and we have not since been parted. Of what followed that night, I shall leave to memory (and it was memorable indeed) for it is possible that this volume will someday be discovered by the child which is forming within me even now. Ioreth of Gondor had foreseen this when Faramir first looked toward my rooms as he walked in the garden, forsaking the eastward walls. "Even the poorest archer will find the mark with enough arrows," Ioreth had pontificated, foreseeing a house full of quiet golden-headed boys and quick grey-eyed girls who loved the stables more than their stitching. Whether this child has come of that first night or those which followed none but Mandos could say, but I believe even Éomer himself would be duly respectful of Faramir's marksmanship though I have told neither of them yet the news.
Captain Beregond has settled to his own duties more quickly than I could have hoped now that his wife and son have come to join him from Minas Tirith. Bergil is a fine, sharp lad, quite Hobbit-like in some regards, and provides more than sufficient distraction for his father. Falborn has been assigned to assist me in all things, save my daily lessons in the Elven tongues which are proceeding diligently though not without effort. I have found the rudimentary examples of farmer, tree and cow quite uninspiring, and this has led Faramir to compose his own text, in verse, of the adventures of a young shieldmaiden on a quest across the lands of Middle-Earth.
Though Eomer's fears have eased with time, we still write him duly several times a week, particularly as we hope to travel soon to Edoras. Faramir's cousin Lothíriel has conceived a desire to see the ruin of Orthanc—a curious girl, quick-minded, fearing little—and we have offered to escort her with our retinue. Faramir has been busily devising all manner of Gondorian courting customs to bedevil my brother with, and I cannot say that I have not assisted in the matter. But as could be expected, our letters most often concern the yearling, now christened Celenár, Silver-Fire in the Common Speech, who has cast off every shadow and taken full possession of all Ithilien. Like so many children, he has become a joy and exasperation to his guardians who would temper his spirits with good sense but we can deny him nothing.
Each evening I stand with Faramir and look out upon the West to watch the setting sun dapple Celenár's silver mane as the Two Trees mingled their light on that First Day in the Bliss of Valinor. Tonight shall be especially blessed though as I tell my husband that he is not the last of the Stewards and that his line will yet endure in Middle-Earth, and together we will give thanks for this land and the love which has graced our lives.